Golden Knights have all the ingredients to run it back in 2023-24

The Vegas Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup, and there's no reason to believe they are headed for a downturn next season.

The NHL has seen two back-to-back Stanley Cup winners in recent years, and the Vegas Golden Knights have a strong chance to join that club.

While Vegas aren't the current betting favourite to win next year, this team has everything it needs to clinch another title.

That's largely because the group that the Golden Knights bring to the first game of the 2023-24 season will be very similar to the one that just produced a 16-6 run through the playoffs with a +31 goal differential.

Vegas has its top seven defensemen under contract through next season, and its only significant forward hitting free agency is Ivan Barbashev. The other two forwards who project to leave town — Phil Kessel and Teddy Blueger — played a combined 10 games in the playoffs and didn't skate in the Stanley Cup Final.

The place where the Golden Knights could be looking at a significant exodus is in the crease. Adin Hill, Laurent Broissot, and Jonathan Quick are all free agents. For most teams, losing a trio of goaltenders that played 48 regular-season games and all 22 playoff contests would be devastating, but the Golden Knights aren't in a bad spot.

Logan Thompson is still under contract coming off a strong 2022-23 campaign and Robin Lehner should be back, although the team doesn't seem 100% sure about what kind of progress he's making in his hip rehab. That duo seems solid enough, and while Vegas would be wise to add another netminder, they aren't in crisis mode between the pipes.

The Golden Knights are likely to make another deep playoff run next season. (Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Golden Knights are likely to make another deep playoff run next season. (Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

One possible concern for the Golden Knights is that the team is on the older side, as four of their top-six point getters in 2022-23 were on the wrong side of 30, and their top defensive pair had a combined age of 68.

There is some validity to that worry, but very few of Vegas' best players are in deep in decline yet. Alec Martinez is the only guy on the books for 2023-24 who is 35 or older. The quartet of Mark Stone, Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith are all between 30 and 32. It's easy to treat 30 as a more significant milestone than it is, and the fact of the matter is that all of these guys can still play.

Another possible worry with the Golden Knights is a lack of cap room. The team projects to have just $3.462 million to fill out its roster at this point, but there aren't many holes that need filling. Considering Vegas' desirability as a market — and the fact the team just won the Cup — it could be an attractive destination for cheap ring-chasing veterans. Finding another Kessel type or two shouldn't be too difficult.

If the team is looking to clear some space, it could consider moving out Nicolas Roy and his $3 million cap hit — the highest salary on the books for a player without any kind of no-trade or no-movement clause.

Roy is a good player on a reasonable contract, but he might be more valuable to another team than he is to the Golden Knights where the presence of Eichel, Chandler Stephenson, and Karlsson down the middle can limit his role at times. In the Stanley Cup Final, he skated just 13:54 per night, and there are teams who would see him as a locked-in middle-six centre.

Make no mistake, the Golden Knights aren't a team that screams "dynasty in the making". They don't have an elite young core, and it's tough to project what level of goaltending they'll receive in the years to come. Following 2023-24, a number of key players like Stephenson, Marchessault, and Martinez will hit free agency.

But in terms of their ability to go back-to-back, there aren't any insurmountable obstacles standing in the way. That doesn't mean it will happen, but the Golden Knights didn't push all of their chips into the middle for their 2022-23 run. They should remain a force to be reckoned with next season.