This is one part of a multi-part series profiling the 2018-19 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?
51-24-7 – 109 points (1st in Pacific)
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.
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.
- 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.