The dream to build a NHL team in the desert seemed pretty far-fetched, considering the Arizona Coyote's franchise seems to always struggle. That did not stop the team's owner Bill Foley. The application and $500,000,000 price tag and new arena were no obstacle for Bill and his partners.
In 2017, The Vegas Golden Knights hit the ice for the first time. As we now go into the Christmas break, the Vegas Golden Knights sit atop of the Western Conference with 48 Points, second in the entire NHL only to the Tampa Bay Lighting, who have 54 and lead the Eastern Conference.
How is this possible? Expansion teams usually take years to become competitive. Well, I was lucky enough to attend the expansion draft at T-Mobile arena and what a night that was. Each team was allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. Back in 1999, each franchise was allowed to protect either one goaltender, five defensemen, and nine forwards or two goaltenders, three defensemen, and seven forwards. Plus, there were fewer teams, so fewer picks. Vegas had a bigger pool to pick from the 30 other teams.
The draft rolled around and wow, the list of available players was amazing. So much so that we have too many elite players and some have to be sent down to the AHL to play. We even signed a player out of Russia, Vadim Shipachyov, who was second in scoring in the KHL. He ended up retiring from the NHL after a couple games as he had a lot of trouble adjusting to the new league and was not happy being sent to the minors. He returned to play in the KHL in Russia.
Marc Andrea Fleury is a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Olympic Gold medalist at the 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver. Marc had only played a few games into the season before he went down with a concussion and has only since returned. So how are we still in second place in the NHL? Maxime Legace stepped in and played incredibly until he went down to injury as well. Oscar Dansk then stepped in and played phenomenally. We then picked up Malcolm Subban off waivers, who has shined with his new team and has now secured the back-up roll to Fleury. At one point, with all the injuries, we even called up 19-year-old Dylan Ferguson from the Kamloop's Blazers in the WHL. He even saw a period of play. The talent pool is deep. Vegas' scouts, coaches, and general manager sure came through with these picks from the expansion draft, trades, and the NHL Prospect Draft.
The former left winger and now Vegas Golden Knight's head coach Gerard Gallant was quite the goal scorer in his time, posting 211 goals in 615 games with the Detroit Redwings and the Tampa Bay Lightning from 1984-1995. A back injury forced him into early retirement at 32. Gerard went straight into coaching the Summerside Capitals of the Maritime Junior Hockey League, leading the team to the Royal Bank Cup in 1997. He moved on to the Fort Wayne Komets of the IHL, Louisville Panthers of the AHL, Assistant for the Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL from 2001 to 2004. Then on to the Blue Jackets as head coach for the remainder of the 2003–04 season, through the 2004–05 season lost to the NHL lockout, all of the 2005–06 season, and a portion of the 2006–07 season. In 2007, he was named as General Manager of team Canada for the 2007 Men's World Ice Hockey Championships with a gold medal finish. Gallant joined the New York Islanders as an assistant coach for the 2007–08 and 2008–09 seasons. As head coach of the Saint John Seadogs of the QMJHL, he brought home two championships (2011 & 2012) and one Memorial Cup (2011). He bacame head coach of the Montreal Canadians, then the Florida Panthers, and now is more than likely to be nominated for Coach of the Year for the Vegas Golden Knights. The players are responding well under Gerard as a Head Coach.
James Neil, Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, David Perron, Reilly Smith, Erik Haula, Colin Miller, Alex Tuch, Cody Eakin, Deryk Engelland, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, just to name a few. These players are fun to watch. It doesn't matter if the team is up by two goals or down by two goals, this team finds a way to score and the goalies are there to bail out the team. There is no quit. Even during the 3-0 loss to Dallas that I took my son to for his first ever game, they kept working and battling. This team does not even have a captain yet. I would put my money on James Neil to get the C. The points are being spread out throughout the team with contributions from all the players. This is key as the team isn't relying on just one or two guys to put up all the points.
13-2-1. That's the record at home so far. Other teams love coming to Vegas, just not to play the Knights. Some speculate and call it the "Vegas Flu" when other teams come to town, party, and don't play up to their expectations. Home rink advantage Vegas. With an 8-7-1 record on the road, maybe there is a correlation, but the way the organization pumps up its home team, that could be part of it too.
This team is competitive, with an average of 3.44 goals per game, which is third in the NHL. Fleury back in net, and Subban backing him up. There is no sign of this team slowing down anytime soon and it is going to be amazing to see this team competitive in the playoffs. We still have a ways to go until the playoffs but I think it's safe to say Vegas will go deep into them and maybe even make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.