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Facing cap issues, Golden Knights’ window to win Stanley Cup is now

Updated June 25, 2019 - 9:03 pm

The window is not eight years. Not with this particular group.

It’s open at this point farther than anyone within the Golden Knights organization imagined when the franchise began play in 2017— come on, farther than anyone alive imagined — but not immeasurably.

More like two years.

William Karlsson said Tuesday that his No. 1 goal is to win a Stanley Cup with those he currently calls teammates, part of the center’s comments when speaking about the eight-year, $47.2 million contract extension he signed this week.

It’s a standard objective of all NHL players and certainly not an impractical one when it comes to the Knights and their roster, which is definitely good enough to contend.

But things change fast and windows often slam shut overnight in the world of pro sports and salary caps, all of which could be impacted by what decisions George McPhee makes in the next several weeks.

“We are going to have to make a few moves, and we have planned for that,” said McPhee, incoming president of hockey operations. “We are going through that exercise right now, and when we’re done, we’ll talk about it and explain it. … We’ll be tight this year on the cap.”

Some moves would be much easier to explain than others.

Here’s one possibility: McPhee shifts enough salary to bring the Knights in line with the $81.5 million cap for this season while keeping the team’s top six forwards together and hoping goalie Marc-Andre Fleury doesn’t show any level of serious decline at age 34.

Such a scenario could potentially deliver a Cup over the next few seasons and earn McPhee a hero’s standing in the history of Las Vegas sports. That’s the uncomplicated version of things.

This is the other version: In order to shed enough cap space — the Knights are reportedly $7.5 million over after Karlsson’s deal — the team could trade a top-six forward such as Max Pacioretty and his $7 million annual salary, signaling that those hamstrung contracts McPhee insists his team doesn’t have actually exist.

Pacioretty has been reported as one who could be moved, and the player carries the sort of cap hit that could immediately solve a chunk of those issues.

But it’s a tough one.

Pacioretty has a modified no-trade clause, and in dealing with Montreal for him and then immediately signing him to a four-year extension last season, the Knights gave up Tomas Tatar (a guy they traded three draft picks for, including a first-rounder) and a top No. 3 prospect in Nick Suzuki.

There is zero chance they would see a similar return if they traded Pacioretty, especially given his production (22 goals and 18 assists in 66 games) last season, injured at times and streaky as all heck for a forward who will be 31 in November.

They might never see a similar return.

I’m not sure any of that matters. Other teams know of the Vegas cap situation, so I can’t imagine there will be many proposed deals this summer when McPhee has the lion’s share of leverage.

It doesn’t mean you totally dismiss the idea of trading Pacioretty or another top-six forward. You do what is needed to get in line with the cap and remain as competitive as possible. Beyond what appears an obvious core — Karlsson, Fleury, Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault and Alex Tuch — I would imagine nobody is totally safe from trades that are obviously coming.

“We believe we’re making the right decisions on these players,” McPhee said. “It’s not easy putting a team together and keeping it together, but the (Karlsson signing) is a major step in doing that. We have a good group, and we’ll work around the edges a little bit.

“Typically, like every year, there are four to five changes on your roster. … For the most part, we want to keep this group together. They’re at the right ages. We think we have timed it well.”

They have cap issues that need solving and a fairly clear window to make a Cup run with this roster, so if he’s going to jump right through and go for it, you would think McPhee emerges from the summer with his top six forwards intact and a whole lot of hope that Fleury still can play at an elite level.

That’s the uncomplicated version of things.

Of which nobody, anywhere, ever, has used to describe a team over the salary cap.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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