As I write this the Las Vegas Knights are playing in the Western Conference finals of the NHL playoffs. This is after they won a division title, totaling over 50 wins and finishing with well over 100 points in the regular season. You ask so what? Well in case you didn’t know, they are an expansion team. Meaning they have accomplished all of this in their first year of existence. And this is where some NHL fans have a problem. They are unhappy with the fact that an expansion team has achieved so much so fast while other teams across the league are struggling to find success.
It was a well known fact that the NHL put in more lax rules and regulations for their latest expansion (Vegas). They saw what happened in Atlanta and did not want a repeat of a franchise that could never find footing to build upon. Still it wasn’t the rules and regulations that led to Vegas’ success this season. They were still drafting from players buried on NHL depth charts, overpaid players, or veterans thought to be past their prime.
The reason for Vegas’ remarkable season stems from three distinct reasons. First of all the old adage of hot goaltending. They Knights picked up Marc Andre Fleury in the expansion draft. Fleury, a former Stanley Cup winner, is 33-years old and had lost the starting job with the Pittsburgh Penguins to the younger Matt Murray. It’s is a move that you of ten see in every pro league, going with youth because you feel like you have gotten all you could from the veteran. Fortunately for the Knights Fleury still had some cards up his sleeve and has been stellar in net all year long, and the team even benefited from good net minding from Malcolm Subban while Fleury missed time with an injury. The biggest factor for any NHL teams sustained success is found in between the pipes and the Knights hit on Fleury.
The second reason ties into the city the Knights play in; Vegas. No matter how much the analytical believers scream against it, there is such a thing as luck in sports and the Knights have had their share this season. We have already mentioned the return to form for Fleury. But how about their “star” Willaim Karlsson; and star is used loosely. While Karlsson did net 43 goals this season, coming into the year he was a 25 year old winger that had played on three different teams in his three NHL seasons and had scored a grand total of 18 goals. I don’t care what the Knights GM or scouts say, or whether analytical people say his numbers looked goo, there is no way anyone, ANYONE, could have confidently predicted he would score 40 goals this season. They got lucky.
They also have gotten lucky on defense, where their collection of journeyman and underperforming defenseman. But this ties into the third reason for the team’s success, strategy. With a GM in place well ahead of actually having a team he was able to watch how winning teams were playing in the league and build his team from scratch with that in mind. The Knights play fast. They are aggressive, attacking, and put the pressure on their opponents. All of this means that their defenseman have less to shoulder. When you are putting other teams on their heels it allows you to control the game and easily build momentum. And since game one this season, when they rallied for a 2-1 win over one of the preseason cup favorites rge Dallas Stars, the Knights have kept that momentum going.
For those fans complaining about the immediate success of the Knights, I say too bad. You are probably the same people that follow others around at the casino waiting for them to leave the slot machine and jump on right after hoping to win. The Knights planned out their team with a strategy in mind, received strong goaltending, and got some Vegas luck. To me the Vegas Knights story this season is all about what is great in sports. The unexpected.