2017 Expansion Club Rolls to Championship
A memorable Stanley Cup Playoff season came to an end with yet another dominating performance by the Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights entered the Stanley Cup Final listed by the NHL picks as the odds-on choice to win the title and played like a favored team.
When looking at the NHL news, seven different players had goals with Mark Stone scoring three times in the 9-3 series-clinching win. The Golden Knights topped the Florida Panthers in five games to win the franchise’s first NHL title in just the sixth season of existence.
When the playoffs began, Vegas was tied for eighth in the odds to win the Stanley Cup, according to the NHL betting lines. Among Western Conference teams, defending champion Colorado and the high-scoring Edmonton Oilers were ahead of the Golden Knights.
Vegas didn’t need to play a seventh game to win the title. There was a thought that might change when facing the feisty Florida Panthers, a team that already took out the record-breaking Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes.
Vegas was closer to finishing the series in four games than having the Stanley Cup Final take seven games. It was pretty impressive stuff for a team that missed the playoffs a season ago.
— 🏆 – Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) June 14, 2023
Goals were 26-12 in favor of the Golden Knights with 13 different players scoring at least once. Vegas was a favorite of those who bet online throughout the playoffs.
Stone led the team with five goals and nine points while Conn Smythe Award winner Jonathan Marchessault added four goals and four assists. Jack Eichel had eight assists in his first Stanley Cup Final appearance.
Vegas trailed for only 20:33 in the series to make it look easier than it was. The Golden Knights were 11-1 in the last 12 games that finished over the NHL odds total.
Vegas finished the playoffs averaging exactly four goals per game. Before Colorado put up 4.25 goals per game in last year’s playoffs, the last time a Stanley Cup championship team put up at least four goals per contest on the way to the title came when the Edmonton Oilers averaged 4.23 goals per game during the 1989-90 season.
When Nick Roy scored with 1:02 left to make it a 9-3 game, that pushed Vegas ahead of the Avalanche. Colorado had a +30 goal differential during last year’s playoff run.
Vegas finished with 88 goals scored and 57 allowed. The +31 goal differential was the most since the New Jersey Devils were +33 in 20 games while winning the NHL title during the 1994-95 season. The 1993-94 New York Rangers matched Vegas with a +31 mark.
Making all the Right Moves
Whether it was picking Marchessault, William Karlsson, William Carrier and defenseman Brayden McNabb in the 2017 NHL expansion draft, or getting forward Reilly Smith and defenseman Shea Theodore in trades made to enable the Golden Knights select particular players in the expansion draft, the championship roster was built from Day 1.
Stone was acquired at the 2019 trading deadline for forward Oscar Lindberg (who is no longer in the league), defenseman Erik Brannstrom and a second-round pick.
Eichel was acquired in a deal from Buffalo for first and second-round selections, former first-round pick Peyton Krebs and Alex Tuch, an original member of the Golden Knights.
It only cost the Golden Knights a fifth-round pick for forward Chandler Stephenson and a fourth-round selection was sent to San Jose for goalie Adin Hill. Both moves proved to be huge in the title run.
After being a bottom-six forward with the Washington Capitals, Stephenson flourished in a more significant role with Vegas.
Hill stepped in between the pipes after injuries to other goalies and finished 11-4 with a 2.17 goals-against average.
Hiring Bruce Cassidy after he was let go by the Boston Bruins was another of the wise moves made by Vegas.
Seeing what happened to the Avalanche is a reminder of how hard it is to repeat as NHL champions, especially in the salary-cap era. Colorado couldn’t bring back some key pieces from the title-winning teams, and injuries also short-circuited the Avlanche’s title hopes.
The top six defensemen are under contract through at least the 2023-24 season.
As for the forwards, Phil Kessel is an unrestricted free agent, as is Ivan Barbashev, while Brett Howden is a restricted free agent. Nolan Patrick, who missed the entire 2022-23 season, is also a free agent.
The big question is how much salary does Vegas use to address the goalie position.
Logan Thompson and Robin Lehner are signed through the 2024-25 season. Is Vegas willing to deal with Lehner’s $5 million cap hit when other goalies with more reasonable contracts showed what they can do?
Laurent Brossoit, who began the playoffs as the No. 1 goalie before he was injured, joins Hill and Jonathan Quick as unrestricted free agents. Hill likely made himself plenty of money with his playoff performance and it would be a surprise to see the Golden Knights being able to bring back Hill next season.