Are there tell-tale clues that we can gather from an NHL team before the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin that could tip us off to a likely Cup run? If so, what are they? Health? Star power? How about a Presidents’ Trophy? Although the Presidents’ Trophy is awarded to the NHL team with the best regular-season record – an esteemed distinction – it does not necessarily result in a Stanley Cup.
Just ask the 2011-12 Vancouver Canucks, who boasted a 51-22-9 record that season, piling up 111 points, only to be completely decimated by the Los Angeles Kings, who managed to slide their collective foot in the playoff door as it was slamming shut, squeaking in as an 8th-seed that would go on to unleash mayhem on their way to 16 playoff wins. Not only did the Kings win their first-ever Stanley Cup that year, they tacitly and unequivocally declared that a Presidents’ Trophy is really nothing more than a footnote on a team’s Wikipedia page.
Okay, cool. So what does this have to do with the Vegas Golden Knights? Well, one strong indicator of postseason fortune may be how closely a current team resembles the makeup of a previous champion. In that light, there are some curious similarities between this year’s Knights and that 2012 Kings Cup team – similarities that could hint at Jack Eichel, Mark Stone and company, back-stroking through the Bellagio Fountain, come June, as “Vegas Lights,” by Panic at the Disco is booming in the background.
No way. How could I be insinuating that the Knights may have a decent shot at lifting Lord Stanley this season? Especially with everything that has transpired injury-wise, right? Well, by the end of this article, you may just feel a curious urge to pack your bet slips with Vegas Cup-winning wagers.
Jack Eichel’s Return To Knights Lineup
When it comes to the Presidents’ Trophy, the Knights have two chances – slim and none – and slim left town. The team is riddled with injuries to significant players, namely, Eichel, Stone, Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson, and Zach Whitecloud, and with Edmonton, Florida, and Carolina gobbling up points faster than my younger brother can grow his Tim Hortons hockey card collection – which is saying something – Vegas just doesn’t have a shot at the aforementioned “best-team-in-the-regular-season” hardware. However, we already know that this is irrelevant to the season that really matters – the playoffs.
Let’s pan back to around the middle of the 2011-12 season. Like the Golden Knights, the Kings were traversing through a mediocre campaign, and similar to the Knights, injuries were the beleaguering culprit – the aging, but nevertheless talented star, Simon Gagne, was hardly in the line-up. At the same time, leaders and difference-makers Mike Richards and Willie Mitchell also missed time. The 2011-12 season looked like it would dwindle to another disappointing end for the Kings. But then something franchise-altering happened. Darryl Sutter was inserted as head coach with about half the season remaining, and subsequently, the Kings essentially became Popeye after he popped a can of spinach. They finished the season with a 25-13-11 record and made history as they usurped the No. 1, 2 and 3 seeded teams in the Western Conference – a feat that had never before been accomplished.
But how does this relate to what may be in store for the Golden Knights? What catalysts could exist for the Knights halfway through the season that could initiate a rampage-like tear, fit for a king…err, a knight? Two words: Jack Eichel – and he’ll be joining a Vegas team with one of the more undemanding schedules in the NHL this season, a scenario that will undoubtedly bode favorably for the Golden Knights as they’ll have a chance to build thundering momentum en route to the postseason.
Knights Team Structure Looks Familiar
The 2011-12 Kings team was stacked. They possessed all of the necessary ingredients that are typically required for a deep playoff run. They were uber-talented down the middle, icing Anze Kopitar as their first-line center and deploying Mike Richards to run the second line. They also stationed a slew of bruising and skilled wingers on their first two lines, including Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and Dustin Penner, all of whom exasperated opposing defenses. Their defensemen were headlined by sure-to-be Hall of Famer and complete gamer, Drew Doughty, while the crease was patrolled by a prime Jonathan Quick. This team’s composition surely roused fear in the opposition that year, and Vegas’ 2021-22 team makeup will certainly create similar cracks and fractures in the composure of their opponents.
Indeed, like the Kings, the Golden Knights also exhibit superior strength down the middle. When healthy, Eichel and recent 43-goal scorer Karlsson will center the first and second lines, respectively. But it doesn’t stop there. Chandler Stephenson, who has been a complete revelation so far this season, scoring 13 points in 13 games to date, will continue the offensive bombardment on the third line. Okay. What about the wingers? Bet that Stone, Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith will have field day after field day alongside Eichel and Karlsson when it counts.
Dropping back to the blue line, the Knights, like the 2011-12 Kings, also boast a franchise defenseman in Alex Pietrangelo, whose leadership, Stanley Cup experience and two-way game will create problems for even high-octane offenses in the NHL playoffs.
And finally, the guy between the pipes – Robin Lehner. With a 6-5 record and a 2.72 Goals-against average (GAA), he hasn’t exactly been a brick wall so far this season. However, make no mistake, Lehner, who was a 2018-19 Vezina Trophy finalist, is elite. Like Quick, Lehner tends to show up once the lights get brighter and the pressure becomes palpable. In fact, he signed a 5-year contract with Vegas after a prominent playoff performance in 2020.
A Familiar Ex-Factor?
I have expressed several commonalities between the 2011-12 Cup-winning Kings and this year’s Golden Knights team. Could this all suggest that the NHL’s other Medieval team will lift the Stanley Cup exactly 10 years after the first one did? I want to leave you with this thought: Things like Presidents’ Trophies and early-season injuries usually don’t carry weight when it matters – we’ve established that. What it really comes down to is flipping the switch at the right time, building momentum, and then keeping it in high gear. The Golden Knights could be in a position to do just that.
A little magic could also go a long way. Come on, magic? Yes. Although not in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, take a brief moment to reflect on how the Kings won their second Stanley Cup in 2014. What player, who was also on the Cup roster in 2012, scored that magical game-winning goal in double-overtime to seat the Kings firmly in the throne again? I’ll wait.
That’s right. Yours truly, 2021-22 Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez.
See you all in the Bellagio Fountain in June, everyone.
Christian is from Vancouver, B.C. He is a contributor to the Vegas Golden Knights. Christian completed both his history degree and his education degree at the University of British Columbia. He currently works as a high school history teacher. Christian spends his spare time watching, researching and writing about hockey.