Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where Last Word on Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the Vegas Golden Knights.
2018-19 Vegas Golden Knights Preview
The Golden Knights often referred to as the Golden Misfits, made history last season when no one expected it. The idea of an expansion team with the least wanted players from around the league sounds destined to fail. However, the Golden Knights were destined for greatness and a little bit of glory. They finished the regular season with a record of 51-24-7 with 109 points, earning them first place in the Pacific Division.
They went on to sweep the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The Western Conference Semifinals against the San Jose Sharks seemed to be more difficult for the Golden Knights, but they persevered and won in six games. No one expected the Golden Knights to make the playoffs, yet here they were and they were still winning. It was another surprise when they beat the Winnipeg Jets in five games to advance to the Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals. After winning the first game of the series, Vegas became the most successful NHL expansion franchise ever. They beat the St. Louis Blues, who had made the Stanley Cup Final during their inaugural season but did not win a game. While the Golden Knights were a force to be reckoned with, they were destroyed by the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final, losing in five games. While NHL fans were impressed that Vegas made it that far, Vegas wanted more.
The Golden Knights did not have the greatest off-season in the league, but they made an important addition. First, they signed centre Paul Stastny to a three-year contract. Last season, Stastny had 53 points in 82 games. His career high Is 79 points in 81 games. Stastny has a lot to add to the Golden Knights. The team also added free agent defenseman Nick Holden who replaces Luca Sbisa, who remains a free agent.
Impact Players Gone
Vegas also lost a few important players. James Neal, a free agent, signed a five-year contract with the Calgary Flames. James “The Real Deal” Neal had 44 points in 71 games last season. The forward added another 11 points in 20 playoff games. Neal was a huge factor in the Golden Knights’ success and they will miss his production this season.
Vegas also lost their second line winger over the off-season. David Perron, a free agent, signed a four-year contract with the St. Louis Blues. Last season, Perron had a career-high 66 points in 70 games in the regular season. He also had a career-high nine points in 15 playoff games. Losing Perron after the best season of his career on top of James Neal is going to make an offensive difference this season.
Nate Schmidt PED Suspension
Defensively, Vegas has lost Nate Schmidt for the first 20 games of the season. Schmidt was suspended for violating the NHL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. He is not allowed to play in the preseason games either but can participate in training camp with the Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights recently announced a trade with the Montreal Canadiens. The Golden Knights traded Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick for forward Max Pacioretty. Last season, Pacioretty had 37 points in 64 games averaging 19:01 of ice time per game. His career high in points is 67 in 80 games in 2014-15. Pacioretty spent his whole career of 10 seasons in Montreal in which he had 448 points in 626 games. Projected to be on a line with Paul Stastny and Alex Tuch, he has the talent to add offense to an already explosive offensive team.
Tatar only played 20 regular season games and eight playoff games for Vegas last year in which he had eight points. Tatar’s career high in points is 56 points in 82 games in 2014-15 with the Detroit Red Wings. The addition of Pacioretty should make up for the loss of Tatar.
Players to Watch
After watching his previous rival team win the Stanley Cup and signing a three-year contract extension with Vegas, Marc-Andre Fleury is Cup hungry. Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup winner, could help a lot of teams in the league. But, he believes that Vegas is the team that will get him another Cup before he retires. Last season was one of the best in his career. He had a career best save percentage of 0.927 and a career-best goals-against average of 2.24. Look for him to have another incredible season between the pipes in Vegas. If Fleury can stay healthy, he can challenge for the Vezina Trophy.
Paul Stastny signed with this team because he wants to win the Stanley Cup. He and the Winnipeg Jets lost to the Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final. He knows all too well how close Vegas is to winning the Cup. Look for Stastny to contribute to what seems like it could be another great season for the Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights top prospect was their first draft pick, sixth overall in 2017. Glass scored 37 goals and 65 assists for 102 points for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks last year. Due to the rules of the NHL-CHL transfer agreement, he is not eligible to play in the AHL this year. If the team sends him to Portland, he will remain in the WHL until his team’s season (and playoff run) are complete, unless Vegas faces an emergency injury situation. While Glass is just 19, these factors make keeping him with the Golden Knights an intriguing option for general manager George McPhee and head coach Gerard Gallant to consider. Glass will push for a spot in training camp, and may even get a nine-game NHL audition.
It is going to be hard for the Golden Knights to live up to the high expectations that they set last season by making the Stanley Cup Final. With the losses of Neal and Perron, less production will follow. However, the off-season addition of Paul Stastny should help make up for that. Glass will also be given the opportunity to earn a spot and replace some of the lost offence.
No one expected Vegas to make it to the Final last season, but they did. No one seems to expect it from them this season either, but they have the talent and the production to win the Stanley Cup. If they can stay healthy and regain their confidence from last season, Vegas can make another deep playoff run this season. If just the thought of seeing the Capitals lifting the Cup haunts their dreams, their need to win the Cup this season will show all season.
LAS VEGAS, NV – MAY 28: The Vegas Golden Knights celebrate with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (R) #29 after their 6-4 win over the Washington Capitals in Game One of the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena on May 28, 2018, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)