New NHL Team Defying Expectations

Erik Johnsen '18, Staff Writer

Usually when an expansion team enters a league, they are expected to do poorly. They do not usually get a franchise star until several years into their existence. The Vegas Golden Knights followed that model

With 12 wins and 25 points, Vegas is only one point behind the Los Angeles Kings for the lead in the Pacific Division, and they have playoffs on their mind.

When the NHL expanded into Las Vegas in June, 2016, many were questioning their decision why they would expand. The NHL had 30 teams already, and hockey fans did not think another team was necessary. Also, this would not solve the problem of an uneven balance of teams in each conference, 16 in the Eastern Conference and 15 in the Western Conference.

Finally, hockey already hasn’t proven to succeed in the desert, as is evidenced by the Arizona Coyotes failing to draw a significant crowd at a majority of their games. Arizona has drawn an average of around 13,000 fans per game for the past five years, definitely near the bottom of the league. What would make them think Las Vegas would be any different?

The league did a mock season ticket drive and it ended up being successful. With the league’s 31st team officially in Sin City, building the team was the next big step forward.

Vegas hired Gerard Gallant, a former Panthers coach, to be their head coach and George McPhee to be their general manager. McPhee spent several years with the Washington Capitals and drafted their franchise superstar, Alex Ovechkin.

Bernards High’s own Madison Hugo is the niece of the Knights general manager, making a connection between BHS and the NHL expansion team.

“I think George McPhee put together a winning team,” Hugo said.

When it got time for drafting, the Knights needed a game plan. Their idea was draft young, build up through the system, but make sure to get a franchise superstar. The Knights got their young talent and got their two franchise superstars in James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Neal played for the Nashville Predators and put up a career high 81 points with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011-12. Fleury was the 1st overall pick by the Penguins in 2003, winning three Stanley Cups in his fourteen year tenure there.

The team also got some established names from other teams in the league. Taking players like Erik Haula from Minnesota, David Perron from St. Louis, Jason Garrison from Tampa Bay, and Jonathan Marchessault from Florida ensured Vegas was looking toward winning relatively quickly.

Marchessault and Perron scored more than 45 points last year, with Marchessault getting a 30 goal season. Picking these players would ensure Vegas would get an audience and a solid fanbase.

The team played its first game on October 6, a 2-1 win against the Dallas Stars with Neal scoring both goals.