Against all expectations, the Vegas Golden Knights are off the best start for an expansion franchise in NHL history. Their 8-1-0 record so far places them 3rd in the Western Conference and in the NHL’s top 5 best teams to start the 2017-2018 season. This unexpected turn of events has many fans questioning what is going on in Vegas? It is a known fact that this year’s NHL Expansion Draft was the deepest ever for an incoming franchise, where former 30 goal scorers James Neal and Jonathan Marchessault were available. If I’m Columbus or Minnesota (the last expansion franchises from the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft), I’d be rather mad at the league for the plethora of talent Vegas had access to. With many fans quickly jumping on the Vegas bandwagon, let’s look at why the Golden Knights are doing so well.
- Deepest Expansion Roster Ever
Vegas (2017) Columbus (2000)
Perron – Eakin – Neal Sanderson-Knutsen-Heinze
Marchessault – Karlsson- Smith VS Selianov-Wright-Vyborny
Haula – Lindberg- Tuch Maneluk-Aubin-Gardiner
Does anybody recognize any names on this list? I had flashbacks of Sanderson, Vyborny, Odelein, Quint , Tugnutt and Denis. Beyond that, the 2000-2001 Columbus Blue Jackets roster would be in a race to the bottom of the NHL right now with the likes of Arizona and Montreal.
Vegas has Neal, Marchessault, David Perron, and Rielly Smith as experienced players that have score at least 20 goals in the NHL. Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, Luca Sbisa, Colin Miller and, eventually, Shea Theodore (AHL) will make for a more than decent defensive corps, whilst waiting for prospects Erik Brannstrom and Kale Clague to take over. Marc-André Fleury will be a great goaltender for the first few years of the franchise, while Vegas figures out who will succeed him in the near future.
- The Pacific Division is the Weakest Division in the NHL Right Now
The Pacific division, which includes San Jose, Edmonton, LA, Anaheim, Arizona, Dallas and Colorado. Tis is, without a shadow of a doubt, the main reason behind the Golden Knights’ immediate success. They’ve played Arizona (X2) and Dallas right out of the gate. That’s a great way to start the season, as Dallas hasn’t exactly lit up the league like we all thought they would due to their many offseason acquisitions, while Arizona seems intent on finishing last and having Dahlin on their roster next fall.
At this point, the other members of the Pacific division are also hurting. Edmonton is off to a horrible start (3-5-1), with secondary scoring proving to be their biggest issue. Obviously after shipping out Jordan Eberle and placing Leon Drasaitl on the top line, the second and third lines don’t have much to fall back on other than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The San Jose Sharks look to be seriously missing former captain Patrick Marleau, as they have come out to a 4-5-0 start. They’re currently being saved by the incredible play of pivot Logan Couture, but seriously lack offensive depth and defensive awareness right out of the gate. The Anaheim Ducks (4-4-1) do have a valid excuse, as Ryan Kesler, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Patrick Eaves have all missed or will miss a significant amount of time due to injury or illness. Nonetheless, they still managed to be at .500 without key players in their lineup. They should rise back up the rankings once these players return.
The Flames have also got off to a rocky start (5-6-0), as their defense, which was first thought to be their greatest organizational strength, has been disastrous in defensive zone exits this season. In as such, their transition game has failed them and the offence, outside of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk, has all but dried out. The Vancouver Canucks (6-3-1) and the Los Angeles Kings (8-1-1) are the only teams that seem to have risen above expectations, and each team has yet to face Vegas this season.
- The Emotion of the Vegas Shootings
We all remember the thrill of Vegas’ last minute comeback win in their season opener against the Dallas Stars (2-1). Many thought that James Neal’s heroic performance and crowd reaction would be hard to beat going forward. Boy, were we wrong! Shortly after the October 1st attacks, the Golden Knights became the rallying cry for a mourning city that had just been exposed to an extremely traumatic event. Vegas resident and Golden Knight Deryk Engelland came out during their home opener and gave one of the most moving speeches in hockey history.
That emotion alone is enough to push a person beyond his limits and tap into adrenaline that can propel you further than you ever thought possible. We have seen this before in the NHL, as the Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers and Boston Bruins (just to name a few of the cities struck by domestic terrorism and natural disasters in recent years) have utilized the raw emotion of hope from their fans to propel themselves to lengthy winning streaks. I think this is fantastic for the new franchise and it is certainly something that has motivated the players to over perform for their fans.
- Favourable Schedule
Vegas will certainly not stay 2nd in the Pacific Division for the rets of the season. Once Anaheim becomes healthier, once Dallas pulls themselves together and once the Knights start making trips out east, we will see a much different record. It must be noted that they have had the most favorable NHL schedule thus far; with their last 7 games being played at home and only away games being played in Dallas and Arizona. Meanwhile, teams like the Montreal Canadiens, who have their own organizational issues, were caught completely off-guard by an early cross-conference trip and their record fell accordingly.
It should be an interesting season for Vegas, but it is always fun to put their success in perspective. I still hope they make the playoffs, and I wish the city of Las Vegas nothing but peace and success. However, I realistically think they’ve benefitted from a lot of puck luck, emotional adrenaline and favourable scheduling that will simply not be sustained throughout a full season. In as such, I expect Vegas to slowly begin falling out of the playoff picture by the NHL All-Star weekend.