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Why the Vegas Golden Knights are the most intriguing expansion team the NHL has ever seen

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There is no bigger surprise through the first month of the NHL season than the Vegas Golden Knights.

With wins in seven of their first eight games, including four in a row heading into their game against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night, they are off to the best start of any expansion team in league history.

There are a lot of explanations for the fast start.

It has been pointed out that the early season schedule has been on their side. They have already played the Arizona Coyotes (still searching for their first win heading into Thursday night) twice and have also had games against Dallas, Buffalo and Detroit (non-playoff teams from a year ago). They have played only one set of back-to-backs.

But they have also played Boston, St. Louis and Chicago, all playoff teams from a season ago, and beaten them all (granted, Boston and St. Louis are also dealing with pretty significant injury issues).

There has also been a smoke-and-mirrors element to some of their success thanks to some goaltending magic from three different goalkeepers. They had to know that starter Marc-Andre Fleury would give them a chance to win on most nights, but even after he was sidelined from a concussion the strong play in net continued with his backups.

Malcolm Subban, a complete disaster in his only two NHL appearances prior to this season, won his first two starts (and played outstanding) in relief of Fleury, and then Oscar Dansk stepped in stopped 39 of the first 42 shots he has faced. As a trio, the Vegas goaltenders have a combined save percentage of .930, the third highest mark in the league.

While the goaltenders have been great, the Vegas skaters have found a similar level of percentage based success by scoring on 11.3 percent of their shots, the fifth best mark in the league.

Usually when teams like this experience these short bursts of percentage-based success it can be short-lived and completely fall apart when those percentages start to regress. And they always do. But even if the early success is a little flukey and isn’t destined to continue over 82 games the Golden Knights are still one of the most intriguing expansion teams we have seen enter the NHL over the past three decades. And their early success is completely unmatched.

When the Vegas front office assembled its roster through the expansion draft there was, naturally, a lot of second guessing about which players they picked, the deals they made, and whether or not they maximized the talent that was available to them. All fair questions and concerns. But even with that I think we have kind of lost sight of the fact that this is still probably the most talented roster that has entered the league in any of the recent expansions. At least as it relates to the top of the roster. This is both a testament to the expansion rules that made better players available, and just how bad some of the past expansion teams have been.

Let’s dig into this a little bit.

Since the start of the 1990-91 season the NHL has added 10 teams, including the Golden Knights. The one thing they had in common was the fact that they all got off to miserable starts.

The only one of the expansion teams other than Vegas to win more than two of their first eight games was the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992-93. They won three. Vegas has already won seven, meaning they are only three wins shy of matching what the Ottawa Senators won in their debut season. They are already halfway to Atlanta’s win total from the Thrashers’ inaugural season and only 10 shy of what the San Jose Sharks were able to do when they entered the league.

Only two of the recent expansion teams won more than 28 games in their first season. Vegas would only need to win 22 games over their final 74 to top that. That is only a 28 percent winning percentage. That is well within reach even for an expansion team, even if the goaltending and shooting percentages regress.

One of the things that stands out about this Vegas roster is just how much more talented it is than all of the past expansion teams because when you look back at all of them, from San Jose to Columbus, they were all LOUSY. From the makeup of the rosters to the play on the ice to where they finished in the standings.

Consider this: The Vegas roster has three players on it that have scored at least 25 goals in one of the past two seasons. Jonathan Marchessault scored 30 a year ago for the Florida Panthers. Reilly Smith scored 25 two years ago for the Boston Bruins. James Neal scored 30 two years ago for the Nashville Predators and scored 23 in 70 games a year ago. He is a consistend 25-30 goal scorer over an 82-game season.

If you look at each of the previous nine NHL expansion teams do you know how many players they had on their opening night rosters that had scored at least 25 goals within two years of being selected by their new team?

Two.

Combined.

The 2000-01 Minnesota Wild had Sergei Krivokrasov after he scored 25 goals for (the also expansion) Nashville Predators in 1998-99. It was the only time he scored more than 12 goals in a single NHL season.

The 1991-92 San Jose Sharks had Paul Fenton two years after he scored 32 goals for the Winnipeg Jets.

And that was it. The bulk of those rosters were made up of players that had little to no NHL experience or had made their living as role players or bottom-of-the-lineup depth players. There were not many top-six options or players with any sort of sustained success (or even recent success) in the NHL. Those teams had no established players or anybody that could be a legit scoring threat. It resulted in some terrible (and terribly uninteresting) hockey.

Technically the Columbus Blue Jackets had Ray Whitney on their roster one year after he scored 29 goals for the Florida Panthers, but he did not actually start the season with Columbus. The Blue Jackets acquired him from the Panthers late in their debut season and he only actually played three games for the expansion Blue Jackets that season.

