This isn’t the way anyone saw things playing out for Vadim Shipachyov in Las Vegas.
Ahead of the season, the 30-year-old, coming off of a phenomenal year in the KHL, tested the NHL free agent market, and with several suitors, Shipachyov landed on a two-year, $9-million deal with the Golden Knights. It appeared to be a coup for the expansion franchise, many believing they had landed, at the very least, a top-six center who could provide some offensive punch.
But when the pre-season came, Shipachyov was, by many accounts, just OK, managing one assist in four games while playing top-line minutes. And when the time came for Vegas to make some tough roster decisions, Shipachyov was sent to the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. The belief at the time was Shipachyov had fallen victim to the numbers game given he’s one of the few Golden Knights who is waiver-exempt and able to be sent down without fear of being lost for nothing. When he was finally brought back to the big club, though, Shipachyov got into three games and averaged little more than 10 minutes of ice time per night. Then, on Tuesday, Vegas made the surprising decision to demote Shipachyov for a second time this season, and it seems more than likely that his time with the Golden Knights has already come to an end.
On Wednesday evening, after Shipachyov’s demotion, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Vegas has given Shipachyov and his agent, Petr Svoboda, permission to seek a trade, and it would seem as though Shipachyov’s best — and possibly only — chance at returning to the NHL this season will be with another club. Whether Svoboda can find a team to take Shipachyov on, however, is another story altogether.
One thing working in Shipachyov’s favor is that even if the Golden Knights have soured on the idea he can be a top-six center, there will certainly be teams who still see potential for him to be a contributor. Offensive ability doesn’t simply disappear overnight and it’s not as if Shipachyov was the hottest Russian free agent for no reason. Over his past three seasons, he had put up increasingly stellar numbers with SKA St. Petersburg, beginning with a 54-point campaign in 2015-16, 60 points in 2016-17 and a career-best 26 goals and 76 points last season. Yes, he managed those numbers on a star-studded St. Petersburg club and played alongside the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Artemi Panarin, Evgenii Dadonov and Pavel Datsyuk, but Shipachyov didn’t look out of place on those teams.
And while it will never be 100-percent accurate, point-translation factors seemed to suggest that Shipachyov could be more than a run-of-the-mill scorer in the NHL. Using the factors compiled by Hockey Abstract’s Rob Vollman, Shipachyov’s point pace from last season would've made him a 90-point player in the NHL this season. Obviously, it would help to lean on the conservative side of things and be realistic about a player who was about to suit up in his first NHL campaign. Even still, though, it wouldn’t have been far-fetched ahead of the season to peg Shipachyov for 50 points.
Some teams will still see that potential, too, and there are those who will see Shipachyov’s one goal, three shots and eight attempts as a sign he’s getting himself in position to be effective offensively. That is sure to intrigue clubs looking to add some punch down the middle. The Canadiens had been mentioned in connection with Shipachyov, particularly as their offense struggles, but TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported Montreal doesn’t appear to have any interest. The Florida Panthers, Colorado Avalanche, New York Rangers, Arizona Coyotes and San Jose Sharks and New Jersey Devils are other teams that are on the thin side down the middle.
That said, we’re living in the salary cap era. This isn’t a spend-freely-and-wheel-and-deal league. And the spending restrictions are going to limit the options for both the Golden Knights and Shipachyov. His $4.5-million cap hit alone puts more than half the league out of the running, and that’s without even considering the fact he’s still locked up for an additional season. So, while finding a team to take on one year of Shipachyov’s deal is going to be a challenge, tacking on the second year increases the difficulty exponentially. That’s not to say all those interested will be out of the running, mind you. Realistically, all of the above mentioned teams, save the Canadiens, could still be realistic suitors.
The Panthers, for instance, presently have the cap space and are slated to have upwards of $11.5 million to work with next season without any major free agent retention concerns. Shipachyov could slide into a third-line role, no problem. Arizona likewise has space to work with, and a lot of it, but the question for the Coyotes is what they would be comfortable giving up. As for the Sharks and Devils, both have room now and next season and adding another scorer to the lineup couldn’t hurt. San Jose has to worry about next season when Joe Thornton potentially exits as a free agent, while New Jersey could simply use the talent. The Avalanche have cap space to bring Shipachyov aboard, too, but one wonders if that’s really what Colorado needs right now. The trickiest of the above teams is the Rangers. New York doesn’t have the cap space to bring Shipachyov in, so it would have to be a money-in, money-out type of deal. It would take some maneuvering from both sides.
The reality is, though, there’s nothing keeping Shipachyov in the NHL. He doesn’t have to report to the AHL and if he’s unhappy with the way things have gone for him in the short amount of time he’s been in North America, he could attempt to free himself from his contract and head back to the KHL. He’d most certainly be welcomed back with open arms, quite possibly even to St. Petersburg, and leaving at this point in the campaign would allow him the opportunity to play for Russia at the Olympics.
But given Shipachyov chose to head to the NHL regardless of KHL offers and the possibility he would be giving up his shot at the Olympics, there’s no reason to believe he won’t search high and low for a chance to continue his NHL career before he considers heading home.
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