The Vegas Golden Knights have cemented their status as easily the most successful expansion franchise in NHL history by continually defying the odds this season. At the halfway stage, they had the second-best record in the league, second only to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Vegas continues to set records and already have a win against the Lightning under its belt, so is it time to start taking it seriously as a legitimate playoff contender? Should we believe the hype, or will this fascinating story have an unhappy ending?
Vegas Golden Knights: Most Successful Expansion Franchise in NHL History
The Golden Knights were not given much chance of success heading into the season, and it is understandable when you consider how previous expansion teams have fared. It took the Ottawa Senators 23 games to register their second win, while the Washington Capitals took just 21 points in their first season as a franchise. The best franchise expansion of all time was the Florida Panthers team of 1993-94, which finished the season with 83 points.
But Vegas hit 56 points well before the season even reached its halfway point. There is no doubt that this is the most successful expansion team ever put together, and that is down to the strength of the roster. Last season Jon Marchessault became the first Panther to score 30 goals in a season since David Booth in 2009. James Neal smashed in 40 goals in the 2011-12 season and has gone past the 50-point mark in four different seasons. Reilly Smith and David Perron have posted consistent numbers throughout their careers. These are serious NHL players, and they even picked up three-time Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Knights were written off as a fun story when they posted a sensational start to the season, and their chances of success were in tatters when Fleury and fellow goalies Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk were all felled by injury. But Vegas keeps rolling with the punches and confounding expectations with gutsy performances. The Knights have enjoyed three streaks of five or more wins and beaten all manner of Stanley Cup contenders in emphatic fashion. In December they beat Nashville, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Washington and Los Angeles.
The win over Tampa Bay was the most impressive as the Lightning have seemed invincible at times this season, posting the best record in the league at the halfway stage. The Knights trailed 2-0 but produced three straight goals from Neal, Marchessault and Erik Haula to take the lead. Heads could have dropped when Bolts defender Victor Hedman got an equalizer, but Vegas continued to exude positivity and were rewarded for their endeavors when Shea Theodore blasted in the winner with just 2.9 seconds left on the clock.
After heading into 2018 atop the Pacific Division, commentators are starting to take Vegas seriously as a genuine playoff contender. William Karlsson has been a breakout star and journeymen like Marchessault seem to have found a great home. Their rivals are faltering, from the regressing Kings to the banged-up Ducks and the floundering Oilers. The Knights are well placed to take advantage.
However, the sportsbooks are yet to be convinced. Check out the best betting sites for odds and you will see that the Lightning are clear favorites to win the Stanley Cup, around the +600 mark. The Maple Leafs, Kings, Predators, Caps and Blues are also in the mix, but the Knights are all the way out at +2000 and even +3300 with some books, with 14 teams ahead of them in the betting. Most have Los Angeles as the favoerite to win the Pacific Division, and Vegas is given little chance of winning the Western Conference.
However, the Knights started the season as +10000 outsiders to win the Cup and have drifted in all season. While some have them at +2000, others have now gone as short as +1200. The odds will continue to dwindle if Vegas can maintain its strong form throughout a tricky spell of games in late January and early February, and there is every reason to think it can keep it up. Shooting percentage has been superb so far and will inevitably go south, but if the scoring dries up a goalie might return to health to make up for that. Some fans are fearful of potential outgoings ahead of February’s trade deadline, with seven of the team’s nine defensemen, plus Neal, Perron, and Marchessault on expiring contracts. But another way of looking at it is sensing an opportunity for the Knights to explore the market and fill gaps and holes in their lineup. They have earned the right to be called contenders so far, and fans will eagerly await the second half of the season.