Will Golden Knights’ Jonathan Marchessault hit the free-agent market? ‘I’ve done everything I can to stay here’

LAS VEGAS — No one has used the word “proud” more often when speaking about the Vegas Golden Knights organization over the last seven years than winger Jonathan Marchessault.

A member of the inaugural team, selected by Vegas in the 2017 expansion draft, he’s become as much a part of the franchise as the logo and team colors. His clutch play on the ice and his rambunctious personality off it are woven into the fabric of the team.

Marchessault is the franchise leader in games played (514), goals (192), assists (225) and his specialty — game-winning goals (32). He scored 13 more goals during last year’s run to the Stanley Cup, earning the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts. Whenever he’s having a bad day or feeling down, he grabs his phone and relives those moments.

“Sometimes I listen to the video highlights of when we won, or certain games in the playoffs last year, to put me in a good mood,” he said during Tuesday’s end-of-season interview. “It’s going to be like that for the rest of my life.”

Those memories will last forever, but in the world of professional hockey, not much else does. Marchessault’s contract expires this summer. Without an extension, he will hit unrestricted free agency, and he would be highly valued on the open market, but he’s hoping it doesn’t come to that.

“I mean, I’ve done everything I can to stay here,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t think I am, I know I’m a big part of the organization and the team. I’ve proven that along the years.

“I’m pretty confident (I’ll remain a Golden Knight). I would love to stay, obviously. It’s my home. I’ve been a part of the guys that started this. It’s the most proud thing I’ve done in my life, professionally for sure.”

Marchessault scored a career-high 42 goals this season, falling one goal shy of William Karlsson’s franchise record from 2017-18. He was one of only three players to suit up for all 82 games, and he led the team with 69 points.

“I’m just happy to be a Golden Knight, and I’d like to be one for the rest of my life, but that’s not necessarily all in my control,” Marchessault said Tuesday. “It’s something my agent (Pat Brisson) and (general manager Kelly McCrimmon) are going to go through.”

Marchessault said his conversation with McCrimmon on Tuesday morning went well.

“He wants me back,” Marchessault said. “He likes me, obviously, and the feeling is mutual. I love Vegas. I love my teammates. I love the organization, the coaching staff and all of the staff working with us. They’re family to me now.”

McCrimmon agreed that the conversation went well, and said he’s had preliminary conversations with Marchessault’s agent. He recognizes his importance to the team on and off the ice, and sounded like he hopes a deal is eventually worked out.

“​​There’s certainly a strong willingness from both sides to have real good discussions,” McCrimmon said Tuesday. “That’s what we’re going to work on.”

Marchessault wants to remain a Golden Knight, and McCrimmon would love to have him back. That should, in theory, lead to a contract extension, but the salary cap makes it a bit more complicated.

Vegas already has approximately $80 million in salary-cap hit committed to next year’s roster according to Cap Friendly, with 18 regular NHL players under contract (nine forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies). That leaves approximately $7.6 million in cap space to fill the remaining spots, and Marchessault isn’t Vegas’ only pending UFA.

Alec Martinez, Chandler Stephenson, William Carrier, Michael Amadio and trade-deadline pickup Anthony Mantha also are all heading for unrestricted free agency. There obviously isn’t enough cap space to bring them all back, so tough decisions will need to be made. McCrimmon said his priority will be extending the current UFAs before looking to the market.

How much might Marchessault’s new deal cost? His career year obviously raises the price, but he’ll likely be paid closer to the 25-to-30-goal pace at which he played for the last eight seasons. Marchessault has averaged 30.9 goals per 82 games since 2016, and he’s never finished with fewer than 22 (excluding the shortened 2020-21 season).

“We really like the player, and his value extends beyond what you see on the ice,” McCrimmon said. “He’s an important leader and an important guy in our dressing room.”

Marchessault also turns 34 in December, so what is the market value for a consistent 30-goal scorer entering his mid-30s? If Marchessault were to sign with Vegas, Evolving-Hockey projects a four-year contract carrying a $7.2 million cap hit. The site gives that four-year extension a 34-percent probability.

That deal would come in above his projected market value over the next four years — an average annual value of $5.6 million, per The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn’s model.

