They’re the talk of the pro sports world. It isn’t even close. An expansion team on the brink of the pinnacle of its sport in Year 1? Whaaaat? We knew the Vegas Golden Knights would have some talent, and maybe even be competitive, but to come this far so soon is downright crazy. Let’s look at the key contributors on this improbably run, and wonder what the hell their previous teams were thinking.
2018 NHL Golden Knights Playoff Advice
The head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights should never have been available in the first place. Gallant was a once failed head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, then an assistant with the Montreal Canadiens. But he achieved success with the Florida Panthers, a franchise and market that desperately needs some. He won a division crown and we thought that this might be the beginning of a turnaround down south for the Panthers. But Gallant was suddenly fired abruptly in the middle of the next season. Reportedly, he wasn’t a fan of some of the advanced stats that management was pushing. Well, guess what? Florida is back to being lousy and Gallant is a winner again. Ridiculous.
How does a proven NHL sniper under the age of 30 get left unprotected by an NHL team for the expansion draft? The answer is an inept franchise shows its true colors. The Panthers decided that Marchessault was undersized and had a fluke season. So they gambled and lost miserably. Marchessault has been a beacon of consistency offensively in Vegas.
The Nashville Predators were victims of their own success. They had too many great players to protect in the expansion draft and Neal was the odd man out. He had a tremendous track record as a scorer with Dallas, Pittsburgh and Nashville. But he also had a history of being injured. So Vegas scooped him up, dealt with his injury absences and has reaped the rewards for most of the season.
No one saw this one coming. The Minnesota Wild left Erik Haula to rot on the bottom two lines, never to give him opportunities to establish himself as an offensive threat. But he did show glimpses of it in the postseason a couple of years ago and I suppose Vegas took notes and snapped him up right away when he was left unprotected. Good on them.
Okay, this is the craziest season ever for an elite scorer. Karlsson was a bit player on a so-so Blue Jackets team, barely hitting double digits in goals. However, with the right coaching and ice time, Karlsson has blossomed into a 40-goal scorer. Incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it. We know that Columbus coach John Tortorella is perennially angry. This must still burn him.
The Stanley Cup-winning goaltender was deemed expendable by the Penguins with the emergence in nets of Matt Murray. So Vegas began its first season with a winner backstopping them. Fleury has been nothing short of full value and more for this team. He is their undisputed franchise face and leader.
Matthew Ross is a sports commentator and a radio host on TSN 690 Radio in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He’s also a contributor to ESPN 101.3 Plattsburgh/Burlington. Follow him @MatthewWords.