The gamble of putting a hockey team in Las Vegas is really paying off.
If you’re a hockey fan, you have probably heard all about the incredible start to the season for the Golden Knights, coming out of the gate with a 7-1-0 record. Fans from around the league are still asking the same questions, “Is this team the real deal?” At this point, it is honestly still too early to tell. If you are a fan of the team, you obviously want to flaunt this big run, but it’s a long season and anything can happen. Could they continue their great play, shock the NHL, and advance to post-season play? Absolutely, it’s a long season and anything can happen.
As a Bowling Green graduate, I had the opportunity to meet many famous Falcon Hockey alumni, as they came home to cheer on their alma mater. George McPhee was one of those individuals. It was the 50th Anniversary of the rink and there were many former players in attendance. I essentially had a checklist of people I wanted to “conveniently run into” for a quick picture and an autograph. When I saw McPhee, as I handed him a puck to sign, I found it within me to ask him a question about his new job. Very simply, I asked what we could expect from this new franchise. His one word answer was straight to the point, “Effort.” He went on to explain that his team would give their best effort and the results would take care of themselves.
Fast forward to a Las Vegas team that is now in the record books for the best start of any Expansion team and this conversation takes a whole new meaning. No one would have predicted this start, even the General Manager himself. He was right though. The Golden Knights are giving 110% and their hard work is paying off.
After their first few wins, particularly two against the Colorado Avalanche and another two over the winless Arizona Coyotes, the Golden Knights were simply taking advantage of their strength of schedule. A few games later and they have defeated the Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks; three teams that are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders (at least have been in recent memory). So is this the real deal? The way I see it, there are three potential finishes the Vegas Golden Knights could have. Let’s take a look and you can be the judge.
Option A: The Golden Knights Continue to Dominate
The expectations have changed for this team. Fans and players alike are starting to see that something special is brewing in Nevada and they want more of it. At this point, why doubt them? They could come back down to earth, but it’s more fun just to enjoy the ride. James Neal is having a career year, followed by the success of Reilly Smith and David Perron. William Karlsson is finally seeing some daylight after being towards the bottom of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ depth chart in previous seasons. Keep in mind they are winning games without Marc-Andre Fleury, who could be coming back shortly from injury. Their early resume is impressive to say the least, and if the players continue to push their limits, they really could tear apart the Western Conference. If you picked up the Golden Knights and put them in the Eastern Conference, this would likely be a different story. But, the schedule they have plays in their favor and you might be watching this team win a lot more than they lose.
Option B: Mediocracy is Ok Too
If you are an established franchise, you never want to shoot for average, but Expansion teams have completely different expectations. The coaching staff in Las Vegas probably established a goal to break even this season. Win several home games, play good hockey, grow the fan base, and get a decent draft pick. In their first season of play, that would be an ideal outcome. This is the most plausible result for the Golden Knights. In an 82-game season, things happen. Injuries, slumps, and trades are all problems that can derail a team’s season.
The Golden Knights haven’t had to deal with much adversity so far this season. With the exception of their goaltending department, the Golden Knights haven’t had to deal with much adversity so far this season. It will come and we will see how they handle it. Regardless, don’t sleep on this team because they have shown they know how to win.
Option C: Tank… Tank… Tank…
The idea of a complete breakdown seems unlikely, but it is still possible. Their start to the season is great, but could the wheels still fall off? As we mentioned above, one major injury could completely change the course of the season. So far, Malcolm Subban and now Oscar Dansk have prevented this from already happening. The difference between success and failure is a very fine line in the NHL. One moment things are great, but then all of a sudden… something bad happens. The Golden Knights are on an incredible streak, but as we learned with last year’s Columbus Blue Jackets, winning doesn’t always last. The concept of tanking is really awful. Players should always go out and give their best, no matter what their current record looks like. The Golden Knights will fight throughout the season, but what will their result look like at the finish line?
Expansions teams are a unique topic. You are starting with brand new players, who typically have not played together before. There are really no star-caliber players on the roster, which means you can’t depend on one or two guys to take over the offense. Team chemistry, specifically among line mates, is a critical part of the game. All teams have to deal with questioning where they slot in the new players on their roster, but the Las Vegas coaching staff had to make those decisions for the entire team. So far, things have worked perfectly, but that could all change with the flip of the switch. Keep an eye on the Golden Knights because they could sneak up on the rest of the league. They are here and they appear poised to continue their success. Will the management go all in on this year’s team? We’ll have to wait and see.