Golden Knights general manager George McPhee acknowledged Monday that defensemen Erik Brannstrom and Jake Bischoff were in line to make the team’s roster.
Then Shea Theodore signed, and everything changed.
While the 23-year-old’s seven-year, $36.4 million deal was a welcome move for the Knights, it complicates their roster decisions. At least one defenseman who appeared close to making the team will have to go before the Knights open the season Oct. 4.
“They’ve played very well, so they would have been here,” McPhee said. “Someone will have to go now, and we’ll address that in a few days.”
The return of Theodore probably leaves Brannstrom and Bischoff competing for one spot because McPhee reiterated that the Knights plan to keep eight defensemen. Brannstrom, 19, is the flashier option but makes more mistakes defensively. Bischoff, 24, is steadier but doesn’t have as much upside.
Both have opened eyes in training camp. Brannstrom has four points and a shootout goal in five preseason games, and Bischoff has four points in four games.
“Obviously they’ve played real well,” coach Gerard Gallant said Monday. “That’s why they’re still here.”
Bischoff and Brannstrom don’t have to clear waivers, which means their contracts shouldn’t affect the decision. But Brannstrom probably has to earn a top-six role to stay because he needs to play every night to keep developing.
The same probably isn’t true of Bischoff, who is closer to a finished product.
Another complicating factor is that with center Cody Eakin’s status uncertain for the season opener, it’s possible the team could keep 14 forwards and send both defensemen down.
“In the end, whatever happens happens, I guess,” Bischoff said Monday. “I still have a lot of stuff to show, so hopefully I can get out there and do that.”
Even moving beyond October, Theodore’s contract sets up an interesting offseason for the Knights in 2019.
The team has $18 million in projected cap space for the 2019-20 season, according to CapFriendly, with players such as William Karlsson, Alex Tuch and Tomas Nosek set to become restricted free agents, and Nate Schmidt, Deryk Engelland and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare unrestricted free agents.
“We thought if we paid a little more now and had a contract that was pretty steady throughout its term and we have cost certainty in the future, it allows us to manage the cap better,” McPhee said. “And plan better as a result for what we want to do over the next several years.”