You might look at this and shrug and say, who cares, it’s still only three players and we’re really not even sure how good players like Smith and Marchessault actually are. Marchessault has only had one big year in the league to this point, while Smith badly regressed after his 25-goal season and was basically acquired as a salary dump. But they are still players that have a recent track record of at least some pretty decent success in the NHL. When you look at the Vegas stat lines so far this season you notice that those three players have contributed to a bulk of the offense.

Neal and Smith are the top-two point producers on the roster.

Neal has eight points (including six goals) in eight games while Smith has seven. Marchessault has only played in five games but has already scored a pair of goals. Together, that trio has already scored 10 of Vegas’ goals and assisted on seven others. Vegas has only scored 10 goals that one of those three players has not a hand in.

This also doesn’t include David Perron, a fairly skilled player that scored 28 goals just three years ago. Perron has five points in eight games for Vegas.

But the biggest part of the success, again, comes down to goaltending. And again, Vegas has a better option (when healthy) than almost any other recent expansion team. Below is a list of the goalies that played the most games for each of the past 10 expansion teams, the number of games they played prior to joining their new team, and the number of games they had won. It is, for the most part, a rather lackluster list of goalies.

Other than Vanbiesbrouck, who was a key part of the Panthers reaching the Stanley Cup Final in just their third season, that is mostly a list of career backups and fringe NHL starters (I will listen to your arguments for why Ron Tugnutt should be included with Fleury and Vanbiesbrouck in the legit NHL starter category). Vegas is coming into the league with a goalie that has spent a decade as a top half of the league starter and a guy with his name on the Stanley Cup three times. That is a pretty good starting point, and before his injury he was playing outstanding hockey.

When compared to the other 30 teams around the NHL this is still probably a lower level roster when you look at it from top-to-bottom, and as we get deeper into the season that will probably start to become more noticeable in the standings and in the results on the ice. There are also probably not many players on this roster that will be a part of the first Vegas playoff team.

But in the short-term it is at least a roster that is going to be capable of giving new fans a reasonably exciting product to watch.

It is still a team that has marketable players to use as trade chips (James Neal, for example) to continue building the roster from the ground up. All of that is more than any of the league’s previous expansion teams over the past 30 years can say.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: Jagr still holds NHL hope?; Islanders turning the page

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Jaromir Jagr hasn’t given up on the NHL, but he’s in no rush to return either. (Sportsnet)

• The New York Islanders are looking to turn the page after the departure of captain John Tavares. (NHL.com)

Artemi Panarin has given the Columbus Blue Jackets a contract deadline. (The Athletic)

• Would Tyler Seguin want to play with the Montreal Canadiens? (Montreal Gazette)

• Ranking each NHL team based on their locked-in, young core. (ESPN)

• With the thrill of the 2018 NHL Draft already worn off, we might as well take a look ahead to the 2019 rendition and all that it has to offer. (Last Word on Hockey)

• From wives’ room fights to brotherly competition, St. Louis molded Brady Tkachuk. (The Sporting News)

• Do the Vancouver Canucks have an asset on defense that they can work into a trade that would benefit the club? (The Province)

• If you don’t want to read and would rather take two minutes to watch a video, here’s some possible reasons why a trade for Erik Karlsson hasn’t happened yet, here’s your chance. (Sportsnet)

• Where does the line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson — the JoFA line — fit in the pantheon of the league’s top lines? (Pred Lines)

• You want offseason grades for all 31 NHL teams? Here you go. (The Athletic)

• And here’s a list of the best player to ever wear each number in the NHL. (Puck Prose)

• The Class of Canada: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Winnipeg Jets. (The Hockey Writers)

• Help is on the way for the Chicago Blackhawks aging defense. (Chicago Mag)

Mike Hoffman‘s fiancée files for disclosure of information in harassment allegations. (Ottawa Citizen)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Vegas Golden Knights, U.S. Army agree to end trademark dispute

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The Vegas Golden Knights and the U.S. Army have called an end to their trademark battle regarding the usage of the ‘Golden Knights’ mark and name.

Owner Bill Foley announced on Thursday that the two sides have entered into a trademark coexistence agreement where the U.S. Army will continue using the ‘Golden Knights’ marks and names with its parachute exhibition team. The Golden Knights will continue to use ‘Vegas Golden Knights’ and ‘Golden Knights’ in regards to the hockey team.

“We are pleased that we have agreed to coexist regarding the use of the ‘Golden Knights’ mark and name,” said Foley in a statement. “Our discussions with the Army were collaborative and productive throughout this entire process. We are appreciative of their efforts and commitment to reaching an amicable resolution.”

