Facts don’t bear out revisionist history being written about Vegas Golden Knights

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Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is the primary reason the Golden Knights are headed to the Stanley Cup Finals.

You may have heard the Vegas Golden Knights are headed to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday in Game 5 of the NHL’s Western Conference finals, 2-1, to become the first expansion team playing in a non-expansion conference to make it to the league championship series.

But you might have missed it because of the quickly developing narrative that somehow the NHL’s expansion draft rules in 2017 were so overwhelmingly unfair to the other 30 NHL teams — Each of which was paid $17 million to lose one player — that it helped create an expansion juggernaut in Las Vegas.

On Saturday, between Games 4 and 5, the Golden Knights’ social media account put out a playful tweet about what was going on with the franchise a year ago. And John Smithson responded with an utterly incorrect but increasingly common take.

Smithson, though, was far from alone. On Sunday, Nick Fasulo somehow found it incredibly embarrassing for the NHL that the Golden Knights were headed to the finals.

And then Jeff Gallaher made it even worse when he responded in this thread.

Apparently, John and Nick and Jeff and thousands of others didn’t actually read the NHL’s expansion rules. For the honor of being admitted to the league, Golden Knights owner Bill Foley paid $500 million, meaning each of the 30 existing teams made $16.67 million for losing one player.

And it’s not like Vegas GM George McPhee had the likes of Conor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Erik Karlsson or Sidney Crosby to choose among. These are the rules McPhee and the Knights had to play by in putting the team together:

Protected Lists
* Clubs will have two options for players they wish to protect in the Expansion Draft:

a) Seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender

b) Eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goaltender

* All players who have currently effective and continuing “No Movement” clauses at the time of the Expansion Draft (and who to decline to waive such clauses) must be protected (and will be counted toward their club’s applicable protection limits).

* All first- and second-year professionals, as well as all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward their club’s applicable protection limits).

Player Exposure Requirements

* All Clubs must meet the following minimum requirements regarding players exposed for selection in the Expansion Draft:

i) One defenseman who is a) under contract in 2017-18 and b) played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.

ii) Two forwards who are a) under contract in 2017-18 and b) played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.

iii) One goaltender who is under contract in 2017-18 or will be a restricted free agent at the expiration of his current contract immediately prior to 2017-18. If the club elects to make a restricted free agent goaltender available in order to meet this requirement, that goaltender must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the club’s protected list.

* Players with potential career-ending injuries who have missed more than the previous 60 consecutive games (or who otherwise have been confirmed to have a career-threatening injury) may not be used to satisfy a club’s player exposure requirements, unless approval is received from the NHL. Such players also may be deemed exempt from selection by the League.

So, that meant that under the first scenario, the Knights would get to choose from among the eighth best forward, the fourth best defenseman and the second-string (or worse) goalie.

Under the second scenario, it was a little more vague, but that allowed a team to protect four or five defensemen, meaning there wasn’t much to choose from defensively.

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Nate Schmidt was claimed in the NHL Expansion Draft and became Vegas’ No. 1 defenseman.

One of the defensemen the Knights’ chose was Nate Schmidt, who was with the Washington Capitals last year. When the Capitals traded for Kevin Shattenkirk at the trading deadline in 2017, Schmidt was called in and told he wouldn’t play again because he was the team’s seventh defenseman unless there was an injury.

Vegas was hardly given an unfair edge, though admittedly, the rules were better than they’d ever been before. But does anybody really believe that it would have been better for the league, for hockey in general and specifically for hockey in Las Vegas if the NHL had made the expansion rules as restrictive as they were in 1974, when the Washington Capitals entered the league and promptly went 8-67-5 for 21 points?

McPhee and his staff did a remarkable job in several areas, and made the salary cap an ally for themselves. But let’s start with the obvious: They got incredibly lucky that Pittsburgh was forced to make Marc-Andre Fleury available.

Fleury is the unquestioned leader for the Knights and is probably the front-runner for the Conn Smythe as the playoffs’ most valuable player. Fleury has been so sensational, he may win the Conn Smythe even if the Knights don’t win the Stanley Cup.

But after Pittsburgh won the second of its back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 2017, it made the decision to protect Matt Murray. Murray was called up in 2016 when Fleury was injured and with the long-time Penguins’ starter out, Murray came in and led the Penguins to the Cup.

