Did the Vegas Golden Knights Game the NHL Expansion System?
The Vegas Golden Knights (no, they don't say "Las Vegas") are truly one of the best stories of the 2017-18 NHL season.
They finished the regular season by winning the NHL's Pacific Division in dominating fashion with 51 wins and 109 total points.
And as I write this column, the Golden Knights are waiting to find out who they will play in the Western Conference finals after overwhelming the San Jose Sharks in the Semi-Finals.
They finished in the Top 5 in attendance in their inaugural season, often selling out the T-Mobile arena in a market where there were multiple questions about how devoted locals would be to the team.
Las Vegas, as we all know is a tourist mecca, but what many failed to realize is most people who live there aren't actually FROM there....often hailing from former NHL towns and retaining their love for the sport.
It also helped that owner Bill Foley made some very good hires right off the bat. He signed on long time NHL Exec George McPhee to be GM and Gerald Gallant to coach the team. Both proved to be perfect architects.
The NHL Expansion draft essentially allows new teams to have an opportunity to draft unprotected players from each of its franchises. For reasons we may never know, quite a few teams left some seriously talented players open to be picked.
The Golden Knights immediately snagged Goalie Marc-AndreFleury from Pittsburgh. Fleury, a 15-year NHL veteran with 3 Stanley Cups to his name was an immediate success out west.
They plucked William Karlsson an unheralded sniper from Columbus who'd never scored more than 9 goals in one season. Karlsson had 43 goals and 35 assists during the 2017-18 season. Center Jonathan Marchessault had a bit better of a resume with 30 goals in 2016 for the Florida Panthers. He dropped 27 goals this year....with 48 assists.
Really, outside Fleury, there were no "Big Name" guys on this roster when the year began. Yet the whole played much, much better than the sum of the parts which speaks volumes for Gallant and the system he employed.
And really, I guess it answered the question: No, despite their success, the Golden Knights did not appear to "Game" the system. They built a roster based on what was available to them. Many of the guys they picked up either weren't wanted or never lived up to the expectations of their previous teams.
But they fit together.
They fit together well.
The only real question now is this: With some time off while waiting for the winner of the Nashville Predators/Winnipeg Jets series, will they be sharp and ready to pick up where they left off?
In sports, its a big, big challenge to take a hot team and give them time off before they play in a game again.
If their brief history holds, the Golden Knights will probably be ready. And if they win this coming series---they could make history as the first major professional sports team to make it to their respective Championship series....in the 1st year of existence.