The Vegas Golden Knights had 500-1 odds of winning the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season back in October. Now, they’re just four wins away.
Let’s clarify a few things here:
1. The team has a lot of leadership.
And that’s not doing enough justice to give their head coach, Gerard Gallant, some credit for the way the team’s carried themselves.
2. The team has a lot of playoff experience.
Vegas general manager George McPhee didn’t look for just a bunch of nobody’s. This is Fleury’s fifth appearance in the Stanley Cup Final– and third straight.
Entering this postseason, only the following Golden Knights regulars had zero games of playoff experience– Ryan Carpenter, William Carrier, Tomas Nosek, Malcolm Subban (their backup goaltender, not likely to see any playing time with Fleury existing) and Alex Tuch.
Fleury (115 games), Neal (80), Perron (42), Ryan Reaves (36), Engelland (28), Erik Haula (24), Nate Schmidt (21), Luca Sbisa (20) and Shea Thoedore (20) all had at least 20 games of playoff experience coming into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Reaves, of course, was acquired prior to the trade deadline. Primarily for his scoring prowess in an elimination game, obviously. Wait.
3. The 2017 Expansion Draft was not rigged.
Nobody told Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon he had to a) leave Marchessault exposed and b) trade Reilly Smith to Vegas to ensure they wouldn’t select someone other than Marchessault at the Expansion Draft.
Let’s reword that a bit.
Marchessault was left exposed and the Panthers did not specify that he was untouchable as part of the Smith deal. Florida encouraged Vegas to take on Smith’s $5.000 million cap hit through the 2021-22 season after one down year with the Panthers.
The Golden Knights were the scapegoat for salary cap mismanagement by other NHL teams and everyone thought Vegas wouldn’t turn out to be this way.
Fleury was assured of being selected by McPhee and Co. thanks to Pittsburgh’s tight cap after winning back-to-back Cups along with their goaltending situation in which Matt Murray had rightfully taken the starting goaltender role. The Penguins even sent a 2018 second round pick in the trade to persuade Vegas to select Fleury in the Expansion Draft instead of a guy like Brian Dumoulin.
A happy accident– or more accurately, superb scouting and foresight. That same scouting led to nailing more than one needle in a haystack.
Alex Tuch? Traded by the Minnesota Wild to Vegas as part of an agreement that McPhee would select Erik Haula.
The Anaheim Ducks traded Theodore to Vegas so the Golden Knights would take Clayton Stoner and not one of Anaheim’s young core players of the future.
Finally, the talent pool is better than ever before. The Golden Knights were bound to stockpile a few good players as a result of stacked rosters (in theory) across the 30 other NHL clubs.
McPhee also worked the phones and made more than a few trades and depth signings in free agency.
Maxime Lagace and Oscar Dansk were both free agent signings that held things over for Vegas in the net while Fleury and Subban were injured for almost the first quarter of the regular season. Dansk went down with an injury himself four games into the Golden Knights third-string goaltending emergency relief plan.
When the Golden Knights turned to Dylan Ferguson in goal it was only possible because of McPhee’s deal with the Dallas Stars in which defender Marc Methot, who was claimed at the Expansion Draft by Vegas, was flipped to Dallas for Ferguson and a 2020 second round pick.
Not every selection made by Vegas in the 2017 Expansion Draft suited up for the Golden Knights.
Trevor van Riemsdyk was packaged with a 2018 seventh round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for Pittsburgh’s 2017 second round pick (Jake Leschyshyn).
David Schlemko was flipped to the Montreal Canadiens for a 2019 fifth round pick.
Alexei Emelin was sent to the Nashville Predators for a 2018 third round pick.
Despite appearing in preseason action for Vegas, last season’s backup goaltender with the Colorado Avalanche– turned AHL backup goaltender with the Toronto Marlies this season– Calvin Pickard was dealt to the Maple Leafs for a 2018 sixth round pick and Tobias Lindberg.
Pickard’s trade was spurned by McPhee finding a better backup goaltender at no cost to the organization– Malcolm Subban.
Subban was claimed off waivers from Boston after the Bruins waited a few days after waivers went into effect to decide on sending him to Providence.
Ryan Carpenter? Another claim off waivers– midseason— from the San Jose Sharks.
It’s a professional league. It’s a free market. Something, something, stop complaining because your team has a history of letting you down. The Golden Knights will let their fans down in time, just like every other professional sports franchise in the history of all major professional North American sports.
But for now, why not enjoy the ride?
They swept a 1967 expansion team in the First Round, they defeated a 1990s expansion team in the Second Round and now they’ve beaten a late-1990s expansion franchise that relocated to Winnipeg in 2011 for the Western Conference championship.
There’s never going to be another run quite like this and if it ends in a Stanley Cup championship maybe we should all meet in Vegas for the afterparty. Celebrate the sport.