Vegas Golden Knights - Then and Now: NHL Expert Analysis
Vegas baby, Vegas.
What an absolute treat it's been as a fan of the National Hockey League to witness an expansion team not only come into the league and hold their own but consistently set new records almost every time they touch the ice. Below is the list of records tied or broken by the Golden Knights so far this season.
• The Golden Knights were the fastest expansion team in NHL history to reach 15 wins, needing only 22 games to do so.
• Two five-game winning streaks before the end of November, which equalled the record set by the 1926-27 New York Rangers and 1979-80 Edmonton Oilers.
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• The Golden Knights currently have 31 wins in 46 games. The record for wins by an expansion team belongs to the 1993-94 Anaheim Ducks and Florida Panthers with 33 wins in 84 games. Barring a catastrophic collapse, the Golden Knights are well on their way to a 45-win season.
• The Golden Knights first-half success was the best of any expansion team among the four major sports leagues - Golden Knights (.732), Washington Senators - MLB (.466), Carolina Panthers - NFL (.375) and Denver Nuggets -NBA (.707).
Before the season began, I wrote a piece that spoke about the impact a professional sports franchise would have on the city of Las Vegas. Las Vegas is generally spoken about as an "event town" that draws people in for a few nights at a time throughout the year. The Golden Knights franchise has brought new life to the city, not only among the locals who support their team in waves but also with opposing fan bases needing a reason to visit Sin City. The Golden Knights have played 22 home games so far this year and have seen 393,683 people walk through the gates, for an average of 17,894 people per game. That puts them among the top 15 teams in the league, which is goes to show you that when a team is successful, the attendance numbers will be solid.
How the Golden Knights Keep Winning
For starters, this was not your typical expansion draft. The Vegas Golden Knights were allowed to select from a much bigger pool of players than previous expansion teams were afforded. For example, when the Columbus Blue Jacks and Minnesota Wild broke into the NHL in the year 2000, teams were allowed to protect a total of nine forwards, five defensemen and one goalie or two goalies, three defensemen and seven forwards. This past season, the NHL informed teams that they would only be able to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or one goalie and eight skaters (regardless of position). In a salary cap league, having to make decisions that not only impact your immediate roster but your payroll left several talented players unprotected by teams who were stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Look no further than the Golden Knights' leading point producer, Jonathan Marchessault. Marchessault made a splash last season when he recorded 30 goals and 51 points for the Florida Panthers as an undrafted player on a $625,000 contract. This year, he already has 17 goals and 43 points, which puts him in the Top 30 in scoring. The Golden Knights also rewarded his stellar play by inking him to a six-year, $30-million contract earlier this month. But Marchessault isn't doing it alone. Five other Golden Knights have more than 30 points already this season, none more surprising than William Karlsonn and his 25 goals. Karlsson played in 81 games in both the 2015-16 and 16-17 season with Columbus and posted 15 total goals. His remarkable jump in production is almost certain to get him a contract extension once his $1 million contract expires at the end of this season.
On the back end, the Golden Knights have endured some injury adversity to their goaltenders. At one point they were down to their fourth stringer after starter Marc-Andre Fleury, backup Malcom Subban, and third stringer Oscar Dansk missed extended time due to respective injuries. Nonetheless, the Golden Knights are still ranked sixth in the NHL in goals against per game (2.63), while Marc-Andre Fleury leads the goaltending categories in save percentage (.946) and goals against average (1.68).
The Golden Knights as a team are also ranked third in the NHL with 155 goals scored and third with an average of 3.63 goals per game. They have a top half penalty kill (81.9) percent, but their power play could use some help (17.3 percent, 22nd overall).
Another major factor in the Golden Knights success is their home/road dichotomy. The Golden Knights are an impressive 13-9-2 away from home but an even better 18-2-2 at the friendly confines of T-Mobile Arena.
What's Next for the Golden Knights?
Since the Golden Knights took over first place in the National Hockey League, it's only right that we begin to take them seriously as Stanley Cup contenders. They are currently second-favorites to win the Cup at +650 (Bovada) , right behind Tampa Bay, which checks in at +600. The Golden Knights are also +375 to win the Western Conference, which is well ahead of the second-place Nashville Predators (+650).
In terms of what's next for the Golden Knights, they need to enter the All-Star break strong. They host two home games, against the Blue Jackets and Islanders, before embarking on a six-game road trip after the break through Calgary, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Washington, Pittsburgh and San Jose. I'm not going to give you any "hot takes" and predict a disastrous road-trip, but anything more than five points would surprise me.
In terms of a roster shake up as the trade deadline approaches on March 1, there aren't too many moves I would make if I was the general manager in charge. George McPhee did a tremendous job prior to the expansion draft negotiating with teams and collecting draft picks in exchange for not picking a certain player. Those assets could be used in a number of different ways, including renting a player or two for the post season or securing a legitimate roster piece that will play a role in future seasons. However, the one area I would look to improve on is production from the back-end.
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