The Penguins repeated last year, and Fleury was in the nets at the beginning of the playoffs because Murray was injured. But at the first sign that Fleury’s hot hand would run out, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan switched to Murray, who went the rest of the way.

Murray was younger and far cheaper and even though Fleury was an iconic player in Penguins’ history and an outstanding goalie, it made far more sense to protect Murray. But Fleury has played better for the Golden Knights this year than he ever did in Pittsburgh, even in the years he won the Cup. For that, much credit should go to Vegas goaltending coach David Prior.

But the Knights weren’t drafting players anyone thought would be successful. The Nashville Predators chose to protect Viktor Arvidsson instead of James Neal, because Neal was making $5 million, would be a free agent on July 1, 2018, and would be 31 by the start of the 2018-19 season.

McPhee rooked the Florida Panthers and Minnesota Wild, winding up with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, two-thirds of the Knights’ first line from Florida and Eric Haula and Alex Tuch, two-thirds of their second line, from Minnesota. Each team had players it wanted to protect other than those four and McPhee parlayed that into the makings of a potential championship team.

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Reilly Smith (L) and William Karlsson form two-thirds of one of the NHL’s best two-way lines for the Vegas Golden Knights.

Given an increased role, William Karlsson bloomed and became a star. He’s an amazing defensive player, an outstanding penalty killer, a terrific passer and scored 43 goals for Vegas in the regular season after netting just 18 in 183 games for Anaheim and Columbus prior to joining the Knights.

The rules didn’t make the Knights potential champions. Great scouting by McPhee and his staff, terrific work by coach Gerard Gallant and, most importantly, the opportunity for players to bloom when given a shot.

Schmidt was stuck in a third-pair role for Washington, and would have stayed there. Given a chance to be a No. 1 in Las Vegas, he seized the opportunity. He showed great skating and a terrific feel for the game.

Karlsson would have been a terrific fourth-line center in Columbus again. But with no established No. 1 center in Vegas, he came in and earned the job.

These players, their coaches and the team’s executives all did masterful jobs.

Let’s put an end to this narrative that the league somehow planned for this.

The Knights are the best story in sports, and perhaps in many years. But the NHL is the league that could botch a one-car funeral.

Anyone who thinks that Vegas was gifted a conference championship is oblivious to the facts.

It was George McPhee, Gerard Gallant and 25 highly motivated and determined players that led to this unexpected result.

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Owner Bill Foley and GM George McPhee were pleased after the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.

 

14 comments

  • Tremendous commentary Kevin. Credit goes to McPhee and his staff for selecting the players and Gerard Gallant for molding this group together. Thanks to Minnesota, Washington, Florida and Columbus for out team’s first and second line and our top defender. And thanks to the Kings for giving up on McNabb. Go Knights Go!!

  • Jaye K. Cantagallo

    The Knights ARE extremely lucky that they have the Conn Smyth winner in Net! Vegas should know that Marc-André Fleury is one of The Best PEOPLE in the NHL!!!!

  • Vegas absolutely knows what a great team we have. We also know now that we unknowingly put together a #1 team.
    #GOKNIGHTSGO

  • Michael@trishnash.com

    Great fact checking story that hopefully will slow down the ill informed conspiracy theorist whose negativity and farsightedness blind them from seeing one of the greatest sports storylines since the USA beat the Russian Team in the Olympics.

  • Interesting how you didn’t contrast it with the 2000 and 1999 expansion draft rules…

    in 2000 the Wild and the Blue Jackets drafted and the teams were allowed to protect 15 players. This year they were only allowed to protect 11 players, there was a Vegas only free agency window, and Vegas drafted in the regular draft position as the third worst team in the league.

    there were three side deals total to protect other players 1 for the Wild and 2 for Columbus.

    Vegas had 10 side deals to protect other players (for Draft picks mostly).
    Upon consideration the Wild, the Blue Jackets, and the Thrashers were totally screwed in their drafts, but upon reflection, Vegas just had the road plowed a bit more for them. Revisionist my ass…

    • Akcita, I noted that the rules were better than in the past. But I was railing against this notion that the rules set the Knights up to win the Cup. You really think that?

