After Bruce Cassidy was relieved of his duties rather abruptly in Boston after a first-round loss to Carolina last season, the Vegas Golden Knights were quick to offer the former Bruins head coach a five-year contract worth $22.5 million. Cassidy is now working on getting the Golden Knights back into the playoffs after missing the postseason last year.
On Tuesday night, Vegas opened the 2022-23 campaign in Los Angeles with a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings, a team that should be fighting the Golden Knights for positioning in a tough Pacific Division. The Kings were five points better than Vegas last season and lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the first round. The division also has a Calgary Flames team that added Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar after Johnny a Gaudreau departed for Columbus—making the postseason will be challenging for Vegas.
Cassidy joined the Knights amid salary cap issues that forced the team to give Max Pacioretty, who had 37 points in 39 games, away to Carolina with defenseman Dylan Coghlan. Pacioretty was injured for much of the season, and Vegas is hoping that free-agent signing Phil Kessel will be able to pick up some of the offensive slack. The former Arizona Coyote right-wing will begin the season on the top line with Reilly Smith on the left and Jack Eichel at center.
Eichel is the X-factor for Vegas. The former Boston University star was traded to Vegas from Buffalo in November in a blockbuster deal. Eichel returned from injury to play 34 games in 2021-22 with 14 goals and 11 assists. But the former first-round pick drew the ire of Golden Knights’ fans as the team lost five of their last seven games to miss the playoffs. Eichel, who scored a goal in the opener, will feel the pressure this season to lead the Golden Knights to another deep playoff run.
The biggest question mark will be goaltending for Bruce Cassidy’s team. Robin Lehner will miss the 2022-23 season with hip surgery and be placed on Long Term Injured Reserve. The Knights have tried to fill the void by adding Adin Hill in a trade with San Jose for a 2024 fourth-round pick. Hill will share time with Logan Thompson in net. Hill is 29-32 in his career in the National Hockey League with a 2.74 goals-against average. Thompson has played just 20 games in the league.
The Golden Knights hope Cassidy can implement a solid defensive structure that made Boston a top defensive team annually. However, part of the reason for the Bruins’ success defensively was the elite goaltending from Tuukka Rask. Cassidy recently said that Thompson was the front-runner to be the number one goalie to start the season and moved 27 saves in the victory against the Kings. The Knights will rely heavily on their top defensive pair of Alec Martinez and Alex Pietrangelo.
The Knights will also look for winger Mark Stone to solidify the second line. Stone had a procedure to remove some fluid buildup around a disc in his back and looks to start the season in full health. Stone will be seeking his old scoring touch this season. Last night was a good start as Stone found the net to win the game with 24.9 seconds remaining. The Winnipeg native had back-to-back 21-goal seasons in 2019-20 and 2020-21.
If anyone is the right man for the job, it is Cassidy. The candid coach led Boston to the postseason in each of his six seasons with the club. At the end of his helm in Boston, there were reports that players, particularly young ones, got a little weary of Cassidy’s tough constructive criticism. The former first-round pick also has a 36-37 postseason. But this is a new beginning, and the Vegas Golden Knights are excited about their new coach and new direction. Tuesday night, the new ear began in a big way.