How the Golden Knights Went From NHL’s Cinderella Team to NHL Villain

On Wednesday, the NHL voided a trade between the Anaheim Ducks and Vegas Golden Knights that included Evgenii Dadonov going to the Ducks as part of an NHL Trade Deadline deal. Saying the limited no-trade clause had not been complied with, Dadonov will go back to Vegas and the Golden Knights will have to try and figure out their already messy salary cap situation ahead of a 2022 postseason; one they might not even be a part of.

Where the Golden Knights sit now is a far cry from the franchise that entered the league in 2017. A Cinderella team that went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, most of the goodwill the team might have built has been thrown away over the past five seasons.

Here’s how the Golden Knights have all but destroyed their reputation after being one of the best stories in sports expansion history.

Vegas Abandoned Most of Their Expansion Team

It was so easy to root for the Golden Knights because they were a team that built their playoff run off the backs of players who were seemingly thrown away. A group of players who had a chip on their shoulder, names like David Perron, James Neal, Marc-Andre Fleury, Nate Schmidt, William Karlsson, Alex Tuch, and Deryk Engelland battled their way to an insanely successful season. They overcame the adversity of a tragedy in the city and the obvious questions of team chemistry and nearly did what no other expansion team before them could.

Vegas Golden Knights Gerard Gallant
Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant (AP Photo/David Becker)

When that season came to a close, the Golden Knights almost immediately started buying the shiny new toys on the free-agent market and moving the players who’d battled for them. They even dumped their coach after the second and third seasons weren’t as fairytale-like as the first. Fleury was cast away to the Chicago Blackhawks for a song, Schmidt was moved to create cap space for Alex Pietrangelo, and Tuch was recently moved as part of the Jack Eichel trade. It’s not even so much that the players and coaches were moved — such is the business of professional sports—, it was how.

Related: Golden Knights News & Rumors: Dadonov, Pouliot, Whitecloud & More

Gallant was discarded not long after winning the Jack Adams Trophy and while the team was still a playoff contender. Fleury’s exit out of Vegas was a huge story because he’d just won the Vezina Trophy, wanted to stay, and it was rumored he found out about the trade on Twitter. Other players were moved after the Golden Knights were clearly searching for an upgrade and the reports of players having already been added meant guys on the team knew they were likely leaving.

It quickly became a story of ‘what have you done for me lately?’ and it felt like there was little to no loyalty at all within the organization.

Vegas Abuses the Salary Cap Like Few Others

Some will argue that what the Golden Knights are doing and have done with their salary cap situation is legal and smart business. That might be true — that is, until Wednesday night when the team might have played over the salary cap ceiling seeing as Dadonov was still technically a Golden Knight and not a Duck. Even still, while it might be legal, an argument can be made that the way Vegas goes about juggling the cap is shady.

Jack Eichel Vegas Golden Knights
Jack Eichel, Vegas Golden Knights (Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)

The organization clearly takes advantage of the tax-free status the team is lucky enough to fall under as a team in Nevada. For that reason alone, they attract the big free agents and players put them higher on their potential landing spot list because they stand to take home $500K to $1 million more per season. It’s probably one of the reasons Dadonov was so adamant his no-trade list was taken seriously.

All the while, the team puts players on LTIR with regularity, and while that’s a rule that is allowed under the CBA, doing so always comes with a bit of skepticism. Is the player really hurt? Are they actually out only until the playoffs begin? At the very least, when teams do this it feels “convenient” and while few should contest that players are actually injured, Vegas is one of those teams where the questions continue to be raised.

Salary seems to be no object for this team and buying your way to the Stanley Cup is bound to bring on a fair share of criticism. If nothing else, this version of the franchise is the antithesis of that expansion club and all it stood for.

The Recent Dadonov Trade Isn’t a Good Look

The latest drama surrounds the Dadonov trade that was reversed by the NHL. This is a bad look for Vegas, who many feel knew of his no-trade clause and tried to sneak the trade through Central Registry under the wire anyway. There’s likely never going to be proof of that, but with all that Vegas has done to try and dance around the salary cap line, they likely won’t get the benefit of the doubt.

If they trade him after this is all sorted, he won’t be able to play this season. Some might argue it would be nice to get paid and not play but that’s not how 99% of NHL players operate. They want to play and if you’re taking away their ability to do so, you’re the bad guy. If the Golden Knights trade him to Arizona simply to dump him, what does that say? So too, Frank Seravalli is reporting: “Lots of rumblings Vegas worked on post-deadline trade options in case deal with ANA was voided.” It could be that they only started looking at backup plans after they found out about the issue, but it doesn’t really sound that way. It almost sounds like they knew the trade might not go through.

Even more frustrating, the perception the NHL is sending is that teams like Vegas can get away with moves like this since a different team appears to be taking the blame for this debacle. According to Andy Strickland, league sources suggest the Ottawa Senators are at fault.

A Stanley Cup or Bust Team That Might Miss the Playoffs

What’s so incredible about all of this is that Vegas is a team that has made it clear through their actions they’re in it to win it all, and every season. Yet, even as the highest salary cap team, they might not make the postseason. A lot of that can be contributed to injuries, but surely a lot of that is their own undoing.

This is a franchise that put winning and getting the biggest names above anything else. It’s not illegal and it’s pro sports, so in many ways, it’s understandable. At the same time, you quickly make a lot of enemies when you’re prepared to do whatever it takes, regardless of the consequences. In the spirit of the Golden Knights being from Vegas, it might be worth a wager to see if you could find a player on that team who feels completely and totally comfortable with their spot on the roster. Each of them probably knows they could be moved at any time if something that appeared to be better came along.

And, as the Dadonov trade proved, even players who have a no-trade clause worked into their deals aren’t safe.