History suggests the playoffs may not be in the cards for the Vegas Golden Knights in its first season in the National Hockey League, but after some shrewd maneuvering by General Manager George McPhee the first major professional sports franchise in Sin City may be more competitive than you think.
With great power comes great responsibility and McPhee, who served as GM of the Washington Capitals from 1997-2014, was given extraordinary power over all 30 NHL teams in assembling the Golden Knights. In addition to plucking one player from each team in the expansion draft, McPhee acquired seven additional players via trade and another 10 draft picks to his stockpile.
“[The objective] was to acquire prospects and surplus draft picks that can help draft our way to success,” McPhee explained. “Time will tell if we met those objectives, but we’re certainly delighted with the way that it went. It was a fascinating experience.”
Here is a first look at the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights:
— NHL (@NHL) June 22, 2017
With 15 defensemen on board, McPhee may not keep them all. And with the 2017 NHL Draft a mere two days away, the Guelph, Ontario native will get a chance to continue wheeling and dealing in the Windy City.
Vegas currently possesses 12 draft picks — including three in the top-15 (6th, 13th and 15th overall) — at the draft in Chicago this weekend. It is certainly possible the team’s current roster may not resemble the same team that takes to the ice when it hosts the Arizona Coyotes in its home opener set for Oct. 10 at T-Mobile Arena.
McPhee is said to be working under a five-year plan to get the Golden Knights into contention for the cup.
The Vegas Golden Knights will be the NHL’s 31st team when they debut next season. With all the excitement surrounding the new franchise and hope the team can emulate Nashville’s success in a non-traditional hockey market, can this team actually make the playoffs in year one?
It has been 17 years since the last NHL last expansion. Looking back on the past six expansion teams there is little hope of a playoff run in their inaugural season, but Vegas is just the place to defy the odds.
In 2000, the NHL opened the new millennium with two brand-new clubs — the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild — but each franchise would have to pay its dues before finding its way into the post-season.
Columbus finished 13th in the Western Conference during the season, tallying just 71 points. It took eight seasons for the Blue Jackets finally made the playoffs, something the franchise has done only twice since.
In Minnesota, the Wild filled the void left by the North Stars who relocated to Dallas in 1993. The Wild would fare worse than Columbus with just 68 points in its first season in the league, but the club didn’t finish last, however. Checking in above the cellar-dwelling Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 2000-01, the great state of hockey needed to only wait three seasons to make the NHL Playoffs.
The league welcomed a rebirth when the Atlanta Thrashers debuted in 1999, becoming the city’s second NHL franchise and first in almost two decades after the Atlanta Flames left for Calgary in 1980.
The Thrashers’ first season would rank as one of the worst all-time, however, as “Hotlanta” managed just 14 wins and 39 points in their first campaign. In 11 seasons, the Thrashers only qualified for the playoffs once — in 2006-07 when it was swept by the New York Rangers in the first round. After going 342-437-45 in which the play got somewhat better the team moved once again, this time to Winnipeg to fill the vacancy left by the original Jets franchise which relocated itself to Arizona in 1996.
A little-known fact, Nashville had hockey long before the Predators made their debut in 1998.
Former professional wrestler and promoter Ron Fuller helped bring hockey to Tennessee long before the NHL was interested in Music City with the minor league Nashville Knights. Fuller is credited with attracting fans with innovative and new elements of entertainment that are commonplace today.
Like the expansion teams that would come before after them, however, the Nashville Predators finished near the bottom of the Western Conference with just 63 points and a 28-47-7 record in 1998-99. Nashville would fail to qualify for the post-season their first five seasons in the league, in fact, before meeting the Detroit Red Wings in 2003-04. The tide would turn for the Predators who would go on to make the Stanley Cup playoffs eight of the next nine seasons.
The Florida Panthers began life in the NHL with a very respectable season. The Miami-based franchise went 33-34-17 and tallied a whopping 83 points, finishing just one point behind the final playoff position taken by the New York Islanders.
Although the team has been in a playoff drought for much of its existence, the Panthers did go on a magical Stanley Cup run in just its third season in the league in 1995-96. After beating the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins in succession, the team succumbed to the mighty Colorado Avalanche who swept the Panthers in four to raise the cup.
The Panthers would qualify for the post-season just three times over the next 15 years, however.
The Anaheim Mighty Ducks also joined the NHL in 1993-94 as a follow-up to the Disney film, “The Mighty Ducks.”
The team went 33-46-5 while missing the playoffs in its first campaign but have been a regular in the NHL’s post-season since. In its fourth year of existence, the Ducks defeated the Vancouver Canucks in seven games before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings in 1996-97.
Ten years later, Anaheim would become the first modern day expansion franchise to win a Stanley Cup when it knocked off the Wild, Canucks and Red Wings before prevailing over the Ottawa Senators in five games in 2006-07.
The Ducks would qualify for the post-season eight of the next 10 years, including a current run of five straight playoff appearances and are regularly one of the best teams in the NHL.
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) June 22, 2017
Written by Drew Farmer / @DrewMFarmer
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury talks with General Manager George McPhee after being taken by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft during the 2017 NHL Awards and Expansion Draft at T-Mobile Arena on June 21, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)