Carol Schram , CONTRIBUTOR
The Vegas Golden Knights: for real, or a desert mirage?
The NHL’s first expansion team in 17 years has been virtually unbeatable, amassing an 8-1-0 record heading into Monday night’s game. Rolling as well as they are, players are admitting that they can imagine their team in the Stanley Cup playoff mix in the spring.
“Yeah,” alternate captain Luca Sbisa told Nicholas J. Cotsonika of NHL.com on Friday, after the Golden Knights wrapped up their seven-game homestand with a 7-0 shutout of the Colorado Avalanche. “Hundred percent. ”
Born in Italy, raised in Switzerland and acquired in the expansion draft from the Vancouver Canucks, Sbisa perhaps hasn’t lived in Vegas long enough to know that there are no sure things in Sin City. But based on history, the Golden Knights’ playoff odds are indeed very good.
With 16 of a possible 18 points already in the bank, Vegas has claimed 88.9% of its available points so far, tops in the league. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, per Cotsonika, only two teams in NHL history have ever earned 16 points in their first nine games but missed the playoffs — the 1986-87 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 2015-16 Montreal Canadiens.
That Canadiens team won nine straight before their starting goaltender Carey Price was lost to them with an injury for most of the season, but a similar misfortune hasn’t slowed the Golden Knights. Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion in Vegas’ fourth game of the season, the team’s only loss to date. Remarkably, Fleury has been ably replaced so far by unproven greenhorns Malcolm Subban (five career NHL games played, now also injured) and Oscar Dansk (three career NHL games played, currently leads all goalies with one or more games played with .959 save percentage and 1.35 goals-against average).
Injury issues aside, the Golden Knights came into the season with a leg up over past expansion teams thanks to more favourable rules for building their inaugural roster. Their first-month schedule was also team-friendly. The 18-day homestand not only allowed for plenty of practice and team-building opportunities, it also seemed to give the hosts an edge as visiting clubs navigated the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip for the first time in a business setting — leading to an outbreak of what is being dubbed the “Vegas Flu” by observers like local blogger Jason Pother of The Sin Bin.
A winning culture in a non-traditional hockey market helps to build buzz, sell jerseys and incubate a local supporters’ group to go up against the strong travelling fanbases from cities like Boston and Chicago that have already made their presences seen and heard at T-Mobile Arena.
But are the Golden Knights running the risk of being too good?
Consider the last nine teams to join the NHL:
|NHL Expansion Team||Inaugural Season||Years to Make Playoffs|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||2000-01||8|
|Mighty Ducks of Anaheim||1993-94||4|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||1992-93||4|
|San Jose Sharks||1991-92||3|
Of those nine teams, the only ones to win a Stanley Cup so far have been the Tampa Bay Lightning (2003-04, their 12th season) and the renamed Anaheim Ducks (2006-07, their 13th season).