Las Vegas Golden Knights Not Your Typical Expansion Team
Benjamin Franklin said it best, “there are very few certainties in this world except for death and taxes.” One certainty I would like to add to that great historical quote would be that expansion teams in major sports fail, for the most part, in their first decade. You know, the Las Vegas Golden Knights have proved that I am terribly wrong, and that Ben Franklin would be completely correct…who knew? It is certainly not customary for expansion teams to garner six of seven wins in their first stretch as a franchise. This is something of a miracle…or is it?
Let’s break this down, to show just how the Las Vegas Golden Knights have truly set themselves apart from the competition of previous expansion teams, and being quite honest, their current competition.
The Golden Knights were actually quite lucky that they entered the NHL when they did, and with the ownership that they did. William P. Foley III is the team’s current majority owner, honing about 70% of the teams command. Foley, who is a current billionaire, graduated from West Point, has a sort of “no nonsense” aura about him. I guess that’s the sort of ownership you will need when you bring 20 something year olds to play hockey for a living in Las Vegas. Also, having $500 million dollars to give to help the franchise flourish isn’t a negative thing either.
I believe one of the reasons why the Golden Knights have flourished in comparison to prior expansion franchises is the way that the player salaries has grown in recent years. We have to travel all the way back to the turn of the millennium to find the previous expansion with the NHL. Yes, in 2000 there were absurd contracts as well, with Jaromir Jagr and Paul Kariya making roughly $10 million dollars, but apart from the 2 players in the 2000-2001 season making that much, average top 9 forwards were hard-pressed to find $1 mil. This has drastically changed in recent years.
Today’s NHL is much closer to the MLB contract market than one might think. Players are receiving exponentially higher contracts than one might think. Forget the fact he “retired” and went to Russia, but Ilya Kovalchuk signed a contract with the New Jersey Devils for 17 years, $102 mil. Are you serious? 17 years. Kovalchuk would’ve been 44 years old when he finished that deal. This is my point. Players want more years, more guaranteed money. So, what have the franchises done? They have given in to these requests and granted such money for these way too lengthy contracts. Now, while this seems like an entirely negative statement, believe me, it certainly isn’t for the Golden Knights.
Now that we have finished the back story, let me finally shed some light into why this is such a good thing for the Golden Knights. Vegas is starting with 0 dollars, which obviously creates some room for them to choose who they see fit. They have no one on the books. When the expansion draft comes looming they are able to meticulously hand pick the players that they want representing their franchise, with no prior financial promises to have to worry about. So, what this means is the James Neal’s, David Perron’s and Marc-Andre Fleury’s of the NHL world become available, they have the money to take them. They just acquired a franchise goaltender, a top line scorer, and a hard working veteran who knows all facets of what it takes to be successful in the NHL.
In today’s NHL youth seems to be the driving factor behind many general manager decisions. Connor McDavid, Auston Mathews, Jack Eichel, David Pastrnack…all among the top players on their teams, barely (if that) legal to consume alcohol in the United States. George McPhee, general manager of the Golden Knights, was able to pick apart opposing teams non-exemption lists and find hidden gems, while gathering top NHL ready talent for his squad.
The underrated players of the hockey world have made their way to the Golden Knights roster, and that is why I believe that they are currently winning hockey games, and may boast the ability to say they are one of very few expansion teams to make the playoffs in their first year of competition. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Oscar Lindberg, Reilly Smith, Lucas Sbisa, Deryk Engelland and Cody Eakin headline a list of players that have always been known as the work horses of the NHL, with very little headline recognition. Look what happens when you put a team of players together like that in one locker room, they all want to work for each other. It doesn’t hurt having a multiple all-star appearance goaltender behind them, but that’s besides the point.
While everyone may be quick to jump on the preverbal “elephant in the room” that the Golden Knights have only beat the Coyotes (twice) and Sabres, they have also beat the Bruins, Stars and Blues. Those are three teams that are very difficult to take down. With James Neal and Reilly Smith leading the way in points, with eight and seven respectively, there are lots of players that are ready, willing and able to make a splash for the Golden Knights. Alex Tuch is one of them with currently two goals and one assist in just three games.
To wrap up this wildly lengthy post, I would like to point out, DO NOT SLEEP ON THE KNIGHTS. I put that in all caps because I want it to be known that is team is “the real deal” as far as it goes with expansion teams. Granted, I do not believe these Knights to latch onto this 1st/2nd place positioning once the season gets down into the real full swing, but I would not be surprised if the Knights settle themselves into a 3rd place divisional positioning, or a Wild card spot heading into the playoffs.
My educated guess…42-35-5. A wild card berth.