A professional sports team in Las Vegas, Nevada, is no longer just a fun idea, as the Vegas Golden Knights have a real-live roster full of mediocre veterans, untested rookies … and Jonathan Marchessault. Though the roster you see now may not mirror the one Vegas sports on October 6, when the franchise takes the ice for the first time in Dallas against the Stars, the Expansion and Entry Drafts have provided us with a more transparent view of the product we will eventually this fall.
With a number of uncertainties still to be addressed, such as who will be the franchise’s first captain and which players/teams will fall victim to Sin City’s bright lights and dark corners, we’ve set the odds for everything surrounding the Golden Knights’ inaugural season. While the NHL’s newest team isn’t going to be competing for Lord Stanley’s Cup right out of the gate, we’ve also taken a look forward to a (hopefully) more successful future, setting over/unders on when the team will first make the playoffs, and how much of the original roster will still be around when they do.
Spoiler alert: it probably won’t include 35-year-old Deryk Engelland and his current one-year contract.
I’ve never understood why the captaincy is so important in the NHL, and judging by the fact that three other teams in the league currently don’t have a captain, maybe it’s not? Considering most hockey players are as dry as toast, I can’t imagine too many of them give rousing Braveheart-esque speeches before a game. Instead, most captains “lead by example,” so the captain is typically just your best player. Who knows who that will be on this Vegas team? (Outside of Marc-Andre Fleury who, because of stupid hockey traditions, probably won’t be named captain because he’s a goalie.)
When you can’t give the C to a good player, the next step is to give it to a gritty old guy (see: Brian Gionta). Engelland best fits that bill, and he used to play for the ECHL’s Vegas Wranglers, so double-win. But don’t rule out “vacant” as a serious contender.
And with a paltry 12 goals on the season, you’re Vegas Golden Knights leading scorer is …
No, things shouldn’t be that bad. But scoring won’t be easy to come by for Vegas if they can’t find someone to produce like a top-line center. James Neal once scored 40 goals, but had the benefit of Sidney Crosby at center. Aleksander Barkov may not be a household name, but he’s a far better center than anyone on this roster, and a big reason why Marchessault had a breakout 30-goal season last year.
Either this team will need a young forward like Eakin to step up and play big minutes at center, or perhaps they found a gem in KHL free agent Shipachyov.
Thorburn is a UFA, and it’s unlikely the 34-year-old brawler fits into the team’s plans. After all, Engelland can serve as the team’s enforcer: he had seven fights last season.
Duke was drafted in 2014, but never signed with the Minnesota Wild. He just spent the last year playing as an over-aged player in the Western Hockey League. This path doesn’t typically scream “going to the NHL.” However, the Golden Knights have been using Duke as a marketing tool ever since they signed him on March 6, so perhaps they’ll reward him with a spot in the lineup, even if just for a game. Vegas has a glut of forwards right now, but injuries always happen, and players like Perron and Neal could make for hot commodities at next year’s trade deadline. If he doesn’t make the roster sooner, Duke should at least be in the mix for a call-up during year one.
Arizona must be feeling the pressure to not be the worst team in the desert, because they’ve made some big deals this week to overhaul their team. But even with the Coyotes making improvements, the Golden Knights may still have one team they can reign over; the lowly Avalanche.
Colorado wasn’t tanking, they were legitimately trying to win, and they only mustered 22 wins and 48 points in 2016-17. Vegas also stole their best goalie from last season, and he’ll be a backup to Marc-Andre Fleury: so the Golden Knights have an advantage over the Avs in the crease. But Colorado still has three dynamic forwards that can either help them win next season, or fetch a good return in this summer’s trade market.
Though the alcohol rules in Vegas are extremely lax, T-Mobile Arena is not permitting any outside beverages, which includes alcohol. Sorry, you’ll have to finish up outside the arena and purchase a new one inside. What an inconvenience. If (when) the team stinks, the novelty of desert hockey wears off, and ticket sales start to decline, this could be one of the first things to change.
