The title says it plainly, and there’s no denying it at this point. The results speak for themselves: The Vegas Golden Knights are the best expansion team in the history of sports. No other expansion team in the four major North American sports leagues can compare to the regular season success of the Golden Knights, as they won 51 games en route to a 109-point season. They were only four points back from the Tampa Bay Lightning for the best record in the NHL. Their unexpected season gave them a division championship and a number one seed in their first year of existence.
Now, after beating the San Jose Sharks, they find themselves in prime position to win a Stanley Cup. If they were to do so, it would send shockwaves around the sports landscape as no expansion team since the St. Louis Blues in 1967-68 won the Stanley Cup in their first season. However, that triumph was under different circumstances; in a more-competitive and engaging sports market, the Golden Knights are doing something that nobody thought was possible.
The lack of belief in the Vegas success in their first year was justified. Although the Golden Knights did kill their expansion draft, by selecting Marc-Andre Fleury, James Neal, David Perron, among other quality players, they had yet to play together in a professional setting. The critics had the right to doubt if they could sustain a successful campaign through their first season. Irregardless, almost all of their selections were instrumental in their historic regular season and have impacted their playoff run. These players, which were considered movable by other NHL teams (due to the fact that they were available to be drafted in the expansion draft), are all high-quality players that are proven veteran leaders.
Even their coach was overlooked by some. Gerrard Gallant, a former Canadian player, had just been fired by the Florida Panthers because he didn’t embrace their analytics. As an old-fashioned, hard-nosed man, Gallant stuck to his coaching strengths and jumped on the opportunity to be the Golden Knights’ first coach. His stubbornness towards coaching has been influential in their ability to stay afloat all year, through the unimaginable highs of the regular season. His coaching style is important in molding their young team into contenders for years.
The rest of their roster is filled with potential in their young talent. William Karlsson, Oscar Lindberg, and Reilly Smith are all under-30 impact players. Although they aren’t young prospects, they are seasoned players with tremendous talent. The mix between their veteran leadership and their young-but-refined core gives the Golden Knights a team that is built to win now.
Perhaps that is the main reason why Vegas has had such an amazing season. The city itself had been waiting for a professional sports franchise to call their own for decades. However, the negative stigma of Vegas and its “Sin City” appeal stopped the city from reaping the benefits of having a professional team. Now that the general attitude towards sports gambling has weakened and with one of the biggest football teams in the NFL also coming in 2020, it seems that the city is a great sports hub with a fan base that is ready for winning. Couple this with the fact that their entire roster is filed with “unwanted” players and there is an undeniable chip on their shoulder.
If the Golden Knights could win the Stanley Cup in their first year, it could cap one of the greatest stories in the history of sports. It would cement their legacy as the greatest expansion team in history and they would become a model for all expansion teams to come. It is time to realize that Vegas is an all-time team that will influence the future of sports.