There’s precedent for a contract of that significance for a player in Marchessault’s production range. It would be in line with what Vegas signed Max Pacioretty for in 2018. Pacioretty was entering his age-30 season when he signed that deal, which carried a cap hit of $7 million per season.

If management tries to commit a bit less cap and term to Marchessault, then a three-year extension, for example, projects to have an average annual of $6.7 million. That’s still above his projected market value, which over the next three years will be $5.9 million per season. Evolving-Hockey says the probability of a three-year deal is 30 percent, while every other term length comes with an 11 percent chance or less.

The closest recent comparable contract for Marchessault’s upcoming deal is Alex Killorn, who signed a four-year deal with Anaheim last summer with an AAV of $6.3 million. Killorn isn’t as productive as Marchessault, with fewer goals, assists and point shares in the seasons leading up to his contract, but he was roughly the same age when he signed the deal to leave Tampa Bay for Anaheim.

These negotiations could end up being more about term length than total money. With a player of Marchessault’s age, there’s always a risk when signing a long-term deal. A four-year extension would make him a Golden Knight through age 37.

However, in the salary-cap world, every dollar matters. The Golden Knights could be incentivized to concede an extra year on the deal in order to lower the AAV. On a two or three-year deal, Marchessault and his agent will be less likely to take a hometown discount and will want closer to his market value — which is likely close to $7 million per year.

Considering Marchessault’s strong preference to remain a Golden Knight, his connections with the city, and the tax benefits of living in Nevada, he would likely take less than that if it means he has a bit more term. He did insinuate on Tuesday that he expects the eventual dollar number to be close to market value, with neither side conceding too much.

“The numbers are what they are,” he said. “There’s no one hitting home runs or going way under what they’re supposed to have, I think. The numbers are what they are, and it depends to see if they value that this is important to them or not.

“I think what’s important for me, and the things I’m looking for, is I want to be in an organization that wants me. That’s the one thing that I want to be in. Also, I have a couple years left, so I still play the game of hockey not just to play it. I don’t play it for fun. I play it because I want to win, and I want to be in a place that is going to help me win.”

Marchessault has done plenty of winning in Las Vegas. In his seven seasons with the Golden Knights, the team ranks sixth in regular-season wins (312) and second in playoff wins (57). They’ve been to the postseason in six of the seven years, to the conference finals four times, the Cup Final twice, and obviously won it all in 2023.

Coach Bruce Cassidy made his thoughts on the situation clear during Tuesday’s exit interview.

“I love coaching Jonathan Marchessault,” he said. “I enjoy my relationship with him, talking honestly and openly. I love his energy around the room. He’s had great years as a Golden Knight. I can’t say enough good things about him. As a coach, you hope you can keep everybody together, him included. That’s between his party and (McCrimmon) to get something done.”

During the first round of the playoffs, Cassidy said Marchessault’s competitive trash-talking during practices is “part of the fabric of the team,” and that, “If he’s not chirping the guys, then something is going on.”

Still, signing Marchessault won’t be easy. Cap gymnastics will be necessary to make it work, but if there’s a team well-equipped to pull them off, it’s Vegas.

McCrimmon and president of hockey operations George McPhee have shown in the past that they operate in the best interest of the team, and don’t make decisions based on emotional attachment to a player. It’s hard to criticize the results, but if there’s any player worth making an exception for, it’s the franchise leader in every major category. The most valuable player in a championship run. The player who, based on his comments, cares more about the organization than just about anyone who’s come through the team. The player whose No. 81 should eventually end up hanging in the rafters of T-Mobile Arena.

It also helps that the player just showed he still has plenty of hockey left with his highest goal total yet.

Marchessault has given plenty of thought to the possibility that this is the end of his time in Vegas. He thought about it during the final regular-season game against Anaheim, and again as he walked out of the arena following Game 6 against Dallas.

If this is it, he’s at peace with it, but he’s sincerely hoping it isn’t.

“I’m proud,” Marchessault said. “I’m sitting here today and I can tell you what I’ve done for the Golden Knights, I’m proud of. I’m happy with what we accomplished.

“Am I satisfied? I don’t think I’ll ever be, personally. I want to do it again.”

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