According to Westgate book director Jay Kornegay, the NHL accounts for around two-percent of a sportsbooks handle. But the local team should drum up more interest than most, from locals and tourists who get comped tickets and may want a reason to care about the game.
Given the randomness of hockey, bookmakers don’t set very long underdogs, no matter how bad a team may be. Those sucky Avalanche were only +300 dogs once last season.
Westgate set the Golden Knights first home game as a pick’em, even though it’s against a lowly Coyotes team that may be one of the few Vegas can consistently challenge. If they’re not even favored in those circumstances, it’s hard to see this team being favored often, unless they start the season hot and prove some doubters wrong.
I know. Jagr’s not even on the roster … yet. But he’s a single, 45-year-old free agent who’s already played for half the league, and Vegas is a team in need of big names. It could totally happen. And it would lead to hilarious results.
The very young Arizona Coyotes have the first opportunity to enjoy Vegas, but there will still be a fair amount of optimism that early in the season, so expect a disciplined team. Of all the young teams heading to Vegas, the Leafs are in the worst spot, having to play in Sin City on New Year’s Eve. But you’d have to think someone will beat Toronto to it.
We know Vegas loves to gamble on sports, but do they have the fan-base to support a team? Hitting the over will depend on the Knights becoming competitive sooner rather than later.
Fortunately, the NHL season falls outside of the excessively hot months in Vegas. But keeping that ice in great condition for training camps in September will cost a pretty penny.
The Golden Knights selected 12 players in 2017. They only have five picks in next year’s draft at the moment, but as they start selling off their bevy of defensemen, they’ll obtain a handful more.
Vegas currently has 38 players listed on its roster. Eight of the players currently “on the team” are UFAs or RFAs that Vegas needs to sign for next year, and surely some won’t be retained. Then you get into which players will get dealt this summer, which will go at the deadline, and which will just flat out get released, and it should be a very different Vegas team in one year. Even including the minor league roster, 20.5 might be too high a number.
Let’s say it takes four seasons for the Golden Knights to get in the dance: currently only Reilly Smith is under contract for the 2020-21 season. The team certainly has some young assets it will want to keep around, but overall, expansion teams aren’t meant to stay together. Remember that surprise Wild team that made the playoffs in its third season? Only four players from the expansion roster were still around for that run.
It’s been 17 years since the NHL’s last round of expansion teams, so we have a pretty good map of what to expect for the Vegas Golden Knights (hint: it’s not a parade). Nashville, Atlanta/Winnipeg, Columbus, and Minnesota were the last four teams added to the league, and the Predators just became the first of the bunch to make a Cup final. The Blue Jackets have yet to win a playoff series; the Thrashers/Jets have yet to win a playoff game. Outside of a surprise playoff run by the Wild in 2003, these franchises all spent the first decade of existence in obscurity.
While the NHL tweaked the expansion draft rules to help the Golden Knights, it will still take a while to assemble a true contender. And sad-sack franchises like St. Louis and Washington have shown that consistently icing great teams doesn’t necessarily mean your time to win will come. The Blues, Capitals, Canucks, and Sabres have all been in the league over 40 years and they’ve yet to capture the Cup. Imagine how pissed those fans will be if Vegas cuts them in line.
However, the Golden Knights could absolutely lap franchises like the Coyotes and Panthers: not only are they both wildly mismanaged, but they don’t have any fans that would be outraged at getting beaten to a Stanley Cup.
If you ask me, the ice crew in Vegas will have it awfully easy. While the poor suckers in Detroit and Nashville have had to scoop up a dead sea creatures, they may be racing out to claim their tips.
After Mayweather vs. McGregor proves to be a flop, just like Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, the idea of a boxer fighting a non-boxer will likely lose a lot of its appeal. (I hope.)
Featured photo: Marc Andre Fleury (by southcentral (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0])
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