Photo Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Pacific Preview: Vegas Golden Knights

This is one part of a multi-part series profiling the Pacific Division. 

The Vegas Golden Knights entered the 2017-18 with zero expectations. Now, after an impossibly-good inaugural season in which they plowed their way to the Stanley Cup Final, expectations are massive. Will the Golden Knights finally falter?

Last season

51-24-7 – 109 points (1st in Pacific) 

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272 goals for (4th in the NHL) 

228 goals against (8th in the NHL)

The Golden Knights were the shock of the NHL last season. Honestly, their season was one of the biggest shocks in not just NHL history, but major North American professional sports history.

We all figured the Golden Knights would be bad in their first year. Like, not Atlanta Thrashers bad given the fact they had much, much more favourable expansion draft rules than their cousins from the 90s, but still bad. But they weren’t bad. They were really, really good.

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Vegas got off to a roaring start, winning eight of their first nine games. Everyone just kind of assumed it was an adrenaline high or a PDO bubble that would eventually burst, but the Golden Knights never came down. They never went on a prolonged cold streak despite injuries to their starting goalie, their backup goalie, and their third-string goalie.

They just kept rolling and ended up bombing their way through the Western Conference in the playoffs, sweeping the L.A. Kings, taking down the San Jose Sharks in six, and finally beating the Winnipeg Jets to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. The Golden Knights would eventually lose in five games to the Washington Capitals. Ironically, Vegas’ four-straight losses in the Cup Final was the team’s longest losing streak of the season.

How did they do it? They had a whole bunch of players who exceeded expectations.

There was a chip on this team’s shoulder and head coach Gerard Gallant did a hell of a job working with it. Nobody thought Erik Haula and Alex Tuch were going to combine for 37 goals. Nobody thought Deryk Engelland was going to be able to log 20 minutes a night on a very effective shutdown pairing. Nobody thought Marc-Andre Fleury was going to put up a .927 save percentage, especially behind that blueline.

It was a rag-tag group of players who wanted to prove everybody wrong — and they did.

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This season

  • Major Additions: Paul Stastny (signed in free agency), Nick Holden (signed in free agency), Max Pacioretty (acquired in a trade).
  • Major Subtractions: James Neal (signed in Calgary), David Perron (signed in St. Louis), Luca Sbisa (signed in NYI), Tomas Tatar (dealt away in a trade).

Now the question is whether they can do it again.

Last year, the players on the Golden Knights wanted to prove everybody wrong. They were the castaways who got left available in the expansion draft. In many instances, they were guys who teams offered draft picks and prospects in order to get rid of. But this year, there are expectations around this team. These aren’t the rag-tag group of random castaways anymore. These are the defending Western Conference Champions.

Still, as fun and exciting the narrative about the Golden Knights simply excelling because of their will to win is, there’s a lot to like about this Golden Knights team. They still have a lot of offensive depth and a wealth of players who can score goals, their blueline is thoroughly solid despite lacking a No. 1 defender, and Marc-Andre Fleury is a high-quality NHL goalie.

The team also arguably got better on paper this summer. They lost James Neal and David Perron to the open market but replaced them with Max Pacioretty, who was acquired in a trade with Montreal for Tomas Tatar, and Paul Stastny, who was added in free agency. Pacioretty is an upgrade over Neal and Stastny gives the team an excellent two-way centre for the second line.

I’m not sure if I would bet on Vegas duplicating what they did last season, but to expect them to crash and burn at this point would be naive.

  • CalgaryBornandRaised

    Outside of the last game of the season (where Vegas didn’t care) Calgary got worked by Vegas

    Flames will need a better effort against them if they want to do anything this year, hopefully the changes that Tre made will make us more of a team that can run with Vegas

    • SGRietzey

      Mm, the January game where they blew the lead late, I wouldn’t say the Flames got worked. Calgary had control of that game most of the way until Frolik’s “errant pass.” I don’t disagree, though, that they’ll need to come up with more against them, albeit they need to come up with more against the entirety of the Pacific Division too.

