GM for a Day: Fixing Our Second-Rate Third Line

As a brief little recap, we are going to be evaluating some of Vegas’ lines and their players, leading to discussions on decisions that we would make as GM for a day. For more information, please refer to this post.

The 2018-2019 season did not end the way the Vegas Golden Knights had hoped. Instead of a Stanley Cup Final appearance, they were unfortunately knocked out during the first round of playoffs by the San Jose Sharks.

With their summer beginning a bit early, the players have some extra time to rest and recuperate for next season. While it’s all fun and games for them, the head honchos have the daunting task of deciding who to invite in, who to keep around, and who to release.

It is pretty safe to say that our top two lines are, well, golden (there is the matter of William Karlsson, but we’ll get to that later). The top two lines have had tremendous success and excellent chemistry, which means attention then turns to our third and fourth line.

Today, we’re going to focus on our third line. This includes Cody Eakin, Alex Tuch, Tomas Nosek, Brandon Pirri, and Zykov. How did these players fare this year compared to last year? Who deserves to stay and who would we possibly release? And where in the Haula do we stick Erik Haula?

Cody Eakin: KEEP
(Harry How/Getty Images)

Eakin has been a stand-out star for Vegas this season. He’s managed to score some crucial goals for them, whether it be to tie or actually score the game-winning goals. Let’s take a look at some of his numbers:

  • Goals in 2017: 14 (three playoff goals)
  • Goals in 2018: 24 (two playoff goals)
  • Points in 2017: 31 (four playoff points)
  • Points in 2018: 43 (two playoff points)
  • Average TOI in 2017: 14 minutes
  • Average TOI in 2018: 15 minutes

He almost doubled his number of scored goals within a year, and increased his number of points dramatically. His plus/minus difference between the two years is astounding. In 2017, he had a minus of six. 2018 was a year for him to have a total turn around, as he had a plus of 19.

He has the chemistry with his line, no matter which line he’s on, and it shows with the numbers. The coaching staff feel comfortable with his abilities to give him more ice time than he had previously, because his puck handling is stellar. Playing GM for the day, there is no way I’d let the “Ginger Ninja” slip through the cracks or be traded to another team. He’s staying.

Katie’s Take: Eakin is a keeper. He’s made big improvements from last year. He’s great on special teams, a hard worker, and he’s a reliable third liner.

Alex Tuch: KEEP

Tuch is one of Vegas’ young bucks, but don’t let age fool you. This whipper-snapper knows his way on skates and around the rink. Just like Eakin, he’s got some beautiful numbers:

  • Goals in 2017: 21 (six playoff goals)
  • Goals in 2018: 21 (one playoff goal)
  • Points in 2017: 47 (10 playoff points)
  • Points in 2018: 54 (two playoff points)
  • Average TOI 2017: 15 minutes
  • Average TOI 2018: 17 minutes

So his number of scored goals stayed the same, big deal. Where this superstar shined was in the assists. In the regular season of 2017, he received 22 assists. That number jumped up to 32 in 2018. The change in his plus/minus is impressive as well. In 2017, he only had a three, while in 2018 he leaped up to 13.

Being young though does have some disadvantages. There were quite a few times this year where Tuch tried to get creative with his puck handling, or tried too much to be a one-man show against the opposing players. If he didn’t get so fancy, maybe there could have been more scoring opportunities.

This temporary GM would keep him, but add a little bit more passing training to his regiment.

Katie’s Take: We definitely should keep Tuch. He has the most potential out of everyone on the team. You can see how much he’s improved in just one year in the NHL with his stick handling and skating. He also is learning to use his size and speed to his advantage, whereas last year he struggled with that.

Tomas Nosek: RELEASE

This left wing from Czech Republic has had his good days, I will give him that. He’s had some beautiful passes that resulted in a sweet goal, and even had some fantastic shots as well. If we compare his numbers to those of Tuch and Eakin, however, they just don’t add up.

  • Goals in 2017: 11 (four playoff goals)
  • Goals in 2018: 8
  • Points in 2017: 21 (six playoff points)
  • Points in 2018: 17
  • Average TOI in 2017: 11 minutes
  • Average TOI in 2018: 12 minutes

His plus/minus numbers look even bleaker. In 2017, he had a plus of six, which is great. 2018…wasn’t the best. He got a minus of 10…10!

His playing time hasn’t drastically increased, his scored goals have decreased as have his total points. He’s a restricted free agent, and his contract was for $962,500. I’m sorry to say, but I would bid him ahoj.

Katie’s Take: Agreed. Nosek needs to go. He consistently has one of the worst +/- numbers on the team and has a career +/- of -7. Pacioretty was the only player with worse +/- numbers this season, but he also put up big goals and a lot of hits to make up for it. To Nosek’s credit though, he does have a Face-off Win % of 62.1, best of all the centers on the team. But I think we can put his $962,500 salary to better use.

