The Vegas Golden Knights achieved an extraordinary feat, going from an expansion franchise to winning the Stanley Cup in just six seasons. Their path to glory was a challenging one, marked by initial success and continuous roster improvements. Let’s delve into the story of the 2023 Stanley Cup champions.
Building a Solid Foundation in the 2017 Expansion Draft
On June 21, 2017, the Golden Knights laid the groundwork for their future by participating in the 2017 Expansion Draft. This event proved pivotal in shaping their roster for years to come. The team made astute selections, acquiring six players who would go on to be key contributors to their Stanley Cup-winning campaign. These players included Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Shea Theodore, Reilly Smith, William Carrier, and Brayden McNabb.
One player, in particular, played a crucial role in their championship run. Jonathan Marchessault, a star winger, was ironically chosen from the Florida Panthers during the draft. Marchessault had displayed impressive skills during the previous season, recording 51 points (30 goals and 21 assists). However, the Panthers opted not to protect him, allowing the Golden Knights to seize the opportunity.
The acquisitions of Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb bolstered the team’s defense. Theodore, acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Clayton Stoner, showcased his abilities in the Stanley Cup Final, contributing a goal and five assists. Meanwhile, McNabb provided solid defensive support with two assists.
Key Acquisitions: Eichel and Stone
The Golden Knights swiftly established themselves as a formidable team, reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18. Over the following three years, they made significant trades to strengthen their roster.
During the 2019 trade deadline, the Golden Knights made a monumental move by acquiring star winger Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators. In exchange, they sent defenseman Erik Brannstrom, center Oscar Lindberg, and a 2020 second-round pick to Ottawa. Stone quickly integrated himself into the Vegas lineup, signing an eight-year, $76 million contract extension.
Although the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs ended in disappointment for the Golden Knights, with an elimination in the first round, Stone’s impact was evident. He contributed 12 points (six goals and six assists) in the series against the San Jose Sharks, showcasing his offensive prowess.
In November 2021, the Golden Knights made another significant trade, acquiring star center Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres. This move was not without risks, as Eichel needed spinal surgery before making his debut for Vegas. Eichel’s desire for a specific surgical procedure led to his availability on the trade market.
After recovering from surgery, Eichel returned to the ice in February 2022 and quickly made an impact. Despite facing injuries to multiple players throughout the season, the Golden Knights secured a playoff berth. Eichel excelled in the postseason, accumulating 25 points (six goals and 20 assists) and demonstrating his growth as a dynamic two-way player under coach Bruce Cassidy’s guidance.
Bruce Cassidy’s Influence as Head Coach
Despite being a relatively young franchise, the Golden Knights experienced turnover in coaching staff early on. Gerard Gallant led the team initially, achieving notable success and even earning the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best coach in the 2017-18 season. However, he was fired midway through the 2019-20 season.
Peter DeBoer took over as head coach for the next two seasons and achieved further success, including a trip to the playoffs in both years. However, the team missed the postseason for the first time in franchise history during the 2021-22 season, leading to DeBoer’s dismissal.
Enter Bruce Cassidy, who was available after being relieved of his duties as head coach of the Boston Bruins. Cassidy quickly found a new home in Vegas, taking over as the Golden Knights’ head coach just eight days after parting ways with the Bruins.
Under Cassidy’s leadership, the Golden Knights thrived. The team adopted a strong defensive mindset, with defensemen Alec Martinez, Brayden McNabb, and Alex Pietrangelo leading the league in blocked shots. Cassidy’s influence was also evident in Jack Eichel’s development as a more well-rounded player.
Tough Decisions and Goaltending Success
Throughout their pursuit of the championship, the Golden Knights had to make difficult decisions. One notable instance was trading goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks, despite his exceptional performance in the 2020-21 season, where he won the Vezina Trophy. The trade aimed to alleviate salary cap constraints, marking the first time a Vezina Trophy winner had been traded since 2001.
In the 2022 offseason, the Golden Knights again needed to clear salary cap space, leading to the trade of star forward Max Pacioretty to the Carolina Hurricanes. This forced the team to rely on role players to fill the void left by Pacioretty.
Late in the 2022 offseason, the team faced adversity when goaltender Robin Lehner required hip surgery, sidelining him for the entire 2022-23 season. In response, the Golden Knights acquired Adin Hill from the San Jose Sharks. While starting goaltender Logan Thompson excelled in the first half of the season, an injury forced a change, and Hill stepped up magnificently during the postseason, becoming a key factor in the team’s Stanley Cup triumph.
The Golden Knights’ championship win is a testament to their perseverance, strategic acquisitions, coaching excellence, and the ability to overcome challenging decisions. They have etched their names in history as an expansion team turned champions, leaving an indelible mark on the NHL.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Golden Knights’ Journey
Q: How did the Vegas Golden Knights go from an expansion team to winning the Stanley Cup in just six seasons?
A: The Vegas Golden Knights accomplished this feat through a combination of strategic roster building, impactful acquisitions, and strong coaching. They made key selections in the 2017 Expansion Draft, acquired talented players like Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone, and added star center Jack Eichel through a trade. Under the guidance of coach Bruce Cassidy, the team prioritized defense and developed a well-rounded playing style. Additionally, tough decisions regarding player trades were made to maintain salary cap flexibility. The Golden Knights’ journey showcases their ability to overcome challenges and quickly establish themselves as a championship-caliber team.