  • buts

    Vegas is good. Off the subject …..after looking at the picture of another flame goalie staring at the puck IN the net, Toronto has to put either Sparks or McElhenney (934 sv % last year) on waivers at the start of the season. I don’t know about you guys on FN but I would pick either up and place him as my backup as they are both better than what we have currently. I know there would be a glut on the farm but I’m sure they could find a spot in the minors for all.

      • Flint

        or… get Stone in there somehow (preferably, especially since…. cash), but I’ve got to be honest, if Stone is in we don’t get a pick back… or maybe it’s a 5th or something) But Bennett to Toronto might be good for him.

        • Flint

          We took the Gilmour deal. Sometimes the business side gets involved too. Add Stone if you’d like as I said. Nylander is unsigned and Toronto is in Cap hell next year. Gillies/Sparks is a toss-up (but solves their waivers problem). Bennett could use a change of scenery is all upside is from Ontario (good contract), Toronto needs “d”

      • cjc

        Toronto would rather have Nylander sit the whole season than trade for that return.

        -Sparks>Gillies based on AHL record
        -Nylander>>>Bennett at a younger age.
        -Kylington is at best worth a second rounder right now

        Calgary would also need to re-sign Nylander this year, and doesn’t have the space to do it with the salary going back (even if they include Stone). Then next year they need to fit in Tkachuk’s new contract (which will be at least as expensive) and find a starting goalie AND fill 5 other roster spots, with probably about 12 million to play with, depending on what Nylander signs for and whether the cap goes up.

        If they wanted to get Nylander, they should have traded Hamilton to Toronto instead.

      • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

        Toronto says no to that. Gillies is less than Sparks but is waiver exempt so TO might go straight up on that. Neither Kylington nor Bennett are sure things like Nylander butbif I squint and rub my head just right they might do that. No way they include a pick. More likely they ask us for a 3rd or 4th.

      • SGRietzey

        This trade happens on the 7th of Never. A legitimate top line/top 6 C-RW, an unproven backup/great AHL starter, AND a 1st for a reclamation project, an okay AHL starter and a good albeit still fringe D prospect? Even with Toronto’s cap considerations, Dubas & co. would rightfully laugh at that deal.

  • Off the wall

    The Vegas Knights were the Cinderella story of last season.
    With Gallant at the helm, I gotta admit they are formidable with relentless work ethic.

    We had one good game against them. One. We were 1-3 against them last season.
    Adding Pacioretty and Stastny has more than made up for the deletions on the team.

    My biggest concern is the Pacific Division. We were 12-14-4 against our division. We only beat LA and Vancouver in the series last year.

    In order for us to make the playoffs we NEED to win the series against our Pacific rivals.

    Vegas doesn’t look any easier again!

      • HOCKEY83

        Realistically…you have calgary in third but just because you are a fan. LA Anaheim Edmonton could easily be in that third place spot. Realistically the central division will probably take 5 of the 8 playoff spots so the only spots available for the pacific will be the top 3 in that division. Anything can happen but that’s how I see it playing out.

        • cjc

          I doubt I will be exactly correct at season’s end, but I see it as the most likely scenario given the quality of the teams (even if the chances it shakes out like this are like, 1 in 4).

          Sure, any of these teams could have a run of luck or get terrible goaltending, and end up winning the division or missing the playoffs altogether. You can’t predict those things though. I’ll grant that LA and Anaheim both have better goaltending, but their team-wide age is showing. Edmonton has McDavid, so anything is possible there. Hell, Arizona has some exciting young players, a solid goalie and solid D, I wouldn’t be too shocked if they all bust out this year – they were low-key good on the back half of last season.

          Nobody here can be objective, but if you look back at other comments I’ve made I can also be critical of the team – wasn’t a fan of the Dougie trade, didn’t like the Neal signing, think Jankowski is overrated. So while my inherent bias may have affected my ranking, it’s not the only thing I took into account. Take it for what it is, but everyone here is a fan, so there’s no need to point it out.