The Vegas Knights are at the end of year three, what can we say about the franchise so far?
An expansion franchise is “supposed” to be the leagues little brother. When the Columbus Blue Jackets entered the NHL at the turn of the century it took eight-years for the Ohio team to break the top 8 in the Western Conference. It wasn’t till the 2016-2017 season that they broke the top 5 in the Eastern Conference (the team moved to the Metropolitan division in 2013). In the NFL the Houston Texans who were established in 2002 struggled to break a .500 record until 2009, and failed to make the playoffs until 2011.
But like Sin City itself, Vegas doesn’t follow the “norms.” The Knights finished 51-24, good enough for a 1st place conference finish in 2017-2018. The team went on to sweep the Kings, cruise past the Sharks 4-2, and take home a gentleman’s sweep over the Jets 4-1 in the Western Conference finals. An expansion franchise moving on to its league championship in year one is unheard of. Eventually, the did lose the Washington Capitals, an experienced veteran-lead team in the Stanley Cup finals.
Year two the Golden Knights had a lot to prove, no-one wants to be a one-hit wonder. While the team got off to a slow-start, the roster of the future really started to take shape with the additions of Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. The team went on to finish 43-32, and lose in a devastating first round 7 game matchup against the rival San Jose Sharks. The roster that was arguably more talented and capable than its first years team, fell short of even the second round. With a commanding lead in game 7, the Knights gave up four 3rd period goals and eventually lost in overtime. While it was a disappointing year-two finish, the team proved they were not a flash in the pan for the league.
Now, in year three, Vegas is back in the drivers seat of the league with the top seed in the Western Conference. This is far from a usual season, with the COVID-19 pause and the playoffs taking place in the Canada’s “bubbles.” However, the roster is stronger than ever, the lines have more depth than they did in the first two seasons, and the expansion franchise has another chance to be the big brother in the Western Conference.