With the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals getting underway as the newcomers Vegas Golden Knights take on the often out in the second round Washington Capitals, it’s fair to say that this is the final that only the biggest optimist would have picked back in September.
It’s completely fair enough if you picked Washington to still be playing hockey going into June at the start of the season, for the last few years now they’ve always been the “will they/won’t they” team coming out of the Eastern Conference with Ovechkin and his teammates always having the tools necessary to complete the job, but just not the right execution.
However, for Vegas only a sheer an optimist or an internet troll would have publicly admitted they thought the first year Golden Knights had a chance at playing for the Cup.
Back in October, I honestly thought that the only thing Vegas would compete for this year would be the first overall pick and a shot at Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin in the NHL Draft in late June. I’ll admit, my own bias as a Capitals fan meant that even after nearly five years I wasn’t prepared to trust the man who traded Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators for Martin Erat and Michael Latta, It still hurts.
But the fact of the matter is, Vegas have done the impossible. They’ve not only competed hard in their first year, but they could go on and win it. And why not Vegas?
The story is perfect for Disney to make a film out of in a few years (although which young rising actor would play which character could lead to serious debate…)
A bunch of outcasts who’ve joined together to not only capture a city celebrating success, but it all began by healing a city in mourning.
You can argue whether or not the tragic events of early October in Las Vegas helped spur the Golden Knights to a positive start to help a grieving city get back on track, but as the season went on the conversation stopped being about when they’ll start their fall from grace, to just how far can this team go.
Even endless goaltending injuries couldn’t stop the Golden Knights. Over the course of the season they’ve used five goaltenders, including one who’s still actually playing junior hockey in Dallas Stars 2017 7th round pick Dylan Ferguson of the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL.
Marc-Andre Fleury has shown no signs of home sickness from his second home in Pittsburgh, and through the playoffs so far, he has had all but a finger nail on the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP.
Sure a meteoric rise on the Golden Knights skaters like William Karlsson sure helped, the former Blue Jacket had 25 points for Columbus last year and shot right up to 78 for Vegas this year, that’s either a player really finding his feet in the National Hockey League or performance enhancers.
Nobody ever pictured the Vegas Golden Knights making the playoffs, even the team owner was just hoping to lose games by one or two and not five or six coming into the season. The team owner didn’t even believe.
One hundred percent you could say the Golden Knights were going to do something in a few years time, George McPhee and Vegas did a great job at the Expansion Draft last summer stockpiling draft picks for future which to be honest in McPhee’s history you can trust him with some of those draft picks, I mean most of them are facing his new team in the Finals this year.
Coming in the 2018 NHL Draft in June, they might not have a first round or third round pick after making some extra trades to bolster their roster, but in the 2018 draft, 2019 and 2020 draft they have eight selections in the first two rounds so they are really gearing themselves up for a bright future.
Even in the immediate future, it’s not looking bleak. Going by the calibre of the team the Knights have right now, it’s going to a major disappointment if they can’t stay a contender next year, and while they have some work to do in terms of signing guys, they haven’t left themselves with a lot to do.
William Karlsson will get himself a nice payday shortly while they get to move Mikhail Grabovski of their books to free up the cap space for that signing. Then the only real guys you’d have to say are must sign guys for Vegas are perhaps David Perron, Luca Sbisa and if they want to go physical then sure get Ryan Reaves back.
Shea Theodore is a great guy to have around but as an RFA he’s hardly a pressing concern for them this summer.
The main thing that Vegas need to do (once they try and get past the Capitals over the next two weeks) is start gearing for life after Marc-Andre Fleury. He’s still signed for another year and while he is 33-years old already, I’d hardly say Malcolm Subban is the guy waiting in the wings, but with Flower in such fine form, the Golden Knights should be competitive going forward with the group of guys they currently have (and an expected strong off-season ahead of them).
Feature Image: Jason Halstead/Getty Images