Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Well, folks, it turns out it wasn’t just the Jets being subpar, or the Oilers choking, or the Stars being boring.
And as the Vegas Golden Knights cruised to a 9-3 win over Florida Tuesday to secure the Stanley Cup, the Panthers’ good vibes barely mattered all series.
It turns out the Golden Knights won their first Cup in franchise history in five games by simply being a good team. But why were we hesitant to admit they were good for so long?
Was it the relatively silent Western Conference’s trade deadline? Clearly, the active deadline teams barely did anything in the East. Maybe our reluctance to admit the aggressive approach Vegas has taken works and creates an entertaining and successful product.
Well, any team that actually wants to win should take notice: The Vegas Golden Knights have created a blueprint. Here’s how they did it.
Those were all-encompassing bones the intentionally obtuse haters were picking, but another narrative has emerged that is specific to the Golden Knights: Have they been too “cutthroat” in the approach to their roster?
In an almost comically unprecedented move when it comes to the NHL, Vegas decided to put winning as the No. 1 priority, at any cost within the often blurry rules. Who could forget hockey agent Allan Walsh’s tweet about former Golden Knights goalie Marc-André Fleury?
TSN Hockey @TSNHockey
“He stands up for his players and that is admirable…but that was a personal assault on Peter DeBoer…offside in every single regard.”@CraigJButton on Allan Walsh’s tweet of client Marc-Andre Fleury with a ‘DeBoer’ sword through his back: https://t.co/qGNNdENpyO#TSNHockey pic.twitter.com/7BORLop6ms
Or how they fired former coach Gerard Gallant despite being in a playoff spot at the time in 2020?
But, you know what? They ended up being right.
How the Golden Knights Were Built
The Golden Knights have built and rebuilt their roster primarily via trade, swinging for whatever-it-takes acquisitions of battle-tested but still in their prime players.
Let’s review how they picked up their biggest stars.
You’ve got a second-round pick and prospects in a trade for Mark Stone, who made an impact upon his return with 24 points in 21 playoff games, including a Game 5 hat trick, the first Stanley Cup Final treble since Peter Forsberg did it in 1996.
Someone like the 31-year-old makes an impact off the ice, too, and he’s clearly been a leader through his past five years on this team.
Then came that heavily criticized Alex Pietrangelo seven-year deal. Yes, he’d be almost 40 by the time it expires, but Vegas desperately needed a No. 1 defenseman. And it worked, as the team got a rugged, shot-blocking defenseman from a conference rival like the Blues.
Zak Krill/NHLI via Getty Images
The biggest swing by far was superstar Jack Eichel, a player the Golden Knights went into debt for when he had never once qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
For all of the hate the Golden Knights garner when it comes to the way they operate, they got it right on something important. They let him have a neck surgery that had never been performed in the NHL before, investing in the player and believing in him, even though his first season in Vegas didn’t have much to show for it.
To be fair, though, the roster then was riddled with injuries on Eichel’s periphery and there was only so much he could do as he returned to his own form.
The investment in the 26-year-old obviously paid off. He led all players in the postseason with 26 points and had a three-assist night to cap off a banner second season in Vegas.
B/R Open Ice @BR_OpenIce
JACK EICHEL IS A STANLEY CUP CHAMPION 🏆🥵 pic.twitter.com/LhWmZtA1DD
And how can we forget Adin Hill?
There probably weren’t many people paying attention on Aug. 30, 2022, when the 27-year-old goalie was traded to Vegas from San Jose. It was a transaction that saved the Golden Knights’ season and eventually won them the Stanley Cup.
Hill didn’t even start the playoffs as a starter, but he went on a complete tear once he was inserted into the lineup.
NHL Public Relations @PR_NHL
Adin Hill didn’t start the #StanleyCup run for the @GoldenKnights in 2023, but he sure helped write the final few chapters after coming in relief during the Second Round.
#NHLStats: https://t.co/1mfcvFcN9h pic.twitter.com/qtpKZucoaS
Finally, what might have been the missing piece to the puzzle: Bruce Cassidy.
After getting fired in Boston last season and taking it “personally,” he went out and masterminded a Stanley Cup win in his first season in Vegas.
You have to give the 58-year-old credit for how he handled the goaltending situation, which was fluid throughout the season. He might not have vibed well with the Bruins’ locker room at the end of his tenure, but he made it work with the Golden Knights.
Also give credit to Vegas president of hockey operations George McPhee and general manager Kelly McCrimmon. They’ve been aggressive and never stopped looking to improve the team. It may have rubbed people the wrong way, but the result is all that matters.
A Win for the Non-Traditional Markets
Speaking of the 2023 NHL playoffs, haven’t they delivered in drama and action? And not a traditional market to speak of in the final rounds.
There has been more than enough insufferable discourse surrounding the postseason this year and how the teams left standing—Sun Belt squads Florida, Carolina, Vegas and Dallas—were either somehow undeserving or bad for the game.
We’ve gone over almost all of the narratives conveniently unfolding as Canadian teams missed their chance at a Cup for the 29th consecutive year and the historic Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins were ousted by the No. 8 seed Panthers.
Would the league generate enough gate revenue? Yes. Toronto Maple Leafs fans will always show up (sometimes despite their best interest). New markets having success means more potential for fan retention, so even if the tickets are cheaper, the league will make more money over time with more lifelong fans.
What about the TV ratings? Well, they were among the best ever. And why wouldn’t they be with the TNT panel breathing personality into the league?
B/R Open Ice @BR_OpenIce
But how will this affect the salary cap? In a negligible way, apparently, as league commissioner Gary Bettman stated the cap won’t rise much more than $1 million next season.
In the meantime, it turns out people like to spend money in Las Vegas, especially on hockey. And it turns out the bold approach works.