Eric Adolphus, Contributing Writer |
No one expected them to be this good. Expansion teams rarely make a big splash in their inaugural season. The most recent expansion teams can prove just that. In 1974, the Washington Capitals posted an atrocious record of 8-67-5 in their first season, tallying just 21 points for the entire season, the fewest in a full season for the modern NHL. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers posted a 0-14 record in 1976, and the Carolina Panthers in 1995 posted an NFL best for an expansion team with a record of 7-9. Even the Florida Panthers, who were new to the NHL in 1993 and fell one-point shy of a playoff berth, still posted a losing record of 33-34-17.
Now, while it is still early to be talking playoff hockey, it is hard to ignore the noise that the Vegas Golden Knights are making. The Golden Knights have posted a 9-5-1 record through their first 16 games in franchise history, for a total of 19 points, putting them second in the pacific division behind the well-established Los Angeles Kings. No one saw this coming; The Golden Knights were not supposed to be this good! In the NHL expansion draft, each team protects a combination of players, either 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and one goalie, or a combination of 8 skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie. This leaves the remaining players on the roster up for grabs, so to speak. This means the Golden Knights are comprised of players that their existing teams did not want to protect, and yet here they are, second in their division.
The success of the Vegas Golden Knights comes at a delicate time in their city’s history. On the night of Sunday, October 1, a lone gunmen opened fire on an outdoor music festival, resulting in the death of 58 people and left 546 others injured. This act of violence is regarded as the worst mass shooting in modern day American history. The Golden Knights and their early success has been something a city reeling from violence can revel in. They have even sold gear with the moniker of “Vegas Strong” with all proceeds going to families affected by the violence. The healing of the city, while far from complete, is being assisted by this new hockey team.
Vegas Knights fan and SUNY Oneonta student Marc Tangredi is very excited about the hot start of the NHL’s 31st team.
“I was very shocked by the hot start of the Golden Knights; in fact, they have set the record for consecutive wins by any expansion team in NHL history. The team is playing with a lot of intensity and passion and if they can keep that up, I think they could make a strong push throughout the season. I think the team starting the season off such a horrible tragedy such as the shooting may have given the team an extra push to perform even better to show the city of Las Vegas that they have the support of the team,” said Tangredi.
A big part of the team’s success has been the emergence of leader James Neal. Neal was selected in the expansion draft by Vegas, taking him from the Nashville Predators. Neal tallied the first ever goal in franchise history in a 2-1 road victory over the Dallas Stars. Subsequently, James Neal has 3 game winning goals under his belt, while also leading the team in goals (7) and points (11).
When asked about the Golden Knights’ hot start and how it has affected the city, Neal had this to say: “For our team, for the city, [we’re] playing for the victims and everyone affected,’’ Neal said. ‘’I think every guy in this dressing room is doing that. I’m proud of all our guys and we’ll continue to do everything we can to uplift the city and be able to be a big part of it.’’
Only time will tell if the Vegas Golden Knights will be able to keep up this torrid pace.