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Monday, October 9, 2017

Golden Knights may be losing KHL veteran Vadim Shipachyov

The Vegas Golden Knights signed Vadim Shipachyov to a two year 9 million dollar contract on May 4th, 2017. Shipachyov is a 30 year old veteran center who previously played in the KHL, most recently with St. Petersburg SKA. He was the 3rd highest scoring player in the KHL last season with 26 goals and 50 assists in 50 games played. He has won 2 Gagarin Cups in his KHL career.  He was sent back down to the Chicago Wolves before the beginning of the regular season and was not recalled for either of the team's first two regular season games. This was a surprise to many Golden Knights fans, who expected to see Shipachyov on this ice for their inaugural regular season game.

After watching the first 2 games for the Golden Knights, where only 2 players so far have managed to score, the question is raised why would a potential 30+ goal scorer be sent to the minors. Certainly Shipachyov was not lacking the necessary skill or experience to play at the NHL level! It was anticipated that by the time the roster was selected for the first game Shipachyov would be on it. The short answer to why this did not happen is that James Neal, who missed most of training camp and all of the pre-season games after having surgery for a broken right hand,  returned for the season opener. I am sure if Neal had not been ready, Shipachyov would have been recalled for the opening of the season.  The real answer is more complicated than that however. In an ideal world both Shipachyov and Neal would be on the roster. The reason they couldn't be comes down to miscalculations made by the Vegas Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee, and coaching staff involved in selecting expansion draft players.

In the expansion draft Vegas picked up 13 defensemen and received a few others in trades.  As a result the Vegas roster was very heavy on defensemen going into pre-season. Some were traded or did not make the cut for the final roster.  There were too many players who had issues which meant they could not go down to the minors or were inelligable. Mostly they were not waiver exempt, only Shea Thodore and rookie Erik Brannstrom were. This means that the Golden Knights used 10 of their 23 final roster spots on defensive players. Most NHL teams have only 7 blue liners on their roster. The Golden Knights, of course, also have 2 roster slots for goalies which leaves only 11 slots open for forwards.

Why could a player not be sent to the AHL? There are a few reasons. First an AHL team must have a minimum of 13 players on their roster that are considered development players. Twelve of these development players have to have played fewer than 260 professional games, this includes AHL, NHL, and elite European league games. This means that of the 20 players an AHL team can dress for a game 2 are goalies and 13 are development players, leaving only 5 spots for experienced NHL players. Another reason a player could not be sent to the AHL would be if they had a clause written into their contract that prevents them from being sent down without their consent.

For the Golden Knights the issue seems to be that level of professional experience prevents many of the defensemen currently on the roster from being sent down to the minors. Of the 10 defensemen on the Golden Knights roster only John Marrill qualifies as a development player, barely with 243 games played at the professional level. So why was he kept on the roster and Shea Theodore sent down to the Chicago Wolves with Shipachyov. The answer is simple money. They could not afford the cap hit that either Theodore or Shipachyov would have in addition to all the high cost contracts of the veteran defensemen who they were unable to send down. None of the Golden Knights 10 defensmen are on entry level contracts. Also both Theodore and Shipachyov are protected from waivers, so there was not a risk of losing them to another NHL team when trying to move them.

Shipachyov is used to being a big fish in a smaller pond, as the third leading goal scorer and 2nd leading assist maker in the KHL last season. He did not come to the United States to play in the minors. He is not happy being sent down due to financial issues and poor planning on the part of the Golden Knights organization when selecting draft picks. An additional consideration is the coming Olympics. If it comes down to a choice between playing in the United States in the AHL or returning to Russia to play in the KHL and being eligible for the Olympic team, there is very little chance he would stay. Reports have stated that Shipachyov has a time table where if he is not back playing at the NHL level he will return to Russia.  He has not disclosed what that time table is as yet.

My guess is that it will have a lot to do with when he would need to be back in Russia by in order to be able to play on their Olympic team. His agent Peter Svboda has apparently stated that Shipachyov does not want to return to the KHL. Yet Russian reports are saying that Shipachyov's representatives have been in contact with the KHL discussing a possible return. At this point it is all just rumors. It would however be a bad blow to the young Golden Knights organization to lose players like Shipachyov or Theodore. Given the skill and experience of both of these players it might be in the Golden Knights best interest to put a player or two on waivers to make room to bring one or both of them back up to the NHL team.

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