There are various ways to mark the end of summer, but a George McPhee news conference at the start of rookie camp serves as a good reminder that hockey is back.
The Golden Knights general manager addressed a wide range of topics Thursday at City National Arena, namely the 20-game suspension handed out to defenseman Nate Schmidt.
But No. 2 on the list was the status of defenseman Shea Theodore.
The restricted free agent remains without a contract, and McPhee didn’t sound optimistic a deal could get done before training camp opens next Thursday.
“We’re negotiating as best we can,” McPhee said. “Hopefully we’ll get something done sooner or later, but it would be nice if they had (arbitration) rights because then it’d be done by now.”
Theodore totaled six goals and 29 points in 61 games after starting the season in the American Hockey League and was second on the Knights in average ice time (20:21).
He was part of the team’s top power-play unit and saw his role increase during the postseason.
The 23-year-old is part of a trio of unsigned restricted free-agent defenseman, along with Josh Morrissey of Winnipeg and Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse. All three were selected in the first round of the 2013 draft.
Calgary signed restricted free-agent defenseman Noah Hanifin to a six-year, $29.7 million contract Aug. 30, which should help set the market for the remaining unsigned players.
”Everything’s related to everything else,” McPhee said. “There’s a group of probably 10 or 15 good, young players in the league that don’t have arbitration rights and don’t have contracts right now. And it just seems to take a while to work them out.”
Theodore was not one of the participants in Thursday’s informal skate at City National Arena. McPhee confirmed that Theodore can attend training camp next week, though it’s unlikely he would do so without a contract.
“I’ve been through this in the past and watched other teams go through it. And you go with the guys that you have,” McPhee said. “I can’t blame him for not being here if we don’t have a deal done. He’s welcome to come to camp, but it’s not a holdout situation. This isn’t a guy who has a contract and is not showing up. That’s a completely different animal.”
McPhee also said that Schmidt’s suspension doesn’t create any added urgency to hammer out a deal with Theodore and his representative.
“It’s always best to have all of your guys available, but I don’t feel any particular pressure,” McPhee said. “We’ll do a deal when the deal is right, and if he’s not here then someone else will play.”
The team’s rookies took part in off-ice testing Thursday and will practice at 11:15 a.m. Friday at City National Arena ahead of their opener in the Vegas Rookie Showcase on Saturday against Colorado.
Defensemen Erik Brannstrom, Zach Whitecloud and Nicolas Hague will garner increased attention during rookie camp and could help fill the void on the blue line.
“It’s unfortunate that (Schmidt’s suspension) did happen, but for me, I don’t think it really changes a whole lot,” Hague said. “Whether they’re here at camp or not, I’m still coming in trying to make the team same way I would, either way.”
McPhee said he expects to carry eight defenseman on the 23-man roster. The Knights currently have six defensemen with NHL contracts.
“If someone’s ready to play, they play, and typically you make room for them,” McPhee said. “The good news is, we’ve got guys that can get called up this year. We’ve got some good young defensemen that can be called up if we get in a pinch.”