      I would be willing to be you this: On opening night, I don’t think there was one NHL team that would have been willing to swap rosters with the Golden Knights. Not Buffalo, not Ottawa, not Arizona, not any of them.

      Yes, VGK had better expansion rules than in the past, but no, the NHL didn’t guarantee them anything.

      • Sure but 4 additional players uncovered per team (and there are more teams than in 1999 and 2000) and all the supplemental free agency windows for a single team rather than two teams (2000) makes for a much improved pool of talent. it’s another ~120 players to choose from that all had to be Rostered players. it is a much better all you can eat buffet than the one at Circus Circus….

      • So if no other team would have traded their 23 guys for the VGK’s 23 guys, how in the world could it then stand that the NHL set the Knights up to win? They didn’t even guarantee them the No. 2 pick at worst, as had been done in the past. VGK picked sixth. The pickings were better than in previous years, which I have noted repeatedly. But there were no first- or second-line players or No. 1 or No. 2 defensemen available. Fleury’s situation was unique and had nothing to do with the draft rules. The point I am making is that A) McPhee and staff did a great job identifying guys like Karlsson and Schmidt with room to grow; B) Gallant and his staff did a great job developing those guys and C) Karlsson, Schmidt, Haula, etc, all took advantage of chances they weren’t given previously. Karlsson and Haula were No. 4 centers; Schmidt was Washington’s No. 7 defenseman (he was six until they traded for Shattenkirk).

      • Swap Rosters? I agree, but the guy they got from the Caps was quality, and young. The draft deals they made also get them an automatic pipeline of future talent to develop. I wonder what the rules for Seattle will be next year/ More of the Same?
        If they don’t do as well, they will make Vegas look that much more sparkly…

  • Akcita, Columbus essentially begged VGK to take Carlson. They even gave them draft picks just so Vegas can take that contract off their hands. Look at all the preseason power rankings at the beginning of the season. The Vegas golden knights were picked last in virtually every single one. People thought that the knights did a horrible job with their expansion draft. Revisionist history is correct, the knights kick ass and now people can’t handle the truth

  • its pointless to argue with Akcita, there will always people that try to find every last crumb to argue about, because their team didn’t perform like the team they envy. Simple fact is, you can’t draft a Stanley cup team. You can assemble players, scout, and place them in an arena, but you still have to put in the work, create an atmosphere that allows for winning, and have lady luck on your side. Many players and coaches have remarked that Vegas always comes to play. They take no days off and are the hardest working team out there. Series winning goal scorer Ryan Reeves (who was not drafted by Vegas) said that guys who are inactive still go out and do drills like they are going to play in the game. Hockey commentators have noticed that teams win when their 3rd and 4th lines take the pressure off of the first and second lines. That is what Vegas does, they roll out 4 lines every night. All of this takes hard work and dedication and if it were so easy to assemble a Stanley cup team, all the teams would do it, in fact they would copy Vegas blueprint. Yet no team is sitting around talking about how they want to emulate what Vegas does. It is time for people to appreciate what Vegas has done to create a Stanley cup team from a bunch of Golden Misfits.

  • Las Vegas has grown into one of the most popular destinations world-wide, and the city continues to flourish – with casino properties bringing in billions of dollars in revenue annually. A good amount of Las Vegas’s revenue is generated from gambling. Rest assured, the “house” is not stupid. When the house sets the odds, your chance of winning is not good. Always less than 50%, but often much less than that. When the house put out 500 to 1 odds that the VGK would win the cup (Lets say 200 to 1, so Akcita doesn’t try to make that nearly irrelevant point), few took the bet. The ones that did might laugh all the way to the bank, but the best sports handicappers in the world agreed there was NO WAY the VGK’s would win the Stanley Cup. Shame on McPhee for picking up Schmidt because he was “Quality and young.” Apparently, The Caps didn’t share Akcita’s hindsight opinion on Schmidt- Thank goodness that McPhee did – many months before Akcita at that!

    • And let’s be perfectly clear, Fluery has had one of the best seasons in goal that he has ever had. However, there are 22 other players on this team who have had, or are close to having career years as well! To say that the NHL set up Vegas to win is ludicrous. Let’s just leave it at that our “misfits”, collectively formed one helluva of a team, four wins from records that will likely never be broken!

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