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Is It Time To Seriously Consider Vegas A Championship Caliber Team?

June 22, 2016 – The NHL owners unanimously voted to approve an expansion team to be based in Las Vegas with play to begin in the 2017-2018 season. This would be the first major professional sports franchise to be based in Las Vegas. The team would be owned by billionaire businessman Bill Foley.

November 22, 2016 – The team announces their team name and logo, going with the “Golden Knights”. “Knights” was chosen because Foley wanted to pay homage to his alma mater – West Point – and “golden” was chosen because Nevada is the largest gold-producing state in the country. Also, the team elected to drop the “Las” and just go as the Vegas Golden Knights because residents tend to refer to the city as just “Vegas”.

June 21, 2017 – The team participated in the expansion draft and got to select 30 players, one from each team in the league. Each team in the league was only allowed to protect a certain number of players, typically their top half of their team, and the rest were eligible to be selected to the Vegas franchise. Whilst Vegas could really only choose players that were typically 3rd liners, their big grabs were goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from Pittsburgh and forward James Neal from Nashville.

October 10, 2017 – After a 2-0 start to the season, the team had their inaugural home game against the Coyotes. This game meant more than just an inaugural home game though, as this game took place nine days after the disgustingly horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. The team would go on to win that game in a decisive 5-2 score to bring their unbeaten start to 3-0, an NHL record for an expansion team.

Since then, this team has broken numerous expansion team records and will continue to do so by the end of the regular season. At the start, this team was predicted to be in the rebuilding phase for the next few years before contending for the playoffs. Currently, this team now sits in first place in the Western Conference with a record of 30-11-3 (63 points) and is one win away from being tied for the best team in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning – the team Vegas beat last night.

So the question zero people thought they would be asked this season: are the Vegas Golden Knights a serious Stanley Cup contender?

Goaltending:

This team has accomplished all they have amidst a horrible goalie crisis they were in at the start of the season. They have used five goalies already in just half of a season. Fleury played only four games before enduring a concussion that would cause him to miss time. Then, they only got three games out of Malcolm Subban before he got injured, followed by Oscar Dansk who wound up getting hurt in his third game for the Golden Knights. Vegas was then forced to play Maxime Legace, a goalie that wasn’t even starting a majority of games in the farm league, for 14 games until their primary goalies returned from the injury list. But, now that their goalies are healthy, I would say this team is among the top in the league at the position. Fleury has a league-high .945 save percentage as the starter, as well as Subban having a solid backup goalie .918 save percentage. As long as injuries do not return for the Vegas goaltenders, this team is strong compared to other NHL teams in terms of goaltending.

Not to mention Fleury has raised Lord Stanley’s cup three times*.

*He was the primary starter for only one, two he was technically the backup. Last year, he came in clutch for the team in the playoffs when Murray was injured, with a 9-6 record. He was replaced midway through the Eastern Conference Finals by Murray and never saw another start as the Penguins won the Cup in six games.

Defensemen:

Only two defensemen on the team are negative in +/- and the lowest +/- is -3. This defense doesn’t have any studs that will make other teams nervous talent-wise, but this is a solid defensive unit with little holes. The upside of the expansion draft for Vegas was that most teams only protected their three top defensemen, leading to the Golden Knights being composed of a bunch of guys that were their respective teams’ fourth best defensemen. Guys like Engelland, Garrison, McNabb, Miller, Sbisa, Schmidt, and Stoner are not going to gas the stats, but there is no liability and they have been performing their most important job – keeping pucks out of the net.

Forwards:

The first line of Marchessault – Karlsson – Smith is clicking with each having 42, 38, and 36 points respectively, and averaging a +/- over +21. The second line of Perron – Haula – Neal is a solid second line with each having 36, 36, and 30 points respectively. With these two lines producing the way they are, this team absolutely can make a run in the playoffs. This offense is almost built moneyball style, minimal star power compared to other teams, but with the right combinations and solid players, they find a way to get it done. Also, Marchessault is a stud having a breakout season and proving to be a franchise first-liner.

The answer is yes, they should be considered a threat to win the cup if they get hot at the right time. Defense is the key to winning and this team’s defensive unit is strong, as well as their goaltending being great. Barring a Fleury collapse in the playoffs, which has happened, this team will keep pucks out of the net. Even though this team lacks superstar offense, this team knows how to find the back of the net, and winning playoff games doesn’t have to be pretty.

Las Vegas betting odds has the Golden Knights 10/1 to win the Stanley Cup. This is the same odds as the Bruins (read Wolf’s blog from the beginning of the season..) and Capitals, and the only team that has better odds are the Lightning at 11/2. I just feel bad for the team that has to play them in the playoffs because it would be 30 fan bases vs. 1.

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