Introducing The Hockey Writers’ Countdown to Puck Drop series. From now until the puck drops on the 2019-20 NHL’s regular season on Oct. 2 when the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Ottawa Senators, we’ll be producing content that’s connected to the number of days remaining on that particular day. Some posts may be associated with a player’s number, while others will be connected to a year or length of time. We’re really excited about this series as we take you through the remainder of summer in anticipation of the return of NHL hockey.
When the Vegas Golden Knights were announced as an expansion team in 2016, many envisioned a party atmosphere at the arena during games. Every expert and analyst expected this team to be a bottom dweller and not compete for their first few seasons, but from team owner Bill Foley, the players, and every full- and part-time employee, they had their sights set high and wanted to turn Sin City into a sports town.
They took the league by storm and broke every inaugural franchise record, not only in the NHL, but each major professional league. The team racked up 51 wins, which is not only the amount of days left until they open the season against their rival, the San Jose Sharks, but it shattered the previous league record.
The Golden Knights made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, but ultimately fell short of hockey’s holy grail as they lost in five games to the Washington Capitals. The season was filled with many memories and they showed the world that hockey has a home in the desert.
When a new franchise is awarded to a city and they begin to play, it is cause for celebration. However, the start of the Knights era was darkened by the heinous act that occurred at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on Oct. 1. The citizens of Las Vegas were scared and shook by that unfaithful evening.
With the team scheduled to start their season in Dallas on Oct. 6, they spent countless hours helping the community, visiting victims and first responders, and donating whatever they could to help their city. The home opener occurred on Oct. 10 and instead of having a big celebration as the first home game in team history, the organization made it about the town and honoring the victims along with all of the first responders.
Deryk Engelland made a speech after the ceremony that created a bond with the citizens of Las Vegas and a mutual love that carried the team throughout the season.
The Knights started the season 8-1 and after an 11-1-1 month of December, the league started to realize they were a real competitor. With the glut of assets management acquired at the expansion draft, they were able to make some noise at the trade deadline. They finished the season with 51 wins and 109 points, won the division, and finished eight points ahead of the Anaheim Ducks.
The previous expansion record was held by the Florida Panthers, who finished one game below .500 at 33-34-17. That management group did a good job of assembling talent and they were able to make their first postseason appearance in their third season. The Knights, obviously, did it in their first.
The Knights finished behind the Predators and Jets in terms of points in the Western Conference, but since they won their division, they played the first wild card seed. They matched up against the Los Angeles Kings and swept them in four games. The Kings’ M.O. was a tight checking, defensive system and every game was decided by one goal. The Knights were able to beat them at their own game and became the first franchise to sweep a team in their inaugural season.
In the second round, they faced the San Jose Sharks and beat them in six games. After a 7-0 stomping in Game 1, the Sharks would battle back and the teams would alternate wins through the first four games. Game 5 and 6 were missions that the Knights completed, and they moved on to their first conference final in team history.
After slugging it out with the Nashville Predators, the Winnipeg Jets had home-ice advantage for the third round. After dropping the first game, the Knights responded with four-straight victories to move on to their first Stanley Cup Final.
Vegas joins the St. Louis Blues as the only other expansion franchise to make it to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. However, when the Blues joined the league, they entered when the NHL expanded from six to 12 teams. All six expansion organizations were put in the same division and one of them had to represent the West Division.
The Knights took Game 1 of the Cup Final versus the Capitals, but that is when the clock struck midnight. They lost the next four games, ending a historic first season for the expansion franchise.
In the other three major sports (MLB, NBA, and NFL), no team has finished above the .500 mark in their inaugural season. Vegas not only accomplished that feat, they shattered the mark and broke every expansion record.
- NHL: Florida Panthers — 33-34-17 (83 points)
- MLB: Los Angeles Angels — 70-91
- NBA: Chicago Bulls — 33-48
- NFL: Carolina Panthers — 7-9
They didn’t do it with hand-me-outs, either. George McPhee and his management group took players that other teams did not want and created a winning culture that propelled them to the top.
The Knights had a historic inaugural season, finishing with 51 wins. We are 51 days away from the start of the 2019-20 season and Vegas is hoping to make their third season better than their first and become the quickest expansion franchise to win a Stanley Cup.