The unlikely nature of a Cinderella Story is what makes these tales widely appealing throughout sports. In 2018, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights shocked the world with one such story, as they reached the Stanley Cup Final in their first season. A few years later, the NHL is preparing to welcome another expansion franchise to the league in Seattle.
By reaching new heights, Vegas has set the tone for the league’s newest team. Although it seems as though the Golden Knights’ dream season could never be matched, the NHL’s current expansion system may prove to be a factory for immediate Cup contenders.
With fans being used to seeing expansion teams finish near the bottom of the league in their first season, Vegas’ 2018 run was truly jaw dropping. It was impossible not to fall in love with hockey’s freshest franchise as they attempted to make history. The Golden Knights ended up losing the Cup Final to the Washington Capitals, who told a Cinderella story of their own. Washington’s story, however, was built on years of playoff turmoil. While Vegas thrilled in its first season, it was fair to question how a new franchise could so quickly achieve elite status.
Many of the NHL’s franchises have awaited a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals for decades, yet here were the Golden Knights competing for a championship before even the slightest taste of failure. As Seattle gets set to become the NHL’s 32nd team, the reasoning behind Vegas’ success may become more clear. Masked behind the glamour of the organization’s instant success was the league-constructed shortcut to winning.
The league provided the team with a more favorable expansion draft system than ever used before. Because of this, teams were forced to relinquish high quality talent, or make lopsided trades in exchange for leaving their best players alone. The Knights were lucky enough to receive a star goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury, who also provides exceptional leadership. They also added young upcoming superstars like Alex Tuch, Jonathan Marchessault and Shea Theodore. This was drastically different than past drafts which were often centered around washed up, older players.
General Manager George McPhee deserves plenty of credit for identifying the necessary pieces to build an instant contender. And there was certainly some luck involved in the team meshing so beautifully right away. But Vegas’ ability to create such a strong foundation immediately still seems a bit unfair. Other successful NHL franchises needed to work earnestly for years to build a championship contender. And sometimes, even that was not enough. Vegas was gifted not only a franchise, but a Stanley Cup caliber one, without bearing the rite of passage of losing seasons first.
Seattle’s new team will likely get to enjoy the luxury of the same draft system that Vegas did. Thus, this will be a true test of luck and management against a favorable system.
The most likely outcome is that Seattle ends up somewhere in the middle. With the draft system in place, they will not be completely hopeless in their first season. But it would also be tremendously difficult to match the season that Vegas had in its inaugural campaign.
Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.