by Jimmy Vitale
The Vegas Golden Knights are the best team in the NHL’s Western Conference; that may surprise some people. Probably because they don’t even know the Golden Knights exist, let alone that they place second in the whole NHL.
Vegas began play this season after going through the expansion draft in June of last year.
They quickly announced their presence as one of the best expansions in NHL history, winning four of their first five games, then eight of their first ten. The Golden Knights’ point percentage is the highest recorded among first-year teams in the NHL, over 72 percent. This winning record is not only impressive among new teams, as they rank above 80 percent of all teams in NHL history.
The Golden Knights aren’t just setting records for expansion teams in hockey, they rank best in win differential among every first-year team in the MLB, NBA and NFL. Vegas tops baseball’s 1961 Los Angeles Angels, 1969 Kansas City Royals, and 1962 Houston Colt 45’s by an average of 30.6 percent. Their best basketball’s 1967 Bulls, 1971 Trail Blazers and 1969 Bucks by 36.3 percent. Football fares far worse, the 1995 Panthers, 1968 Bengals and 1967 Saints by a whopping 43.7 percent.
Statistics aren’t the only thing being collected by the Golden Knights. Vegas has been climbing the standings at an incredible pace. They broke the record for the fastest team to 20 wins, needing only 31 games. The record of 35 games stood since the 1926 New York Rangers, although they only had 9 remaining games on the season schedule, compared to Vegas’ 51 games.
Currently, after the NHL All-Star Game, the Golden Knights sit above the next Pacific Division contender, the Anaheim Ducks by 12 points and are behind the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning by a single point. The question of Vegas’ playoff clinching has moved from “if” to “when;” it’s only a matter of time before the math confirms what has been apparent this season.
Getting to the playoffs, however, is only half the battle. The Golden Knights would still need 16 wins to raise the Stanley Cup. Vegas does look to be the strongest team in the Western Conference, holding four games above the next best Winnipeg Jets, while playing one less game. The first place Golden Knights would face a wild-card team like Dallas, Minnesota or Los Angeles, all of whom have playoff experience as a team. Something the first-year Knights obviously lack.
The Knights do however have the playoff experience of Marc-Andre Fleury to rely on. Fleury missed the playoffs in the first two of his 13 years with the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, 2016 and 2017. The steadiness of Fleury in net might be what Vegas needs to hold it together in the early rounds. Once they can find their footing, they may become perennial contenders in the west.