The Vegas Golden Knights weren’t supposed to be this good. If NHL history (especially in regard to expansion teams) taught us anything, it’s that the Knights’ fan base would have to suffer through mediocrity before any sign of light at the end of the tunnel. If there was a book written about successful expansion teams in their first NHL season, the book wouldn’t even be a full paragraph. It’s a limited list, and Vegas just so happens to be at the top of it.
No expansion team since 1967 has finished their first season with a winning record. The Philadelphia Flyers were close in 1967-1968, with a record of 31-32-11. This season, Vegas not only won the Pacific Division but finished with a record of 51-24-7. It exploded the minds of every hockey expert and was an absolute blast of a story to follow throughout the year.
There is no exact formula the Vegas Golden Knights followed. It’s not like head coach Gerard Gallant or general manager George McPhee had their own version of Moneyball happening in Vegas. I don’t believe they had entry-level workers creating a formula that outsmarted the entire NHL.
Vegas knew the rules of the draft and selected accordingly. Sure, they were given access to a list of unprotected players from each team, but the list included mostly third and fourth liners with a miniscule amount of talented second and first liners.
Many players, who have been regular forwards and not necessarily elite, stepped up in a big way. The biggest forward name for the Golden Knights’ this season was James Neal. He tallied 44 points this season, which is up three from last year, however, his career high is 81. Maybe the Knights said their prayers, the hockey gods decided to bless them or Vegas literally won the lottery, because they had multiple players have career years.
William Karlsson wasn’t known for burying the puck or having his name on the scoresheet very often. Last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Karlsson scored 25 points. This season, the forward from Sweden tallied 78 points and 43 goals.
Jon Marchessault upped his previous career high of points by 24. Even David Perron, who has been in the NHL for over 12 years at this point had a career high in points.
I think it all boils down to one thing: these players were finally given a chance to showcase their skills. The franchise wasn’t supposed to be this good. They were supposed to lose. But, night in and night out, they fought, battled and came away from games victorious. They could do nothing wrong and everything right. Projections placed Vegas near or at the bottom of the barrel. Well if you’re at the bottom you can only climb up. And boy, did they ever.
Their speed was unmatched, their physical play was powerful and their ability to steal games uncanny. Anything can happen next season, but for this year, the Knights have crowned it their own.
Vegas’ opening round matchup In their first ever playoff series, the Knights allowed a mere 3 goals in 4 games. Now, Vegas didn’t exactly light the lamp themselves (7 goals in 4 games), but on the back of Marc-Andre Fleury, the Knights have a second-round date. Fleury has done it all at the NHL level. He has won numerous awards and is a 3-time Stanley Cup champion. When Fleury was available to be selected, you knew that Vegas had found their netminder.
The entirety of Vegas’ season just doesn’t make sense. Then again, not everything in Vegas does make sense. It was surely a gamble to put a hockey club in the middle of the desert, but for the time being, Vegas and the NHL are in the green. A bunch of players thrown together usually needs time to gel; to become comfortable with one another.
According to Betway.com, (as of 4/18), the Knights’ odds to win the Western Conference is 3:1. That is better than the Nashville Predators, who are 3.25:1. Nashville went on to win the Western Conference last season.
As the Golden Knights’ prepare for their second-round matchup with the San Jose Sharks, this inaugural season will be etched in the record books.
Just as nobody expected.