The Las Vegas Golden Knights are one of the most compelling stories in sports right now.
In their first year, the expansion franchise has shown that it can compete with the best teams in hockey, rounding together a roster of players from every team across the league and quickly becoming a force in the NHL.
After winning the Pacific Division, the Golden Knights already have the best debut season for an expansion franchise in any major sport, but with a Stanley Cup berth on the visible horizon, Las Vegas is far from ready to settle.
Take a look below at how the team came together and turned a ragtag roster into one of the most dynamic teams in the NHL.
The Las Vegas Golden Knights’ roster was initially put together through the expansion draft in June of 2017. All 30 NHL teams were allowed to protect one goalie, three defensemen and seven forwards, or one goalie and eight skaters. From there, the Golden Knights would build their team.
The protections prevented the Golden Knights from immediately nabbing most of the NHL’s brightest stars, but the way that the draft was set up did allow for general manager George McPhee and majority owner Bill Foley to make some interesting and remarkably smart selections.
Probably the biggest get of the draft at the time for the Golden Knights was veteran goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury had won three Stanley Cups with the Penguins during his storied career in Pittsburgh, but was available in the expansion draft after the team chose to protect his successor Matt Murray instead.
Fleury proved a stable foundation for the franchise to build upon, starting 46 games for the Golden Knights and going a remarkable 29-13-4. His .927 save percentage was good for sixth in the NHL.
But Fleury couldn’t do it alone — Las Vegas succeeded across the draft, finding other hidden gems to fill out their roster and begin one of the most remarkable runs in the history of hockey.
William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, picked from the Blue Jackets and Panthers respectively, would both have career years leading the Golden Knights’ top line.
“You know what we had with each guy. You didn’t know what it was going to be like to bring everybody together, in the room,” said Nate Schmidt, who joined the Golden Knights from the Capitals. “That’s what’s been the beauty of this team and why we’ve had so much fun and had so much success.”
Source: Los Angeles Times
With their roster set and a few months of practice, the Golden Knights were set to begin their inaugural season, with head coach Gerard Gallant leading the way.
Then, just eight days before their home opener, a mass shooter took the lives of 58 people in Las Vegas. While the team was just getting to know its new home, players immediately embraced the mantra of #VegasStrong, and honored the victims of the shooting before their opening game.
Just minutes into that home opener, Tomas Nosek scored the Golden Knights’ first ever goal on home ice, leading to a raucous release from the crowd. Las Vegas would go on to win the game 5-2.
Las Vegas was hot on the ice as soon as the season began, starting the year 8-1 and never looking back.
While the team didn’t have a marquee superstar due to the nature of the expansion draft, winger Pierre-Édouard Bellemare believed that their lack of a top dog was a feature, not a bug, of the team’s composition.
“There is no superstar because we are all brand new in the team,” Bellemare said. “If the worst of us is saying to the best of us, ‘Hey, get it together,’ the other guy can only say, ‘Yes, I have to get it together.’ That helped all of us be successful together.”
Source: Los Angeles Times
Bellemare’s words hold up when you look at the Golden Knights’ stat sheet. Rather than one scorer carrying the whole load for Las Vegas, the team had four different players contribute with 60 or more points on the season. Their success was a team effort in the truest sense of the term.
The Golden Knights would finish the season an impressive 29-10-2 in Las Vegas — tied for the best home ice advantage in all of the NHL thanks in part to their passionate fans.
The success that the Golden Knights found is wholly unprecedented when it comes to expansion teams — Las Vegas won the Pacific Division and finished with the fifth best record in the NHL.
The Golden Knights unexpected season has fans in delight, but bookmakers sweating. Sportsbooks in Vegas stand to lose as much as eight figures on payouts of longshot bets should the Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup this year.
Source: New York Times