Misfits. The best way to describe the Vegas Golden Knights and their unlikely road to the Stanley Cup Final.
Many people speculated that the Vegas Golden Knights would end up in last place in this year’s NHL Season. And yet here we are with only a few games left and they are in the Stanley Cup Final…in their inaugural season. The only other teams who have done it before were the 1967-68 St. Louis Blues & the 1917-18 Toronto Maple Leafs.
What makes the Vegas Golden Knights so appealing anyway? Let’s begin with the management, George McPhee was the long time General Manager of the Washington Capitals. He had much success with the Capitals but could never get over the hump, despite having one of the best players ever in Alexander Ovechkin. After his firing, McPhee was in an awkward position. He served as an officer for the New York Islanders but that never really lead to anything. One of the best GMs was sitting in the sidelines despite having such an immense talent for finding hidden gems in the league.1
Enter Bill Foley, the lead investor who was one of the people to convince the NHL to come to Las Vegas
Named the Golden Knights, the title was maligned for being so ridiculous and didn’t have any significance to the city (This is coming from the same community that has come to accept the Anaheim Ducks). As the 31st team in the league, there was no pressure for the Knights to become so good immediately but, Foley wanted someone who can make an impact right away. The selection of George McPhee was a no brainer, you simply can’t waste someone that good in the sidelines.
After the owner and GM comes the coach, before this season, Gerard Gallant had been known as the coach who took a cab after being fired by the Florida Panthers.
The firing made no sense to myself and a lot of hockey fans. Florida was actually doing pretty well with Gallant in charge and his firing just made the players feel terrible.
Vegas was expected to be a typical expansion team. You have a bad record in the first season and gradually improve over time. The big problem was the fact that they were playing in Las Vegas. A city with zero ice for the most part. Would an audience even be there? Sure, there was hype for the fact that it was an unusual location. They would be able to find a new audience that does not watch hockey, and that’s the critical part. Having expansion teams do well early helps form a community that you didn’t know was there.
The players the Knights would get would be a very interesting bunch. We would have to have another article all about expansion so we’ll talk about the players the team got in the end.
Marc-Andre Fleury: The main reason why this team is here in the first place. Fleury helped Pittsburgh win 3 of their most recent Stanley Cups, including a 2-peat from 2015-2017. WHat makes his story unique was that he actually gave up his No-Movement Clause (he can choose which teams to go to) in order to ease the Salary Cap Pains of the Penguins.
Although injured for the early part of the season, he has come back on time to lead the Knights to the Stanley Cup Final.
Jonathan Marchessault: One of Gallant’s players from Florida who was also overlooked. Marchessault has exploded in scoring in Gallant’s system where he can thrive and be himself.
James Neal: An offensive powerhouse for the Nashville Predators who was left unprotected during the Expansion Draft. Not surprisingly, he has continued scoring despite the move to Vegas.
William Karlsson: A player who was overlooked under John Tortorella’s system in the Columbus Blue Jackets. He had 43 goals in the regular season and has been able to score regularly in the playoffs as well.
Shea Theodore: Acquired from the Anaheim Ducks so that Anaheim could protect coveted defensemen Josh Manson & Sami Vatanen. He has huge upside and could be an anchor for the team in the future.
Deryk Engelland: An aging veteran practically forgotten by his former team, Engelland was selected to help the Golden Knights in leadership. Luckily, he was already residing in Vegas when he was signed by the Knights and has been the leader they needed to command this ship.
There are many others players to highlight but one of the biggest points is that the Vegas Golden Knights were essentially the players who were exposed to the bargain bin. Nobody wanted them. This mentality helped the team unite and become the biggest surprise in the 2017-2018 NHL Season. The Knights were also a beacon of hope as the community in Las Vegas united after tragedy (2017 Las Vegas shooting).
The recent events gave the Golden Knights even more motivation to relieve the city of the pain that they went through on that fateful day. Getting to the Stanley Cup Final is just the beginning. There is a superstition that teams should not touch their respective conference trophies because the only trophy that can be touched is the Stanley Cup
Like the band of misfits that they are, Deryk Engelland bucked tradition and just carried the Clarence Campbell Bowl (Western Conference Championship). Marc-Andre Fleury told Engelland to just go for it.
After all Fleury touched the Prince of Wales Trophy (Eastern Conference Championship) 3 times and won the Stanley Cup each time he did so. Only time will tell how this Cinderella Story will end.