Unbelievable. Throughout the season, that’s been the one word to describe the incredible season of the NHL’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights. No one saw this coming. Like every other past expansion team, they were already being written off before they even took the ice. Boy, were we wrong….
Nothing like a trip down memory lane pic.twitter.com/GYWbByluwF
— WTP Sports (@WTPsports) May 7, 2018
In their first season ever, the Golden Knights have shattered both expectations and records of an expansion team by winning 51 games, earning 109 total points, and decisively winning the Pacific Division. After defeating the San Jose Sharks in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, they’re just eight wins away from immortalizing themselves as champions and becoming one of the greatest stories in sports history.
So just how is Vegas eight wins away from winning Lord Stanley’s Cup in their first season? Some fans will say that a favorable expansion draft process allowed them to quickly form a competitive roster, which we will go over in a moment. However, the biggest reason for this team’s success is the incredible job done by their head coach, Gerard Gallant.
In recent years, Gerard Gallant has emerged as one of the finest coaches in the NHL, and after this year, he might be regarded as one of the best. The Golden Knights have completely bought into his systems and coaching philosophies, and every night, they look energized and excited to be out on the ice. They’re absolutely relentless on both sides of the ice, and the chemistry they have is superb. Come June, Gallant will win the Jack Adams award as the league’s top coach. It shouldn’t even be close.
Now I want to return to the narrative that the Golden Knights were “only good because they were handed good players from every team by the NHL.” Remember, with the way the Expansion Draft was set up, teams could trade a package to Vegas in exchange for selecting a certain player, therefore protecting another player on their roster from being selected. As such, people believed that Vegas was getting ragtag players from the bottom of the barrel, when on the contrary, many of those trades worked out heavily in their favor. Let’s look at a few of those trades, shall we?
William Karlsson – Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets gave up their 2017 first round pick, a 2019 2nd pick, and David Clarkson’s contract just so the Golden Knights would agree to select Karlsson. “Wild Bill” would make the Jackets regret that trade as he went on to become Vegas’ leading scorer (45 goals, 33 assists), while playing meaningful minutes in all areas of the game.
Alex Tuch and Erik Haula – Minnesota Wild
The Wild actually gave up Tuch, a once well-regarded prospect, to ensure that Vegas would take Erik Haula. Both would go on to become key contributors in the Golden Knights’ lineup, with Haula scoring 55 points and Tuch becoming a physical net-front presence on the power play.
Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith – Florida Panthers
In order to protect players they considered more valuable at the time, Florida traded Smith to Vegas in exchange for selecting Marchessault, a talented but streaky scorer. Marchessault and Smith would both end up blossoming on Vegas’ top line with William Karlsson, scoring 75 and 60 points, respectively.
Shea Theodore – Anaheim Ducks
To keep Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, and Brandon Montour, the Ducks had to give Theodore to the Golden Knights in exchange for selecting Clayton Stoner. Theodore, who was a top prospect for the Ducks, would become a key piece on the Vegas blue line, serving as the quarterback for the team’s effective power play.
Marc-Andre Fleury – Pittsburgh Penguins
Last but not least is the backbone of the Golden Knights successful season. The Penguins opted to move on with Matt Murray as their full-time starting goaltender and traded Vegas a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft to ensure that they select Fleury. The Flower has since bloomed beautifully in the Sin City, and is currently the favorite for the Conn Smythe trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
As indicated in the photo collage shown above, no one was calling these players “good,” and nor were they praising the Golden Knights general manager George McPhee for selecting them. Outside of Fleury and possibly Reilly Smith, I would guess that very few of you knew who those other players were before this season. This draft class was being deemed as a massive failure and the Golden Knights were called the league’s worst team before they even played a game.
Regardless of what makes them so good, the Golden Knights look like an unstoppable force, and many fans, myself included, believe that they have what it takes to go all the way. They’re an amazing story, they’re so much fun to watch, and it seems like they’re impossible to root against. With the Devils out of it, I’m all-in on the Vegas Golden Knights to win the Stanley Cup, and if you were one of the gambling degenerates who thought the same, you’re about to win some serious money.
Photo: Chicago Tribune