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Expansion Express: Fastest Franchise to Win the Stanley Cup

Vegas Looking To Take Fast Track to NHL Championship

Florida Last Obstacle for Golden Knights

If there is a franchise that understands what the Vegas Golden Knights are trying to accomplish by winning the Stanley Cup title in the sixth season of existence and defting NHL predictions, it would be the Florida Panthers.

Florida reached the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals in 1996 in the Panthers’ third NHL season.

Expansion Express: Fastest Franchise to Win the Stanley Cup
Chandler Stephenson #20 of the Las Vegas Golden Knights - Lawrence Scott/Getty Images/AFP

One difference is that in the 2023 Stanley Cup Final, the NHL picks list the Golden Knights as the favorite as Vegas has home-ice advantage and is priced at -125 to win the series.

The series begins Saturday in Vegas with the NHL betting lines set at -130 for the Golden Knights to take the series opener. After Game 2 on Monday, there are a couple of days before moving to Florida for Games 3 and 4.

When looking at the NHL news, Florida forward Eetu Luostarinen is probable for Game 1. Goalies Laurent Brossoit, Robin Lehner and Logan Thompson continue to be sidelined for Vegas.

Time for a History Lesson

Both Florida and Vegas are part of the plan to bring the NHL to places outside of normal hockey markets. Florida came into the NHL in 1993 with Vegas joining in 2017.

Here’s a look at the paths of some of the other expansion teams took to win the NHL title.

The Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup in 1974 in the franchise’s seventh season.

In 1980, the New York Islanders’ eighth season brought the first of four straight Stanley Cup titles.

The Edmonton Oilers won the title in their fifth NHL season. However, Edmonton did play in the WHA for seven seasons and made it into the postseason in four years running before being one of the WHA teams joining the NHL in 1979.

In terms of more recent true expansion franchises, the Tampa Bay Lightning needed 12 seasons to win the team’s first Stanley Cup, it took the Anaheim Ducks 14 seasons to reach the top of the NHL mountain.

A Look at the Roster

When Florida played its first NHL game in 1993, only a small number of Panthers were still on the team during that 1996 trip to the Stanley Cup Finals led by forwards Scott Mellanby, Brian Skrudland, Dave Lowry, Tom Fitzgerald, Rob Niedermayer and goalie John Vanbiesbrouck.

The rules for the expansion draw were much more favorable when the Golden Knights made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season.

Forwards Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith join defensemen Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb as players who were with the Golden Knights from the franchise’s first game. Karlsson leads Vegas with 10 goals and Marchessault has nine goals in this year’s playoffs.

Alex Tuch was a key piece of the trade that brought center Jack Eichel in from the Buffalo Sabres.

Eichel leads all the Vegas players in the odds to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, according to the sportsbook.

The trade for current captain Mark Stone involved defenseman Erik Brannstrom, who was taken with one of the picks acquired in the deals made by teams trying to dictate which players left unprotected in the expansion draft would land in Vegas.

The Golden Knights go into the Stanley Cup Final with five forwards, four defensemen and two goalies at least 30 years old. That has played a role with Vegas ranking third in the playoffs with 3.65 goals per game and that is something to consider when looking at live NHL betting odds.

Road to the Finals

While Florida was the last team to make it into the Eastern Conference playoffs, Vegas ended up being the top seed in the Western Conference, finishing two points ahead of Pacific Division rival Edmonton and Central Division champion Colorado.

Vegas took out the Winnipeg Jets in five games, the Oilers in six games and the Dallas Stars in six games as well.

Florida, listed by the Las Vegas odds as the underdog, was down 3-1 in the first round to the Boston Bruins, a team that set NHL records for wins and points during the regular season before dispatching of the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games and sweeping the Metropolitan Division champion Carolina Hurricanes with four one-goal wins. Florida has played eight straight one-goal games and won seven of them. That includes four overtime victories.

What’s Next?

Forwards Phil Kessel and Ivan Barbashev as well as goalies Laurent Brossoit, Adin Hill and Jonathan Quick are unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.

Marchessault and fellow forwards Chandler Stephenson join defenseman Ben Hutton and Alec Martinez will be unrestricted free agents after next season.

Defenseman Radko Gudas is the Florida player slated to be an unrestricted free agent who has the most significant role. Defensemen Brandon Montour and Gustav Forsling as well as forwards Sam Reinhart, Anthony Duclair, Ryan Lomberg and Nick Cousins are UFAs after the 2024-25 season.

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