Playing With House Money

By Patrick Hoffman

**Originally drafted on April 16, 2018**

When you're an expansion team in any sport, you really are not supposed to be good.

It's usually the norm. The team may win some games, but when it comes down to it, they'll expectedly miss the playoffs and focus on building for the future.

The NHL's Vegas Golden Knights clearly do not believe in that. Heck, they told this notion to go kick rocks.

As of this writing (April 16), the Knights are in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 3-0 lead over the two-time Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. Yes, you read that right.

Let's take a look back at how they got to this point. The league's newest team broke all kind of records this season and have accomplished the following this season:

Finished first in their division (Pacific)

Finished third in the Western Conference

Finished fifth in the league

This is all unheard of for an expansion team. Sure, many pundits and fans thought that considering what the team did in the expansion draft, they would at least be competitive.

Absolutely no one expected anything like this. This is why, even though they are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team is simply playing with house money and there is absolutely no pressure on them to accomplish anything else this season.

The Knights were successful this season for many different reasons. It starts with the play of their star player and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. 

When the franchise selected in the expansion draft, many thought that he would be a solid goaltender and would be someone who could help with community outreach given his great personality. They were simply selecting the goaltender that would allow them to at least be competitive in their first season.

While Fleury, 33, has obviously been a leader out in the community, he has also been the team's leader on the ice by supplying outstanding netminder. He was an All-Star this season as he finished the regular season with a record of 29-13-4 with a 2.24 goals against average, a .927 save percentage and four shutouts.

Fleury was the team's backbone this season and always put them in a position to come away with two points. He is the main reason why the team was so good this season.

Right behind the excellent play of Fleury was the emergence of William Karlsson. The 25-year-old centerman came from the Columbus Blue Jackets as someone who was looking to prove to this new franchise and the rest of the league that he could be more than just a 20 to 25 point player.

Karlsson did that and more in his career year. He led the team with 78 points on an amazing 43 goals and 35 assists while showing that he has a lot of speed, soft hands, and a terrific shot. 

The team also showed that they have a lot of depth. Besides Karlsson, the team's offense got a lot of contributions from the likes of Jonathan Marchessault (75 points), David Perron (66 points), Reilly Smith (60 points), Erik Haula (55 points), and James Neal (44 points).

On a nightly basis this season, it seemed like many players were picking up points. This is exactly what not only an expansion team needs, but any team in the league needs in order to have success.

Lastly, the franchise picked the right guy to lead them behind the bench. Gerard Gallant, someone who should win the Jack Adams Award this year as the league's top coach, got his team to buy into his system and philosophies and as a result, they have exceeded everyone's expectations.

Regardless of how this team does in the playoffs, the Knights have shown the rest of the league that they are an elite hockey club that plays the right way and knows how to win. In any league, that is all that matters.

Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.caKukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.

For comments and hip checks, feel free to contact Patrick at patrickhoffman3530@gmail.com or on Twitter at @pathoffman35.