We’ve reached that awkward stage of summer when the weekly top 20 countdowns on TV and fantasy league email notifications cause hockey withdrawal, but there’s not much that can be done about it.
The Golden Knights aren’t helping matters, either.
After solving the Nikita Gusev dilemma by sending the Russian winger to New Jersey for two draft picks July 29, the club’s only remaining business this offseason is to re-sign restricted free-agent defenseman Jimmy Schuldt.
The top six forwards are set, and the third line also appears to be settled. The defense remains largely intact, too, though coach Gerard Gallant and his staff probably will unveil new pairings after juggling the top four last season.
Unlike Western Conference rivals Calgary, Colorado, Vancouver and Winnipeg — not to mention Toronto — the Knights aren’t facing a prolonged contract negotiation with a high-profile RFA, either.
“We are a team that, I believe, is a contender,” said George McPhee, who begins his role as president of hockey operations Sept. 1. “It’s a very good team. We’ve been very aggressive in signing our players to deals that make sense for the team now and certainly in the future. We now have lots of draft picks as currency, and we have spent to the cap to make it a good team.”
With training camp a little more than a month away, these are the lingering questions facing the Knights:
1. Who will center the fourth line?
Tomas Nosek could get first crack at replacing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who signed with Colorado as an unrestricted free agent. Nosek set career highs in goals, assists and points, and won 62.1 percent of his faceoffs last season, though he saw most of his ice time on the wing.
Nicolas Roy also will get a long look in training camp after the 22-year-old was acquired from Carolina in the Erik Haula trade. Roy is highly regarded for his 200-foot game and provides a physical presence at 6 feet 4 inches and 215 pounds.
One other intriguing possibility is to slide Cody Eakin to the fourth line and slot rookie center Cody Glass as the No. 3 center if he’s ready to jump to the NHL.
The question is whether Glass’ development is best served as a bottom-six forward in the NHL or by playing a full season in the American Hockey League as a top-six forward.
2. Which rookie defenseman will make the team?
The Knights have six defensemen on the roster with room for at least one more. But ice time is an important consideration when looking at the candidates.
Schuldt was a four-year standout at St. Cloud State and, at 24, is closer to his ceiling than most rookies. Jake Bischoff made the Knights out of training camp last season and has two AHL seasons to his credit.
If Gallant envisions a rookie in the role of seventh defenseman rather than as a regular in the lineup, those two might be the better choice.
That would allow youngsters Nic Hague, a second-round pick in 2017, Zach Whitecloud and Dylan Coghlan to log heavy minutes in the minors rather than watching from the press box.
3. Who will back up Marc-Andre Fleury?
All signs point toward Malcolm Subban, who was the Knights’ No. 2 goaltender the past two seasons. He signed a one-year contract last month to avoid arbitration.
But the Knights picked up Garret Sparks from Toronto when they unloaded David Clarkson’s dead-money contract to Toronto. Sparks won the Maple Leafs’ backup job last season and got off to a good start before he suffered a concussion in January.
Sparks is not waiver exempt after signing a one-year contract in March and could be claimed by another team if he doesn’t make the Knights out of training camp.
Golden Knights roster
Forwards (13): William Carrier, Cody Eakin, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Tomas Nosek, Max Pacioretty, Brandon Pirri, Ryan Reaves, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny, Mark Stone, Alex Tuch, Valentin Zykov
Defensemen (6): Deryk Engelland, Nick Holden, Brayden McNabb, Jon Merrill, Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore
Goaltenders (2): Marc-Andre Fleury, Malcolm Subban