How the Vegas Golden Knights Became So Good in Year One

 Hockey is the only North American sport to have an expansion team make the finals in their first season. It has happened twice. The St. Louis Blues made the Stanley Cup Finals in their first two seasons of existence, although they played in a division with the other five expansion franchises at the time. The Vegas Golden Knights are the other team to accomplish this feat, doing so by going 12-2 in their remarkable playoff run this year.

 

 The difference between the Blues initial success and that of the Knights is that the Blues barely got by a lowly Philadelphia squad. Vegas swept a perennial west juggernaut in Los Angeles, while ousting another contender in San Jose in six. The Knights then dispatched the red-hot Winnipeg Jets in five games. St. Louis had a losing record going into that postseason, 27-31-16. Vegas went 51-24-7 in their inaugural campaign, fifth best in the NHL. Some could argue that the expansion draft back in the 1960’s wasn’t fair to the new teams because the original six franchises had so much influence. While that may be true to an extent, Vegas general manager George McPhee was much smarter in building the initial Knights roster.

 

 McPhee started shaping the Vegas roster into the elite squad it is today not by hunting for superstars, but by looking for undervalued talent whose teams did not want to pay them. McPhee made a plethora of trades during the expansion draft, receiving key contributors such as Reilly Smith, Alex Tuch, Shea Theodore, and an abundance of draft picks to acquire more key contributors in the expansion draft, such as Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Marc- Andre Fleury, Erik Haula, and William Carrier. He continued at the trade deadline when he acquired quality scorer Tomas Tatar. These Golden Knights are a team of cast-offs and contracts that no one wanted. None of this would be possible, however, without the hiring of head coach Gerard Gallant.

 

 George McPhee got a steal of a head coach hiring Gallant. Gallant had previously coached the Florida Panthers, where he was with Vegas stars Smith and Marchessault. Under Gallant, the Panthers made the playoffs as the Atlantic Division champions, before falling to the Islanders in six games in the first round. Gallant is notorious for helping young talent develop, explaining why under Gallant, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault developed into top six forwards. This year, William Karlsson and Erik Haula have really come into their own as scorers under Gallant, as Karlsson netted 43 goals goals this season, that was good for third best in the NHL and Haula scored 29 of his own, shattering his previous career high. This in turn has contributed to the run that Vegas is on. The tandem of McPhee and Gallant have built a quality team in Vegas, bringing them all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. McPhee created a team building model that many other GMs will surely try to replicate, and he will hope to see his creation reach the summit against Washington.

Why Lou Lamoriello Can Change the Islanders Putrid Fortunes

For the first time in 12 years, the New York Islanders will have a new president of hockey operations. The man taking that role? Lou Lamoriello. Lamoriello brought Stanley Cups to New Jersey and gave Toronto the roster that they have now. This has given the Islanders faithful hope for the first time in awhile. While it’s an exciting time right now on Long Island, let’s take a look back at the years of misery leading into this new era of optimism, and how Lamoriello can change it on a dime.

 

May 24, 1993. That was the last time that the New York Islanders played in a conference finals game. Nine years prior to that was the last time they played in a Stanley Cup Finals game. The fact that the Vegas Golden Knights have won more playoff series in their first year than the Islanders have in the last 25 years makes one wonder: how could this once prosperous franchise fallen so far?

 

Bad talent and asset management seems to be a theme with the fall of the Islanders. Former general manager Mike Milbury traded away future all stars such as Zdeno Chara and a first-round pick that turned into all-star Jason Spezza and Roberto Luongo to make room for new franchise goaltender Rick DiPietro. While Milbury was bad, recently demoted general manager Garth Snow has been worse during his reign over the franchise. It should have been a bad omen right out of the gate when he signed an injury prone DiPietro to a 15 year, $67.5 million dollar contract. He’s also responsible for trading quality scorer Nino Niederreiter for mediocre defenseman Cal Clutterbuck. Some may argue that he drafted John Tavares, but my 4 year-old nephew could have made that choice. Recently, he has acquired blossoming stud Mathew Barzal and veteran scorer Jordan Eberle. While those are good decisions, he still makes his questionable ones, like replacing Kyle Okposo with an older, more worn down Andrew Ladd who has been largely unproductive during his time in Brooklyn. Garth Snow and Mike Milbury have dragged the franchise down to inconceivable depths, but that could all change starting this offseason.

 

Lou Lamoriello is highly regarded throughout the league as one of the best front office minds. While he is getting older, he certainly still has the capacity to build a cup contender. Most recently, Lamoriello assembled the Toronto roster that consists of superstars in Austin Matthews and Mitch Marner. That Maple Leafs roster will be contending for cups for probably the next decade. Prior to Toronto, Lamoriello built the Devils roster that won three Stanley Cups. A roster that consisted of greats like Patrik Elias, Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Ken Daneyko, and Martin Brodeur. Keep in mind, he drafted all of those players but Stevens. Lamoriello is perfectly capable of building championship caliber rosters. He has all the pieces in place to do the same for the Isles. The offensive core is one of the best in the league with John Tavares (I’ll address him in a minute), Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, and Jordan Eberle. With all those pieces in place, and the 11th and 12th picks in the upcoming NHL Draft, Lamoriello needs to build a strong defensive core, and find a serviceable goaltender. If Lamoriello can do what he does best, the New York Islanders will be Stanley Cup contenders within three to five years.

 

Now onto the most important task on Lamoriello’s hands this offseason, re-signing John Tavares. Many thought he may be off to Toronto or San Jose. Then, things quickly changed once Lamoriello was brought in. He and Tavares met in Toronto last week, and apparently Tavares is very pleased with the hiring of Lamoriello. If we are being honest, at this point in time, would a 75 year-old Lamoriello, who’s been in the league since 1987, really sit around for a full blown rebuild of the Islanders after Tavares left? It is highly unlikely. Many in the Islanders organization believe that Lamoriello is confident that Tavares will stay. If Lamoriello is able to repeat his processes from New Jersey and Toronto, then the New York Islanders may have a Stanley Cup parade in their future.