As the Vegas Golden Knights embark on a stretch that will see them play eight of their next nine on the road – and will likely go a long way toward indicating whether they’re truly a serious contender or simply a feel-good story early in the season – almost everything about their inaugural campaign has defied logic. And on the surface, nothing has defied logic more than the messy situation involving Vadim Shipachyov, which has all the makings of a Las Vegas bender-turned-marriage that would give Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra a challenge for brevity.
And it does appear to be over for Vegas and Shipachyov. After refusing to play for the Golden Knights’ American League affiliate on the weekend, the 30-year-old center was suspended without pay. The Golden Knights, clearly unable to find a trading partner, are waiting for Shipachyov and his agent to work things out with the KHL, where he’ll almost certainly return once his NHL contract is voided. For his troubles, Shipachyov will make about $541,000 - $150,000 of his $2 million signing bonus and $391,000 for the 25 days he was on an NHL roster.
The fact that the Golden Knights will have invested north of a half a million dollars in the guy indicates that there’s probably not some great conspiracy at work here. First, I have yet to meet a GM or coach who refuses to use a player who makes his team better. The bottom line is that if Shipachyov were good enough to be playing for the Golden Knights right now, that’s exactly what he would be doing.
That doesn’t mean he’ll never be good enough to play for the Golden Knights, or any other team for that matter. The fact is, we don’t really know how good this guy is. We know he was an elite player in an inferior league who came over to North America at the age of 30. But we have almost no body of work by which to measure him here aside from a so-so training camp, three NHL games and zero games in the AHL.
We’ll probably never find out, though. Perhaps if Shipachyov had gone to the AHL and played 10 games and proved to the Knights that he was indispensable, he might have been called up and gone on to have very good NHL career. Or, perhaps there’s a chance that he simply can’t play in the best league in the world. It happens. Teams make these mistakes all the time, sometimes with top-five draft picks, others by signing veterans who have had success with other teams.
Part of the problem here, again, is that everything about this season has defied logic. We all thought Shipachyov would come in and be one of the best players on a really bad team and put up some pretty good numbers. But the Golden Knights have proved to be much, much better than everyone thought and now a playoff spot is not out of the question. Over the past four seasons, it has required an average of 90 points to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. With an 8-1-0 record, the Golden Knights would need 74 points in their final 73 games to hit that number, or basically be a .500 team.
All of a sudden, the Golden Knights don’t have room for a player who can’t yet contribute. And you also have to consider something else. These guys are trying to build a team culture here. So what would it say to the other players in the room if one player who wasn’t ready or wasn’t good enough to play there was in the lineup simply because he signed a big contract over the summer? That would send messages to the rest of the roster that the Golden Knights are trying to avoid.
Golden Knights GM George McPhee maintains there were no guarantees made to Shipachyov when he signed there in the summer. Yes, Shipachyov left money on the table to come to North America and had he not signed in Vegas, he likely would have had an opportunity to go somewhere else in the NHL.
Which is why it’s a little perplexing to see that Shipachyov isn’t even prepared to go to the AHL – where, coincidentally, he would have made his full NHL salary without being charged escrow – and prove to the Golden Knights that he belonged in the NHL. He certainly wouldn’t be the first player to have to do that. About 75 percent of the players in the NHL have played in the minors at one time or another during their careers and some of them are in the Hall of Fame. Sadly, we’ll probably never find out how good or how bad Shipachyov would have been in the NHL because he refuses to show us.