An expansion team usually has a rough go of things in their first go-around as a team. This is one of the crazier anomaly’s in pro sports history.
Vegas Golden Knights In Prime Position
Heading into Thursday night’s action in sole possession of first place in the Western Conference with 60 points and only 5 points back of the league leading Tampa Bay Lightning, the Golden Knights have already faced crazy adversity in their first season. As far as their skaters, they haven’t missed many games which is an obvious key to success. Their goalies however have been a different story.
The Golden Knights originally took Marc-Andre Fleury from the Pittsburgh Penguins and Calvin Pickard from the Colorado Avalanche as their goaltenders in the expansion draft. An opportunity then arose for them to claim former Boston Bruins backup goalie Malcolm Subban after he lost the battle to be Boston’s backup netminder. This led to them waiving Pickard before the season.
The season began on a high note as they won early and often. Only a few games into their schedule, however, Fleury was concussed after taking a knee to the head. He missed 25 games. Subban was then thrust into action giving the Golden Knights a good look at a possible long-term goalie option if Fleury is ever moved or leaves via free agency.
Subban had been very solid until he then sustained an injury that caused him to miss about three weeks.
The new goalie tandem had become Maxime Legace and Oskar Dansk. The two accounted for a 9-6 record in their appearances to keep the Golden Knights afloat. Ironically, Dansk then got hurt leading the way for Dylan Ferguson to be called up and play in one game for the Knights.
Finally, Fleury and Subban are back in and carrying the team in the crease again despite five goalies playing this year. Fleury owns a 9-2-1 record with a .945 save percentage and a 1.73 goals against average. Subban has held his own as well as he’s gone 11-2-0 with a .918 save percentage and a 2.38 goals against average.
Golden Knights Thrive On Home Ice
The Golden Knights are off to an 18-2-1 record at T-Mobile Arena this season. The crowd has been out in full fledged support of their newly-acquired hockey team. The beginning couple games were rallied big time around the #VegasStrong movement after the shootings in Vegas only a few weeks before the season began.
Ever since, the Golden Knights have been virtually unbeatable at home and have fans as excited as they’ve been to own a sports franchise with the Raiders soon to be joining them. The Golden Knights have held clinics to teach hockey to those who are into the team but don’t understand what’s going on. Hockey is very new to Vegas and they want to give their fans every opportunity to watch, learn, understand, and enjoy the game.
All-Stars…And Those Who Were Snubbed
The NHL just announced their all-star rosters on Wednesday. All 31 teams must be represented so their will always be snubs among the crowd.
Fleury and forward James Neal are the Golden Knights’ representatives for the event that takes place at the end of January. Some in the hockey community are up in arms about the decision.
Fleury’s numbers, despite only appearing in 12 games, have been very good. The questioning comes in for Neal as he is fifth on his team in scoring.
Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson are having career years for the Golden Knights. Reilly Smith and David Perron have been nearly point per game producers. Yet, James Neal will be the skater representing Vegas.
Karlsson has been possibly the biggest surprise in hockey. The 25-year old center was cast off by the Columbus Blue Jackets as the Golden Knights agreed to select him and got a draft pick out of it too so long as they kept their hands off of a few of Columbus’ prospects.
Karlsson has rewarded the Golden Knights with 22 goals and 36 points in 41 games. That’s a 72 point pace which would shatter his previous career high of 25 by miles.
What Does The Future Hold?
The Golden Knights have 12 pending free agents following the season. That number was one higher until Marchessault recently agreed to the first big-time extension in team history.
At 6 years, $30 million ($5 million annual average value), Marchessault could turn out to be one of the biggest steals in the league currently. The move also helps the Golden Knights continue to build what will likely be an ever-growing foundation.
They now have Fleury, Marchessault, Smith, Cody Eakin, and defenseman Brayden McNabb already locked up beyond 2019-20′. They have a core and that’s what they need if they want to be successful. After their success so far this season, there is a distinct possibility that they could be a solid free agency destination for years to come.
Add on top of the fact that they’ve got 28 draft picks over the next three seasons because of team’s desire to hold on to certain players and part with draft picks to assure they get to keep them.
As the Western Conference’s premier team just over the halfway mark, the Golden Knights are a feel good story for anyone. They’re going to make the playoff in year one which is generating major buzz throughout the fan base and keeping the team successful. They’ve truthfully got as much of a shot as anyone to win it all, especially if they win the Pacific Division as they are now. General manager George McPhee did a great job assembling everything and head coach Gerrard Gallant has done an admirable job coaching a team that wasn’t given much of a chance before the season started.