Las Vegas has become a sports town. The Vegas Golden Knights will start their first NHL season this fall, and there are reasons to be excited.
The last two NHL expansion teams were Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild. They entered the league back in 2000. 17 years later, we have the 31st NHL team: The Vegas Golden Knights.
Even though expansion teams rarely have success right away, there are a bunch of reasons to think the Vegas Golden Knights will be a contender early on.
1) Sin City the Sports Town
Las Vegas is a one-of-a-kind city. A mix of bright lights, alcoholic slush, street performers, gambling and strippers. And it’s one of the few places in America where you actually can bet on sports – legally. That’s probably the reason why there hasn’t been a pro sports team in Vegas, but that’s changing.
The Golden Knights enters the Vegas skyline this fall. The Las Vegas Raiders brings NFL to town in a few years. Sin City is finally becoming a real sports town.
The 28th biggest city in America has been starving for a team to call their own for years. Even though they have sold out numerous venues for different show games, boxing matches and UFC fights, they’ve been lacking a team with an actual Vegas logo. The Vegas Golden Knights should have a huge crowd from day 1, and the T-Mobile Arena will be fuming. The players will feel the crowd in their back, which is always helpful for a sports team. The T-Mobile Arena will be one of the loudest, noisiest, arousing and emotional stadiums in the NHL. Never underestimate the home crowd.
2) No Battle for Players
When the Blue Jackets and the Wild joined the league, they had to fight for players in the 2000 expansion draft. Vegas was lucky enough to have the pick of the litter. They could take the best player (not protected) from each team, without having to worry about anyone else. That makes the Vegas roster much better than the 2000 Blue Jackets and Wild rosters, and they should be able to compete for a playoff spot right away.
3) The Weak Pacific
The Pacific division is a weird one. A few years ago, it was one of the best divisions around. In 2017, not so much. Yes, Anaheim and Edmonton had a good year, but teams like Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks were really disappointing. The Los Angeles Kings didn’t have a very good season either, and were 10 points away from grabbing a playoff spot. San Jose Sharks are very unstable, but had a good one in 2016/17. We haven’t seen Vegas play yet, but they should be able to compete for the 3rd playoff spot already in their first season.
4) Marc-André Fleury
It all starts with the goalie. You can only dream about winning the Stanley Cup if you have an average shot-stopper. Marc-André Fleury was the expansion draft pick from the Pittsburgh Penguins, and 32 year old will be the face of the franchise in Vegas.
He won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in June, and has three Stanley Cup trophies on his resume. The former 1st overall draft pick might be on of the most up-and-down goalies in the league, but when he’s at his best, he’s one of the very best in the NHL. Let’s hope he finds a way to stay on his best level in Vegas.
5) James Neal
Fleury wasn’t the only big name who arrived in the expansion draft. Vegas got another former Penguins player from the Nashville Predators.
James Neal was a huge part of Nashville’s recent success, and played in the Stanley Cup final this year. He’s a goal scoring machine, and has netted 125 times over the last five seasons. If he can bring that form to Vegas, his name will be on the back of a lot of Vegas Golden Knights jerseys.
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