After the conclusion of the long-awaited 2017 NHL expansion draft, it looked to be a few long years ahead for the brand new Las Vegas team. They had no foreseen roster depth, and although they had stable goaltending, that couldn’t carry them all the way through the season. They had a few hopeful players, but nothing special. No all-star worthy skaters, or particularly threatening scorers. What actually happened at the beginning of the season, however, shocked the hockey world.
Many fans and professionals called for a lackluster start, a few years to create a beaten path and formulate the beginnings of a franchise. With the Oakland Raiders moving to the Las Vegas area, however, they were short on time to create a worthy fanbase. Would the team sink, or float? Sink was the common answer because nobody expected much right off the starting block.
Oh, how wrong they were. The reason behind the success of the young Vegas Golden Knights franchise could be attributed to many things, but it started with the roster.
There were no real dazzling gems coming into T-Mobile arena. Sure, a few promising prospects, but that was not “in the now”. Assumptions were made about Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury carrying the team for the most of the season, but that was not the case. Instead, the iconic “Golden Misfits” took center stage. The nickname spurred from the players- a ragtag group of team rejects that weren’t important enough to protect. They were mediocre, most of them, safe bets for their previous teams, who didn’t want to lose any big talent. Instead of having a few great players, and the rest settling along the “meh” line, the Knights started out with a roster stacked with mediocre, bordering on “pretty good” players.
They banded together, they defied odds, they won over the city of Las Vegas as well as games. They won. And won. And won. Previously “skeptical at best” players gave career years, hitting their stride and then going beyond that. Even with goaltending issues, and the supposed “lord and savior” of Las Vegas on the bench, they kept winning. They saw the conflict in the crease, and they raised a deadly offensive and defensive surge to repent for it.
Nearly halfway through the season, they were taking the Western Conference by storm. They had the entire division kneeling before them, and they had hopes at a Stanley Cup run in their first year of existence. Not only did this team set a new bar for future expansion teams, they took that bar and they chucked it into the stratosphere.
“Can they keep this up?” fans ask, “Can they maintain this level of play and bring it into the offseason?”
The answer is yes, they most certainly can. By the end of the season, they held an impressive 109 point record. They finished 5th in the league and posted 51-24-7 numbers. Entering the postseason, they were a nearly unstoppable machine, the “home advantage” reaching a whole new level. The playoffs are a different season, however, and every beast must bleed, right?
Not this beast, not yet anyway. They faced the LA Kings in the 1st round, and finished the series in 4 games with the first franchise sweep and the first franchise playoff series win all in one shot. They were set to face the San Jose Sharks in the 2nd round. The two teams flirted with each other through the first 4 games. After some back and forth banter, the Knights pulled ahead, finished their opponents off 4-2, and advanced to the 3rd round.
The Jets now stood between them and a conference championship in their inaugural year. They started off with the bang and took the series lead 1-0. The Jets struck back, and tied the series 1-1 but proceeded to lose 3 consecutive games after that, and Knights finished the series 4-1 to advance to the Final.
Hopes were high, the Vegas Fever was contagious, and only the Washington Capitals remained in their way. All good things must end, however, and they finished their very first season with a 4-1 loss to the Caps. Despite the disappointing ending, the entirety of the Knights season was a great success. They established a tempo early, they forged their place in the NHL, and they gave Vegas something to cheer for.
So where are they now? Just one year later, the Knights made the playoffs once again. Even with a 1st round exit in game 7, there is much to look forward to in the coming years for the young franchise. The magic of the Golden Misfits might be wearing away as the team sheds their title of a “mediocre group”, but in their place remains the Golden Knights.
Moving forward, the Knights hope to continue their playoff streak and maintain the success they have seen from the beginning of their career. A Knight must defend his Fortress, and for now, this group is doing just fine.
Article by Tess Garchinsky (@flyersnbuckets)
Cover photo retrieved from nytimes.com