The Vegas Golden Knights have obviously been the biggest story in the National Hockey League this season. They have led the Pacific for almost the entire season and have recently become the President’s Trophy front runners. They are by far the best NHL expansion team in the leagues’ existence, and in my opinion, the best in all of the four major sports.
I must say the Knights’ success has caught me by surprise. I made some comments on Vegas saying that they could have gotten more out of the expansion draft than they did and that they would be the worst team in the league. I don’t think I am the only person who thought that at first however. Let’s just say I didn’t expect Deryk Engelland to be a decent contributor in 2018.
“What has made Vegas so successful?” is a burning question amongst the hockey community. Many say it’s because of all of the players who are looking to prove the teams that left them exposed wrong. Others say it’s players playing for a pay day at the end of the season. Having little to no expectations takes pressure off of a team and they are playing with house money. They are also one of the fastest teams in the league which is the way to win in the NHL. If you were to ask me, it’s a combination of all of those things.
Credit must be given to the management team and coaching staff in Vegas as well. Obviously at first I ripped their management apart and they have proven me completely wrong. So that leads us to the question, which teams helped out Vegas the most with their expansion draft decisions?
9.) Washington Capitals
The Knights had two great options to choose from when selecting from Washington in Philipp Grubauer and Nate Schmidt. As a Leaf fan, I watched a great deal of Schmidt in the playoffs and couldn’t believe he was their 7th defenseman. He is a fantastic skater and good on both sides of the puck. Schmidt is having a career season and is arguably their number one defender.
8.) Boston Bruins
Boston protected the wrong Miller. Collin Miller is in the same boat as Nate Schmidt. They are both having career seasons on the blueline and are looking to be great pieces to build the defense around going forward.
7.) St. Louis Blues
David Perron looks like the David Perron of five years ago. It was definitely a good bet to take as he has been fairly reliable for 40-50 points throughout his career. I don’t think anyone knew he was this good however.
6.) Minnesota Wild
At first, I thought Vegas made a huge mistake in signing Haula and acquiring Tuch rather than claiming Matt Dumba. I could not be more wrong as Haula and Tuch have been huge, offensive pieces for the Knights.
5.) Anaheim Ducks
Taking on Clayton Stoner (Why would anyone sign him to a $3.25 million deal?) was well worth what the Knights got in Shea Theodore. He is turning into a great, young defender who fits in well with guys like Nate Schmidt and Collin Miller.
4.) Nashville Predators
Claiming James Neal was a homerun. Nashville was in a really tough spot for the expansion draft as they wanted to keep their fantastic defense core together. This limited Nashville to only being able to protect four forwards. James Neal is a pending UFA at the end of this season so he was the oddman out. Neal has been one of the biggest offensive threats for the Knights and they should do their best to bring him back this offseason.
3.) Pittsburgh Penguins
Another team who was in a very tough situation for the expansion draft. Having two star goalies usually isn’t a problem except for when an expansion draft occurs. At the end of the day, Fleury has returned to his elite form and been the backbone of the Knights.
2.) Columbus Blue Jackets
This was a major goof by Columbus. Getting David Clarkson off of their books was huge. At the end of the day however, it cost them a first round pick (pick later dealt to WPG in exchange for Vegas selecting Thorburn) which turned out to be Nick Suzuki. It also cost Columbus William Karlsson who is currently Vegas’ leading scorer. I don’t think anyone expected “Wild Bill” to be this good, but it really doesn’t make Columbus look that great. It was a huge hit for Vegas, as they found gold in Karlsson and Suzuki is lighting up the OHL.
1.) Florida Panthers
These guys messed up. The fact that they just HAD to protect Alex Petrovic is ridiculous. Adding onto the madness, Florida left a fantastic player in Jonathan Marchessault exposed. Marchessault is on the best contract in the league right now as he makes under 900 grand per year. He scored 30 goals in 2016/2017 and was a huge part of the Panthers offense last season. Sure, you can leave him exposed. But you didn’t need to send Reilly Smith to them as well to make sure that they actually selected Marchessault! Supposedly it was a cap dump by Florida which I can understand as they are a cap strapped team. But if you trade a guy like that at the cost of Marchessault as well, you have to get value for that. Florida got caught selling low on a player who was snake-bitten with a low shooting percentage, much like Edmonton did this summer with Jordan Eberle. Smith is back to his career averages and he has been a driving force on Vegas’ top line with Marchessault. At the end of the day, Florida sent Vegas a fruit basket.