Looking at The Success of The Las Vegas Golden Knights
Golden Knights Are NHL's Best Of The First
At the start of the NHL season, Bovada would give you odds of +20000 on the Las Vegas Golden Knights winning the Stanley Cup. No surprise there. Based on history, as a first-year expansion team, hopelessness figured to be their constant companion. But as we head to the NHL All-Star break, the surprising Golden Knights are shattering all previously-held beliefs about expansion teams, leading the NHL Western Conference standings.
Their success story is also evident at the betting windows. One Las Vegas sportsbook reported that eight percent of money wagered and 10 percent of tickets played on Stanley Cup future bets has been placed on the hometown Golden Knights. Bovada has dropped the Golden Knights all the way down to +650 to win the Stanley Cup. Only the Tampa Bay Lightning (+600) are currently being given a better chance to win it all this spring.
When you think expansion teams, the images that come to mind are sad-sack sorts like the NFL's 0-14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976, or MLB's 1962 New York Mets, who lost 120 games. Bill Mikkelson, a defenseman with the first-year Washington Capitals in 1974-75, set an NHL record that still stands by posting a minus-82 rating.
Las Vegas is as far from that stereotype as a first-year team can be. The Golden Knights are the darlings of North American professional sport. How have they assembled this unprecedented achievement? Let's look at that.
A Helping Hand
Expansion drafts are generally an exercise in established teams giving their tired, their poor and their not ready for prime time players to the new team. The NHL set out to provide Las Veags a chance to be competitive quickly by permitting the 30 existing teams to protect just one goaltender and eight skaters. In doing so, the Golden Knights were able to glean talent such as Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a Stanley Cup winner, and 30-goal scorers like James Neal (Nashville) and Jonathan Marchessault (Florida).
Depth Of Purpose
Expansion teams rarely have enough talent to field a decent first unit, so injuries tend to be especially devastating. Not so with the Golden Knights. Injuries to Fleury and back-up Malcom Subban forced the Golden Knights to actually go five deep into their goaltending depth chart early in the season, and none of the five netminders shows a losing record.
They Shoot And Score
Scoring is another common challenge with first-year teams. The 0-14 1976 Buccaneers, for instance, were shutout five times. The 1992-93 Ottawa Senators averaged an NHL-low 2.4 goals per game in 1992-93 while going 10-70-4. Through their first 47 games, the Golden Knights had tallied a Western Conference-leading 163 times, averaging 3.46 goals per game. Center William Karlsson (27) and left-winger Neal (22) are already 20-goal scorers, and four other players are in double digits.
Records Earned, Records In View
It was good from the get-go. The Golden Knights were the first NHL expansion team to start 3-0 and they won five of their first six games, just the second first-year franchise to do so in NHL history. Their 8-1 start was also an NHL first. An eight-game winning streak matched the NBA's 1976-77 Denver Nuggets for the longest stretch of success by an expansion team.
It's just a matter of time until 32-11-4 Las Vegas sets a new NHL record for wins by a first-year expansion team. The 1993-94 Florida Panthers set the standard with 33 wins. No NHL expansion team has ever posted a winning record, and just one has finished first, and that was a given. The 1967-68 Flyers led the West Division, which was comprised entirely of six first-year teams.
It's also why the Flyers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, and Minnesota North Stars are the only NHL expansion teams to make the playoffs, because it was mandated that four of the 1967-68 expansion teams would qualify for postseason play. This is one instance where the NHL hasn't given Las Vegas a leg up. The Golden Knights will make the playoffs the traditional way. They will earn it.
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