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2019 VGK Development Camp

Steve Marcus

A fan waves flags as he watches players work out at the Vegas Golden Knights development camp at City National Arena in Summerlin Wednesday, June 26, 2019.

Trading two proven veterans for prospects and picks is not standard procedure for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.

But the Golden Knights didn’t have much of a choice last week, when they jettisoned forward Erik Haula and defenseman Colin Miller for 22-year-old Nicolas Roy and three future picks in two separate deals.

Such is life in the NHL, where the hard salary cap has Vegas pressed to submit a roster in compliance by the end of September. After the trades, the Golden Knights are almost there.

The question now is what comes next, with free agency beginning at 9 a.m. today.

“We’re cap-compliant. All part of the plan and we’re in a pretty good place,” general manager George McPhee said at a news conference Saturday. “I don’t anticipate doing a whole lot more.

“We’re not big-game hunting. We’re not going to be aggressive in free agency. Ideally you’d like to be in a place with respect to free agency where you can just go fishing or watch two guys fish or something because a lot of mistakes are made that time of year.”

Currently, CapFriendly projects the Golden Knights as $900,000 over the salary cap, but that’s with only 18 players on the roster. It’s also misleading because it includes David Clarkson’s $5.225 million hit, which won’t count against the Golden Knights after they receive an exception by placing him on long-term injured reserve at the end of training camp.

The magic number Vegas cannot eclipse by the end of training camp is $86.75 million.

CapFriendly’s roster includes forward Curtis McKenzie, who played all of last season in AHL Chicago and has not played a full season in the NHL since 2017. While he likely won’t make the team, he can be replaced with Roy, Cody Glass or any potential forward making near the league minimum.

It also does not count restricted free agents Nikita Gusev, Tomas Nosek, Malcolm Subban and Jimmy Schuldt toward the roster count. McPhee said last week a deal is imminent with Nosek, while the other three received qualifying offers.

Gusev, Nosek and Subban figure to make the opening night roster, while Schuldt will battle for a spot on the blue line, which has five players under contract for next season.

While Nosek, Subban and Schuldt are unlikely to be too expensive to resign, Gusev is a wild card. As a dominant KHL forward with no North American experience, Gusev has few historical comparisons.

His price tag could fall anywhere in the $1 million to $4 million range and it might take a while for a resolution.

“There’s no real urgency to the Gusev situation,” McPhee said. “We’re going to strike a deal that makes sense and go from there.”

The Golden Knights could also trade Gusev. He’s become a real asset by winning the KHL MVP and performing well at the World Championships since the team acquired his rights during the expansion draft from the Tampa Bay Lightning two years ago.

They could obtain significant value for Gusev and use the potential savings to fill out the roster.

Miller’s trade makes the return of unrestricted free agent Deryk Engelland likely. Miller and Engelland were the only right-shot defensemen on last year’s roster, though Zach Whitecloud and Dylan Coghlan, whom both played in the AHL last year, also have a chance to make the team and fill the void.

If Engelland isn’t resigned, then there could be two spots for rookies on the blue line.

Considering the aversion that the Golden Knights have shown towards playing rookies over the last two years, that would be a major surprise. There are also strong indicators that won’t be the case.

A post on the Golden Knights’ website, for one, said Engelland was expected at camp. McPhee didn’t confirm as much but said the two camps are working on contract details and implied he would be back for a third season.

With Engelland, the Golden Knights could ease one of their younger defensemen, potentially the highly touted Nicolas Hague, into the lineup throughout the season. McPhee said he expected one rookie on the blue line.

As for what happens today with free agency opening, don’t expect much. The big moves have already happened. Barring a surprise or two, the Golden Knights won’t be active in free agency aside from perhaps bringing Engelland back and filling out their AHL depth.

CapFriendly projects Vegas with approximately $4.35 million for Gusev, Nosek, Subban and two defensemen. It will be tight, but it’s possible.

Most of the team is set, and it sounds like the Golden Knights know what they’re going to do for the rest of the summer.

“We’ve made moves and hope they work,” McPhee said. “We’re pretty clear on who will be coming back and who’s not.”

Article written by #LasVegasSun