The Vegas Golden Knights are in uncharted territory, advancing to the Western Conference Final. The Golden Knights became just the third team in NHL history to win multiple series in their inaugural season. The other two teams were in different NHL eras. The first postseason in league history saw the Toronto Arenas win the 1918 NHL Final. In 1968 the St. Louis Blues emerged from the all-expansion West Division and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final.
The players’ performances on the ice are the number-one reason that Vegas has had so much success. The bench boss, Gerard Gallant, also deserves a lot of the credit. The Jack Adams Award nominee helped build great chemistry and a winning mentality. He told the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
“It’s been a perfect storm so far. I think our team’s worked hard. We’ve competed hard, and credit to our players.”
The man that brought the players to Vegas, general manager George McPhee, should be applauded for constructing the roster. He masterfully maneuvered the Expansion Draft, NHL Draft, waiver wire and trades, which brings us to which NHL teams are most to thank for the Golden Knights’ success.
Jonathan Marchessault was coming off a 30-goal season with the Florida Panthers but was left unprotected in the Expansion Draft. The 27-year-old was a no-brainer selection, as he was set to only make $750,000 with one year left on that deal. Marchessault rewarded Vegas with 27 goals and a career-high 75 points.
That cost-effective acquisition alone would put Florida on this list, but they also acquired Reilly Smith from Florida for a fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Smith was available because of his contract (five-years, $5 million AAV)—and his poor 2016-17 season (37 points in 80 games played). The 27-year-old proved the Panthers foolish, bouncing back with 22 goals and a career-high 60 points.
Overall, both former Panthers players combined for 49 goals, 86 assists, 135 points, 30 power-play points and 430 shots on goal. Those numbers were 18 percent of the team’s goals and 19 percent of the team’s points. Marchessault and Smith continued their success in the postseason and are currently tied for the team lead in points (11).
The Minnesota Wild were forced to protect Jason Pominville, because of his no-movement clause, which they asked him to waive later in a trade to the Buffalo Sabres. They also decided to protect Jonas Brodin over Matt Dumba and left both Eric Staal and Erik Haula unprotected. Needless to say, they were a mess on Expansion Draft night.
McPhee took advantage of this situation by drafting Haula and acquiring Alex Tuch from Minnesota for a third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. The results were in favor to ‘GM GM’; the former Wild forwards combined for 44 goals, 92 points, 29 power-play points, and 346 shots on goal during the regular season.
The 27-year-old Haula led Vegas with 19 power-play points. Tuch, the 18th overall pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, was clutch for the Golden Knights, scoring four game-winning goals and a highlight-reel playoff goal.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen had to deal with some awful contracts during the Expansion Draft. Scott Hartnell had a no-movement clause and had to be protected; he was bought out eight days after the Expansion Draft. Brandon Dubinsky also has a no-movement clause in his contract and was an automatically-protected player.
Kekalainen was forced to leave Josh Anderson exposed, which was a player he was not willing to lose for nothing. Jarmo and George worked out a deal. Vegas selected William Karlsson (more on him in a bit) and acquired the contract of David Clarkson, Columbus’s first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft (24th overall) and Columbus’s second-round pick in 2019.
‘Wild Bill’ finished third in the NHL with 43 goals, third in even-strength goals (31) and led the NHL with a plus-49. The 25-year-old was an offensive catalyst for the Golden Knights all season and has continued his hot play in the postseason. Two of his four playoff goals are game-winners. The Golden Knights used the Blue Jackets’ draft pick to move up and take Nick Suzuki with the 13th overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, and now have an extra second-round pick in the 2019 Draft.
The unquestioned leader of the ‘Golden Misfits’ is goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. He was another no-brainer pick for McPhee in the Expansion Draft. He is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and a great locker-room personality to bring players together.
Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford knew he had to move his veteran netminder. TVA insider, Renaud Lavoie, reported that Fleury agreed to waive his no-movement clause back in February to be picked in the Expansion Draft.
Marc-André Fleury accepted the Penguins request in February to waive his no move clause for the expansion draft. Only for Las Vegas.
— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) June 12, 2017
To make sure that Vegas selected ‘The Flower’ and not some of his younger players who were exposed, Rutherford sent a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. The rest is NHL history, as the 33-year-old netminder won 29 games while posting a 2.24 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.
Postseason Fleury has been even better, with a 1.53 GAA and .951 SV%. He also recorded his fourth series-clinching shutout against the San Jose Sharks, which now has the Vegas Golden Knights four wins away from the Stanley Cup Final.