Search “Golden Knights” on Twitter and you’ll find a ton of people grappling with the reality an expansion team is four victories away from winning it all in its inaugural season.
There are those captivated by what’s turned into the best sports story in the country, casual NHL fans who have paid little to no attention to the league in recent years who have been charmed by a bunch of castaways dancing their way to the Stanley Cup Final.
And then the diehards of the other 30 teams bicker not only that a first-year franchise is having so much success in year one, but that their own front offices have failed to reel off as many wins.
A newbie franchise had never debuted with a winning season in any of the four major professional sports before Vegas came along.
Wrap your head around this: The Golden Knights’ three playoff series wins are more than 13 of the other 30 teams over the last decade.
In that time, the Devils have won three series, all of which came during the team’s run to the Final in 2012.
The lowly Islanders have just one.
While the Rangers aren’t on this miserable list, we figure you’re wondering anyway: The Blueshirts have 10 series wins over the past 10 seasons. And no Cup to show for it.
The NHL expansion draft rules were more generous to the new team than in past editions — teams were only able to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie — in an effort to make the Knights more competitive right away. This paved the way for pre-draft side deals and conversations that essentially went like, “We’ll give you draft picks on draft picks if you don’t take player X, Y and Z.”
So not only did GM George McPhee fleece teams of their talent, he stockpiled draft picks as well.
The team McPhee built is skilled, fast, fun to watch and will smother you defensively by rolling all four lines and six defensemen.
So, who are some of these pesky 500-1 preseason-long-shot Knights proving all of those October “Why Vegas will finish last” headlines wrong?
Let’s take a closer look at these upstart Knights before they meet Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final that begins Monday:
George McPhee General Manager
Former team: Washington Capitals
Did you know: Even if the Knights end up losing in the final, McPhee, the man who handpicked these Knights, should still receive a ring.
After all, he’s also responsible for assembling a good chunk of the Capitals roster that finally got over the playoff hump in 2018.
Years of postseason disappointment led to McPhee’s dismissal from Washington in 2014, which was followed by a quick stop with the Islanders a year later.
“We’re aiming at the Stanley Cup,” McPhee said at his introductory press conference in July 2016. “That simple.”
He just got there a whole lot quicker than any of us could have imagined.
Gerard Gallant – Head Coach
Record: 51-24-7, 109 points
Former team: Florida Panthers, coach
Did you know: The word “taxi” immediately follows a Google search for the Vegas Golden Knights’ head coach.
No, it’s not some glitch in the algorithm, but instead an ode to one of the weirdest sequence of events a coach has experienced.
Gallant, a 2015-16 Jack Adams Award finalist for NHL coach of the year, was canned 22 games into the next season after an 11-10-1 start.
The firing came right after a 3-2 loss to Carolina, and shortly thereafter, photos of Gallant waiting for a cab in Raleigh went viral.
He set the story straight after the Internet had its fun, saying his former employer had called a car service for him, but he didn’t want to wait for it.
If only he had Uber at the time. Well, at least it all worked out for him.
The Panthers, meanwhile, just missed out on the playoffs this season.
Marc-Andre Fleury – Goaltender
Regular season stats: 29-13-4 | 2.24 GAA four shutouts
Former team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Did you know: The beloved netminder and face of the franchise went from being out of a job in Pittsburgh to being among the favorites to win the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP.
Let’s recap the 2003 No. 1 pick’s last three seasons:
2016: Suffers a season-ending concussion and watches rookie understudy Matt Murray hoist the Cup.
2017: Loses the battle for the top job in goal as Murray mans the net for most of the season and playoffs, yet sees first-round action after an injury forces Murray to the sidelines. Fleury filled in and was lights out, but Murray assumed the starting role shortly thereafter en route to a second straight Stanley Cup.
2018: Take that, Pittsburgh. Fleury is chasing his fourth Stanley Cup while you’re all practicing putting. Not so fast: There’s no trace of bad blood between the two. After all, Pittsburgh welcomed him back this season with an emotional tribute video and standing ovation in February.
“He’s a terrific guy, and he’s played terrific,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “I hope he wins.”
Fleury is 12-3 in these playoffs with a 1.68 GAA and four shutouts.
William Karlsson – Forward
Regular season stats: 43 goals | 35 assists | 78 points
Former team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Did you know: Let’s just get this out in the open right away: Karlsson’s hair rivals the Jets’ Sam Darnold.
But his flow isn’t as jaw-dropping as the 25-year-old’s rise to one of the top players in the league.
A year ago, “Wild Bill,” as they call him, was stuck behind a crowded group of centers in Columbus, so they left him unprotected in the expansion draft.
Karlsson, a 2011 second-round pick by Anaheim, is now a bonafide superstar who plays a complete game coveted by every other team in the league.
It gets worse for the Blue Jackets.
Columbus practically begged the Knights to take Karlsson so long as they stayed away from other players the Blue Jackets couldn’t afford to protect due to the new rules.
This is where those side deals come into play: Columbus traded its 2017 first-round draft pick and a ’19 third-rounder to Las Vegas in exchange for taking Karlsson. As part of the deal, the Knights also absorbed the contract of former Devil David Clarkson, who no longer plays hockey, but is on the books for another two seasons.
Jonathan Marchessault – Forward
Regular season stats: 27 goals | 48 assists | 75 points
Former team: Florida Panthers
Did you know: Fans of the Rangers, Islanders and Devils can find solace in the fact that the three players they opted to let go — forward Oscar Lindberg, goaltender Jean-Francois Berube (never suited up in the desert) and defenseman Jon Merrill, respectively — haven’t exactly made an impact with the Knights.
The Florida Panthers probably thought their giveaway, Marchessault, would fall into the same category after what management deemed a fluke 30-goal season before seeing him off to Vegas.
Far from it.
Marchessault, whose 5-foot-9 frame likely scared teams off from drafting him, teamed up with Karlsson and Reilly Smith, also a former Panther, to form one of the more dynamic lines in the league.
And to think, just maybe, he could have been a Ranger. Marchessault signed with the Blueshirts’ minor-league affiliate in 2011, though his 64 points in 76 games wasn’t enough to capture then-GM’s Glen Sather’s attention at the time.
A couple stops with the Blue Jackets and Lightning organizations later, and Marchessault is an NHL stud.
Nate Schmidt – Defenseman
Regular season stats: 5 goals | 31 assists 36 points
Former team: Washington Capitals
Did you know: What better way to show your old team they made a mistake of letting you go by hoisting the Cup in their face?
Nate Schmidt, 26, was never given free reign in the nation’s capital — although he showed potential offensively, the Caps felt his game lacked defensively.
When given the opportunity in Sin City, he thrived.
Not only did Schmidt put up a respectable 36 points, which ranks above average for NHL defensemen (his former Caps teammate, John Carlson, tallied 68 points to lead the league), but he also grew into a shutdown defenseman playing against top competition.
Expect him to line up against Ovechkin, as Knights GM and former Capital roster builder McPhee watches on — these two teams are connected more than you think.