Game one. Game one led the viewer to believe we were in for one heck of a series. The Caps looked great. The Knights looked great. Game two. Caps stole one. It would be Ok. Vegas would bounce back. The bounce never came. In fact, one could argue the Caps outmatched the Knights in every period until Game 5, period two. The Caps shutdown the counter punch the Knights used as their M-O all season. The Caps disrupted the Knights to breakdown their defense and make Fleury a vulnerable, sitting duck. The Caps played fantastic hockey, and undoubtedly deserved the championship they earned.
I want to focus on Vegas. Past, present, and future. Let’s start with the present. Right now, Vegas has a tremendous gift in front of them. They have a city that has completely rallied around their new franchise. They have a new, and excited fan base. They have a team that just had an unthinkable run. They have everything they could have dreamed up, and more. It is an amazing moment for the city, the franchise, and the league.
Let’s focus on the past. The Knights meant much more than just a team to Las Vegas. They were something to rally around. They were a necessary distraction. They came along at the most difficult moment in Las Vegas’ history. This history, albeit, a short one, will matter for the Knights going forward. It will connect a city to a sports franchise in a way that is unprecedented. The city endures its biggest tragedy as their first pro franchise becomes a reality. Uncanny timing.
Ok, we know the past and present, but we have no idea about the future. We have a few things to look at. First, this was not the plan for Vegas, and therefore, the organization has their first true test. The GM and his group will have to make tough choices. A lot of their players were supposed to be used a trade bait in hopes of developing younger talent. The Knights had such great success, that they were forced to retain talent. A lot of which cannot be kept. The team now either needs to hand out lots of lofty contracts, or let some of their inaugural heroes go. This is a position the team knew they’d be in for a few months. It will be interesting to see how they handle it.
The future can be positive for them, in that the Western Conference is the weaker group in the NHL. The Knights can afford to grow their team on the fly. Most of the talent is in the East, and most of the West is in rebuild mode. This can permit for the Knights to look better than they may ultimately be, and assist in their goal to remain relevant. Relevancy is key. They are a new team, but the excitement will begin to fade. You have to continue to produce results. The expectations won’t be high, but the team has to at least remain in contention all season and make the playoffs, or just miss it. The organization cannot afford a big fall.
Let’s end the future talk with a look at other expansion teams. History doesn’t bode well. Baseball – Dbacks and Rays haven’t been able to sustain success, despite a World Series victory and World Series appearance, respectively. The Jaguars over in the NFL were a dumpster fire up until last season, whereas Carolina had a nearly decade long rough patch pre-Cam Newton, post-2003 Super Bowl appearance. The NHL teams took a long time to blossom as well. Columbus, Minnesota, Nashville and Atlanta were the most recent teams. All of which struggled to maintain relevancy until recent success. Atlanta even folded before switching for Winnipeg. The NBA couldn’t expand in Vancouver, and took a long time post-Vince Carter to maintain success in Toronto. The point is – recent expansion in all four leagues proves that Knights have an uphill battle. They have wind at their sails, and one of the most unique expansion stories ever, which hopefully enables their story to be written differently.