Valentin Zykov: RELEASE

Since we’re on the top of third line left wings, we have to take a look at Zykov. His 2018 was a little rocky. He was put on waivers by Carolina, only to be claimed by Edmonton in November then put back on waivers to be claimed by Vegas in December.

When we compare his numbers, we’ll take a look at how he fared in 2017 with Carolina and compare it with his total in 2018, with special attention to his numbers with Vegas.

  • Goals in 2017: 3
  • Goals in 2018: 2 (both scored during his time with Vegas)
  • Points in 2017: 7
  • Points in 2018: 5 (two with Vegas)
  • Average TOI in 2017: 13 minutes
  • Average TOI in 2018: 10 minutes

I really hate to say it, but sadly, Zykov hasn’t done anything to really stand out this year and make himself worth re-signing. Sure, he scored two goals for Vegas, but did he score a crucial game-winning goal, or have several assists that had Vegas in good position throughout the year? He didn’t.

Is it fair to judge him based on how little he played? The argument could be made that he just needs to be given the chance to improve. That may be the case, but Vegas is Cup-hungry. We could always send him down to the Chicago Wolves if we wanted to possibly keep him. But for $700,000 salary cap space, it’s do svidaniya to Zykov.

Brandon Pirri: KEEP (or at least re-sign)

Now, Pirri is a special case. Vegas actually signed him as a free agent back in 2017, but he was sent to the Chicago Wolves. He played two games for Vegas that year, and then he split time in 2018 between the two teams. As with Zykov, we’ll look at his total numbers for both years, with special detail given to his time as a Knight.

  • Goals in 2017: 32 (three scored for Vegas)
  • Goals in 2018: 30 (12 scored for Vegas)
  • Points in 2017: 55 (three with Vegas)
  • Points in 2018: 60 (18 with Vegas)
  • Average TOI in 2017: 17 minutes
  • Average TOI in 2018: 14 minutes

Does anyone remember when Pirri was the next best thing for the Golden Knights? He seemed unstoppable, and he was on quite the scoring streak for a while. And his stats are no joke. He went from scoring 32 goals with the Wolves, to scoring a total of 30 goals between the Wolves and the Golden Knights combined. His ATOI might have varied, but he was also being switched out on the Wolves and the Knights, and he still managed to have an impressive season.

I think this center still has a lot to prove as a Golden Knight, but he’s certainly made his case to stay just from his time with the Chicago Wolves. I would absolutely try to re-sign him and keep him affiliated with Vegas. Whether it be as a Knight or a Wolf, that depends on where we stick Haula…and of course the looming salary cap space.

Katie’s Take: I’m iffy on Pirri. I like him, and I want to root for him, but I also need to see more. My assumption is that he hasn’t mastered the mindset aspect of the game. He’s great when he’s confident and scoring, but once he goes through even a short dry spell, he seems to get in his own head and become unproductive. He’s a UFA this season, and many don’t expect Vegas to make a quality offer, but he’s a much better backup than Nosek and Carpenter and I think all he needs is to find the right line pairing to be a great player.

Where to Place Erik Haula
(Stephen R. Sylvanie- USA TODAY Sports)

Everyone’s favorite Finnish center had a heck of a year, and I unfortunately don’t mean that in a good way. A devastating knee injury put him on IR for nearly the entire season and the playoffs. On the plus side, however, he’s all patched up and ready to go for the 2019-2020 season.

The question becomes…where do we wiggle him in? As a GM, I said to keep two centers with Eakin and Pirri. Tuch is the only right wing on this line, and I opted to release our two left wings. So…where does Haula go?

If it was between him and Pirri, and there was no way either one of them would go to the left wing position, I would stick with Haula and move Pirri down to the Wolves. Haula’s 2017 numbers more than justify that decision.

  • Goals in 2017: 29
  • Points in 2017: 55
  • Average TOI in 2017: 17 minutes

His plus/minus was rather terrible, with a minus of 16, but that can be fixed. If all of the lines can get into the groove and find their chemistry, figure out what makes them unstoppable, that number could look very different by end of the 2019 season.

Katie’s Take: Gallant has said in the past that Haula can play wing if he needs to. I also think Eakin could be a good wing. But only experimentation with the new lines will show us where Haula will fit in next season. As long as he can play as well as he did before the injury, he deserves another shot to prove what he can do for the team.

My third line* would be Tuch, Haula, and Gusev (LW). I would move Eakin to the fourth line.

*Third line doesn’t mean third best. Just like how the second line of Patches, Stastny, and Stone are not second best. I believe we can have three amazing lines that deserve almost equal play time. That’s the goal.

So there you have it, folks. The above are what my exact decisions would be if I were GM for a day. Do you think we’re on to something?

About Crystal Hollibaugh

Crystal Hollibaugh is a Communications Specialist, writer, and blogger who loves feeding waterfowl and painting waterfalls.