Only the most naïve fans will expect Seattle to soar to the Stanley Cup Final right off the bat, just because Vegas did. For one thing, rival GMs have learned their lesson from Vegas' George McPhee and will be far savvier in their protected lists, no-trade clauses and side deals.
The long-suffering fans of the Washington Capitals are about to be rewarded. And the never-suffering fans of the Vegas Golden Knights finally might have to experience just a morsel of angst and despair.
To which a legion of jealous and bitter NHL fans says, “It’s about time.”
With a three-games-to-one lead over Vegas, the Capitals are one victory shy of winning the Stanley Cup. Yet the Golden Knights have set such a ridiculous standard for first-year success that even a defeat in the finals wouldn’t silence those who believe their path to the top was greased and gilded unnecessarily by the NHL.
And it will ease only slightly the sense that the impending NHL team in Seattle will face enormous pressure to replicate the Golden Knights’ unprecedented expansion achievement.
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Both notions are largely nonsense, by the way.
First of all, a lot of revisionist history is going on with the Golden Knights. Sure, the expansion rules they got to use were much more favorable than those of their first-year forebears, most of whom suffered through horrible losing stretches at the outset of their existence.
But the Golden Knights were still left to take lower-tier players from every team. The fact that they still built a powerhouse that finished with a 51-24-7 record and then powered through the first three rounds of the playoffs with just three defeats is a testament to the ingenuity of general manager George McPhee, who outmaneuvered his fellow GMs with the side deals he cut.
It’s a testament to coach Gerard Gallant, who harnessed the hunger and drive that comes with being unwanted by your old team, and built a cohesive unit in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
It’s a testament to all the players who outperformed their history, and to Las Vegas itself, which embraced the team so wholeheartedly that it was practically willed to great heights.
But it’s just not true that such over-the-top success was preordained. The Golden Knights were installed as 500-to-1 preseason favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Few experts even viewed them as a playoff contender. Deadspin ran an article headlined, “Wow, the Golden Knights are going to be bad.” Yahoo! Sports posted a poll asking the question, “Will the Golden Knights be the worst team in the NHL?”
That they were virtually the opposite offended many hard-core fans who believe the Knights and their fans had it too cushy. It’s understandable when you think there are 12 other teams that have never won the Stanley Cup, that no Canadian team has won since 1993, that seven teams haven’t won in the past 20 years, that the blue-blood Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t been to the finals since winning the Cup in 1967, and the St. Louis Blues haven’t been to the finals since 1969-70 (and never won).
Yet why should a new team be consigned to the league’s scrap heap at the precise moment that it’s trying to win over a brand-new fan base? It makes no sense whatsoever.
All the NHL did was give the Golden Knights a fighting chance. The alchemy that developed was a once-in-a-lifetime bit of serendipity that, far from demeaning the NHL, was a tremendous gift. Maybe some hardcore fans bristled, but Vegas’ stunning ascendency captured the fancy of casual fans in a way that had to warm the heart of Gary Bettman.
The commissioner says the expansion rules will be exactly the same for Seattle, which is set to open play in 2020 once it receives the expected NHL approval. And why shouldn’t the rules be the same? The Golden Knights paid $500 million to join the league; Seattle would pony up $650 million – roughly $21 million in the pocket of every other NHL owner. For that price, the new team deserves a legitimate chance to succeed.
But only the most naïve fans will expect Seattle to soar to the Stanley Cup Final right off the bat, just because Vegas did. For one thing, rival GMs aren’t going to let themselves be played like they were by McPhee. They’ve learned their lesson and will be far savvier in their protected lists, no-trade clauses and side deals. And Seattle won’t have an elite goalie such as Marc-Andre Fleury dropped in their laps.
Any pressure to match the Golden Knights playoff series for playoff series would be misplaced. But building an exciting, winning team that’s competitive from the outset and helps build an long-lasting affinity for NHL hockey in Seattle?
That’s a worthy – and attainable – goal.