Thoughts On The Success Of The Las Vegas Golden Knights

From A Hockey Outsider

Professional hockey, specifically with regards to the NHL, is not my area of sports expertise. The only time I’ve really ever watched a professional hockey game is in between games of the NBA Finals as the Stanley Cup is also happening. Even that though, is hit or miss. Sometimes I turn on NBC and get bored simply because I don’t know any of the players; who is good or bad, what their backstories are.

And 2018 hasn’t been any different. I have barely watched any of the Stanley Cup; in the little bits that I did watch, the Washington Capitals looked far superior to the Las Vegas Golden Knights. But it’s the Las Vegas Golden Knights who have rekindled a little bit of an interest in hockey inside me.

Their story is one that I’ve been following. I’ve literally been a Day One fan. Now, that’s not saying much considering that they are an expansion team, but something about an expansion team, and the process behind one, has always fascinated me. That helped draw me. Well, that and their phenomenal twitter account @GoldenKnights.

Las Vegas has made some history this season and shocked much of the sports world. As the Golden Knights have skated their way through the NHL’s Western Conference and into the Stanley Cup, there has been a push back against their success.

Many hard-core hockey fans, Hockey Twitter as the foil to NBA Twitter especially, are bitter and upset at the success that Vegas has had this year. Hockey Twitter, and hockey fandom in general. is a very niche group that is very protective of their sport and its traditions. Those pockets that vigorously defend hockey and the NHL are part of the reason it is really hard to get into hockey.

That’s a confusing part of hockey fandom. A new team comes in and brings in waves of new fans. Except these are mostly very casual fans that love the story behind an expansion team. Lots of hockey fans seem to be upset that these fans aren’t serious in the way that they are.

As far as I can tell, from reading and other information, the success of Vegas’ franchise is the primary cause for consternation about Vegas. There are many NHL franchise who haven’t sniffed the Stanley Cup, many of those the Canadian franchise where hockey is a way of life. To fans of teams in a Stanley Cup drought, it seems almost “unfair” for an expansion team to be playing in the Stanley Cup.

It seems that they do have a little bit of a point. The NHL loosened the expansion draft rules and that allowed the Golden Knights to pick up some better players. From my reading post-draft though, I believe that those criticisms of the NHL aren’t warranted. The Golden Knights made a ton of pre-draft moves which allowed them have more shots are drafting players or chances to draft better players. That’s why I cannot understand the bitterness towards Vegas.

Sure, being a little bit jealous of an expansion team makes sense to me. If I was a team of a long-suffering team, I’d want an expansion team to “suffer” also before their success. As a pure sports fan though, what the Golden Knights have done is simply remarkable from a team-building and marketing standpoint.

Any team that has a vision of the path towards contention and actually sees that plan through is worth praising. In this day and age where money and an owners’ whims can shape a franchise’s moves, it gets really hard to build a consistent winner or execute a strong rebuild.

Las Vegas basically had an accelerated rebuild. Their team was literally nothing and they had a chance to start from scratch. Hire any coach they could, institute any organizational culture they wanted, and no pressure of past glories or teams. Obviously, contention in Year One is quicker than Vegas anticipated, but that doesn’t really matter for our purposes. Expansion teams can be really weird. Usually an expansion team is a random mish-mash of older players that are believed to be “declining”. For Vegas to take these kinds of player and for Coach Gerard Gallant to meld them into a winner is simply astounding.

On the other end of the spectrum though, Vegas has done a great job of making their games an experience, which has helped build a fan base and spread word. Vegas’ long, drawn out, and exciting pre-game shows have been all over twitter and garnered tons of discussion. Some of that discussion has been good and some bad, but doing something that creates that discussion and PR is never a bad thing.

The Las Vegas Golden Knights have had a special run in 2017–2018 as an expansion team. It’s been really fun to watch and their team has even pulled in many non-hockey fans. What the Vegas franchise has done this year is special and it is worthy of recognition and praise, not bitterness from the rest of the NHL’s fan base.

Sophomore studying Sport Management and Economics at the University of Texas. Writing about Baseball from an analytical and scouting perspective

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