Since the NHL started adding from its “Original Six,” there has been only one expansion team to finish the season with a .500 winning percentage or better. That was in 1925, when the Pittsburgh Pirates went 19-16-1 in a 36-game season.
Now, 92 years later, the brand new Vegas Golden Knights are the best team in the NHL in terms of points per game.
Vegas is 6-1-0 in their first seven games. To put that into perspective, the Boston Bruins went 6-24 in their inaugural 1924 season. The Knights are not only having the best start to a debut season, they’re having the best start in the league.
The Golden Knights opened the season with the worst odds to win the Stanley Cup, according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. Vegas was listed at 200-1, double the odds of the next closest team.
So how has the team that was projected to do so poorly playing like the best team in the league?
The expansion draft in June gave Vegas their star players James Neal and Marc Andre Fleury, two crucial pieces to the early success of the team. Neal has scored six goals already this season, tied for fifth in the league and at least double the total of any of his teammates. Fleury has a save percentage of .925 and goals against average of 2.48, both better than his career averages.
Vegas has also received unexpectedly high-quality goaltending from backup Malcolm Subban. Subban, known more for being the younger brother of NHL star P.K. Subban than for his own abilities, has a 2-0-0 record this season with a .936 save percentage and 2.06 goals against average.
Subban, a first-round pick in the 2012 draft, was cut from the Bruins prior to the beginning of the season. Before he was signed off waivers by the Knights, Subban had played in just two games over the span of three years with the Bruins. He gave up three goals in each of those games, and could not make it into the third period of either start.
The Knights are getting surprising contributions like this all over the roster. In their most recent win over the St. Louis Blues, Vegas got an overtime game-winning goal from William Karlsson. In the last two years with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Karlsson scored 15 combined goals in 162 games.
However, a lot of Vegas’ early success is due to the lack of difficulty in the schedule. In ESPN’s Relative Power Index, a formula that combines team winning percentage with opponents’ winning percentage, Vegas ranks 15th in the league at .551. The Knights have beaten the Arizona Coyotes twice already and their lone loss came against the Detroit Red Wings; both Arizona and Detroit are teams that were projected to finish at the bottom of the standings.
Additionally, the Knights now have goaltender problems with Fleury having sustained a concussion—the only reason Subban was seeing the ice lately—and a four-week injury to Subban in Saturday’s game. Neither player in their current goaltender tandem has ever played a game in the NHL prior to filling in for Subban on Saturday.
Vegas currently has the 17th best odds to win the Stanley Cup, according to Bovada. While they certainly won’t keep up this incredible pace and probably won’t win the Stanley Cup, they have played their way into a far better ranking than their projected last place finish. There just is not enough talent on this expansion roster to maintain a pace even close to their current .851 winning percentage.
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.