How Many Wins Can Vegas Get?
The newest team in the NHL will pave the way for pro sports in Vegas. But how good can they be?
The addition of a new NHL franchise has generated some interest and excitement over this offseason. General Manager George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights staff have certainly been busy, overseeing an expansion draft, contract negotiations, and an absolute barrage of trades. While building a new franchise certainly isn’t easy, and Vegas hopes it can field a competitive team, the Golden Knights have an interesting set of expectations ahead of them and will hope to perform well in 2017–18.
Does this mean they will be a playoff team in their debut season? Likely not. But what is a reasonable level we should expect to see from the NHL’s newest franchise?
Vegas had what could be considered a successful expansion draft in that they added many of the top level players that were available to them while also stockpiling assets for the future. Any team hoping to secure long-term success will need to have a bright future, and GM McPhee has plenty of future draft picks to work with. They used 13 draft picks in this year’s draft alone, and have multiple picks per round in the coming years already. Stocking up on these young players will help bolster their future.
In the immediate sense, they also feature a few high level talents with experience to help push the team in the right direction. With Marc-Andre Fleury in net, Vegas has both the face of their franchise and a wealth of NHL success — Fleury brings three Stanley Cup victories on his resume and is a strong starter to have in the team’s first year. James Neal also brings plenty of experience to the new team, to go along with his scoring ability. Neal has never scored fewer than 21 goals in any of his 9 pro seasons. Finally, there is the young and promising Jonathan Marchessault, who scored 30 goals a season ago for Florida and has a lot to prove on his new team. With these three at the helm, Vegas has considerable talent to draw upon in their first season.
One of the most positive things to come out of the expansion draft for Vegas was the strong group of defensemen who were selected. Looking at the roster that night, the Golden Knights defense seemed to be its greatest strength. The biggest defensive prize was easily Marc Methot, a selection from the Ottawa Senators that had some already declaring Methot the first captain of the Vegas Golden Knights.
This feature was short lived, however. Vegas turned around and traded four of their defensemen for picks and prospects. While those picks certainly give them a ton of future assets to work with, it may have come at the expense of short term successes. While bringing in rookies over the next three to four years will give them a shot at long term stability, having a core of talented defensemen to protect Fleury could have made them a far more productive team in their first season than many would have expected. That also translates to Vegas becoming not just an attractive destination for future free agents, but a winning one as well. Trading away Methot, David Schlemko, Alexei Emelin, and Trevor van Riemsdyk may have been a bit too much to mortgage for an unknown future. They still have a strong mix of veteran and youthful blue liners, but it is safe to say that all four of the players they traded were likely to be starters.
Then again, it may be a brilliant move a few years from now. It just doesn’t figure to produce wins for them now.
What’s still undecided is what will become of all the young talent that Vegas has gathered up. Vegas has gotten their hands on some great up and coming talent that could translate into a great lineup down the road. They also have all those picks to work with. Young players like Brendan Leipsic, Griffin Reinhart, Shea Theodore and others will have a fairly comfortable environment to develop in as members of the Golden Knights. A team in its debut season often has lower expectations, which allows them the freedom to develop this young talent at a pace more conducive for success. It helps that many of the young players they’ve brought in have already been developed to some degree by other franchises, so it could pay off greatly for Vegas. Then again, it might not. The “starting over” process can make or break a young player, and who knows whether the temptation of the Las Vegas night life will have an effect. (Of course, if these players are in Chicago playing in the AHL, that’s a moot point)
Then there are the two players Vegas signed first: Reid Duke and Vadim Shipachyov. Duke is not necessarily projected to make the Golden Knights opening roster, but was the first player the franchise signed and could have something to prove. Will he pan out? As for Shipachyov, he is a veteran of the KHL with some offensive successes and hardware to his name. Will his game translate to North America?
So how many wins to the Vegas Golden Knights get this year? Expansion teams seem to have a typically low level of success, and it should be expected that Vegas falls in line with these expectations. In the last expansion of 2000, both the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets exceeded 25 wins, and with the experience and goaltending on this current expansion team, I believe they have a chance to exceed that total. I would put Vegas firmly between 30–35 wins this season, with a very bright future ahead.