One of the biggest surprises this season is how good the Vegas Golden Knights have proven to be in the beginning of their franchise. During the offseason, pundits had them penciled in as the favorite for the first overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft (paging Rasmus Dahlin: don’t rent your flat on the strip just yet). Well, boy were they wrong; this team has been the total opposite of bad. They have been winning games from opening night and don’t seem like they are going to slow down.
They have found ways to win with just about anybody between the pipes. The mastermind that is General Manager George McPhee has built this team to near perfection. He used the expansion draft to acquire a lot of very good defenseman and draft picks, but where he shined most is getting the right group of forwards. He took young players like William Karlsson and Alex Tuch who were just looking for a shot and he gave them that opportunity, and they haven’t let him down yet.
All the success is great and all right now, but the impact this may have for the franchise going past this year is yet to be seen.
First of all, if the Golden Knights make the playoffs as seems likely right now, they are going to be looking at the later picks in each round of the draft. This franchise just started out and even though it had a lot of picks in last year’s draft, it doesn’t have a very big or strong prospect pool. They can still find good talent in the later rounds – just ask the Chicago Blackhawks, who seems to always hit with their draft picks in the later rounds – but it is much more difficult for a new franchise with new scouts that is still establishing its identity.
Obviously the success is great for growing the game in Vegas. Fans like watching good hockey, especially Stanley Cup Playoff hockey. Their fan base is growing daily and it will continue to expand with success. But what will happen if the team isn’t successful next season? Is this early success creating unreal expectations for the franchise in years to come? Having a winning culture is great but it may be hard to maintain for a brand new franchise.
On the flip side of that though, with the success and location, free agency may be a fun time for the Vegas Golden Knights. Big name free agents might like Vegas for the gambling and entertainment it provides, and now they have the bonus of playing for a potentially successful team.
They could land just about anyone with no cap issues, as the Knights have over $40 million in cap space next season and no one under contract beyond the 2021-’22 campaign. I have seen pictures of away players playing poker in the casinos and taking in the sights. They are enjoying their time in Las Vegas and if the Knights are a playoff team, life couldn’t be better for hockey players in Vegas. Few cities can boast the amenities Sin City has to offer (entertainment, weather and no income tax, just to name a few), which could make it a very attractive place to call home.
All of these things will be wait-and-see situations for the time being. Right now, the Vegas Golden Knights are a very good team in the league and are looking towards the playoffs. Can they maintain the success? Will they win a Stanley Cup before the Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals? We’ll have to see how the future will look for them going forward.