The U.S. Army filed a notice of opposition in January against against Black Knight Sports and Entertainment over the use of the name ‘Golden Knights.’ Foley is a graduate of West Point and originally wanted to name the team the Black Knights (after the Army sports teams) but decided against it.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Dominic Moore’s Smashfest charity Ping-Pong event a ‘labor of love’

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Dominic Moore’s NHL career has allowed to him to play for nine different teams, including two stints with the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs. He has 897 games under his belt since breaking into the league in 2003-04. His long playing career has also allowed him to share his love of Ping-Pong with many fellow players inside various dressing rooms.

Given his travels around the league, you could probably play a “Six Degrees of Separation” game with Moore. For example: When the 37-year-old was in his first full NHL season in 2005-06, his usual Ping-Pong partner was veteran Michael Nylander. Last season while with the Maple Leafs, the teammate who he found himself playing against on a regular basis was William Nylander, Michael’s son.

“It’s kind of a hilarious turn of events there,” Moore told Pro Hockey Talk this week.

On Aug. 1, he will be hosting the seventh annual Smashfest Ping-Pong tournament featuring around 25 current and former NHL players. (According to Moore, Patrick Eaves, the three-time defending champion, is well enough to participate after missing most of the 2017-18 season with post-viral syndrome.)

In the six years Moore has put on the event, he’s been able to raise $665,000 for concussion and rare cancer research. Smashfest 1, back in 2012, raised $20,000. Now in a few years he’ll hit the $1 million mark, which wasn’t even on the radar when things were getting going.

“Never thought about that, honestly. Obviously we wanted to raise as much as we could every year,” Moore said. “Last year we got up to $165,000. I was really hoping we’d be able to hit $1 million this year — I was a bit maybe ambitious with that. I doubt we’re going to get there, but once we got close it certainly became a goal to try and hit.”

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Some of the money that’s raised goes toward rare cancer research benefitting the Broad (pronounced Brode) Institute of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Moore wanted to ensure that the donated funds would make an impact.

“Especially with cancer research, it seems like it’s easy for money to become a drop in the bucket because it takes so much money to do the research,” he said. “And obviously in the cancer space there’s a lot of money that’s put into this research. But for rare cancers, because of the fact that there isn’t a lot of funds behind it, I felt like it was so important to spend our money wisely.”

What the Broad Institute does as part of a special project with Moore is solicit tissue samples from patients around the country suffering from rare forms of cancer. With proprietary technology, they’re able to turn one sample into hundreds and then multiply the tissue for additional testing.

“The premise of it, you’re trying to get tissue directly from patients because what happens with rare cancers is someone will go into a hospital in San Francisco, they have their surgery, that tissue stays in the hospital, they’re the only one on the west coast that has this particular cancer, there’s no money to fund it, nothing gets done with that tissue, but it sits as a commodity in that hospital’s fridge and nothing ever happens with it,” Moore said. “Or maybe they do do some research on it but it’s just an isolated piece of data that has no value. 

“So the whole premise of our project with The Broad is that wherever these patients are around the country we get the word out to them that they can and should send their tissue to the Broad Institute. The Broad actually jumped through a bunch of logistical things to try and make this happen so they made a whole kit, and shipping cancer tissue and keeping it alive as you ship it and making it easy for patients to do that, it sounds easy — just ship the tissue — but it’s not.”

The Broad Institute is also making all of its data available to those who want to use it in order to advance the research.

“The open source nature of it too is something that we’re really proud of,” said Moore.

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The idea for Smashfest originated in 2011 with Moore wanting to use Ping-Pong as a way to raise money and also showcase player personalities. He’s always loved the game, going back to his childhood. Growing up he heard stories about the 1980s Edmonton Oilers competing in intense games that would last until minutes before puck drop. When he reached the NHL, it became a regular activity with his teammates, wherever he went.

“I think it’s just that it’s conducive to you put a table in the middle of the locker room and it’s something fun and competitive that the guys can do,” said Moore, who’s currently an unrestricted free agent and would like to continue playing. “It can help them warm up. It just seems like it fits. I had the idea. This is the perfect thing for a charity event. I loved it, I loved playing. Marty St. Louis and I played a lot in Tampa together. That was around the time I was finally like I’ve got to get off my butt and try and make this happen.”

From the start, Moore wanted Smashfest to be different than a charity golf tournament. He wanted it to be fun, quirky and unique. With help from the NHLPA, gather a bunch of hockey players and fans at a Toronto brewery in the middle of summer for a Ping-Pong tournament. Sounds like the makings of an interesting night, right? He had no idea how it would go over, but from the very first event it was clear there was traction and it would be a success.

“It’s been a labor of love. It’s something that the team that works on it has worked incredibly passionately on and spends a lot of time on,” he said. “For me personally, it’s something I enjoy working on. I do put a lot of time into trying to grow it. We’ve got some great partners and sponsors and friends of the event that all kind of work together to make it what it is. 

“That’s what’s allowed it to grow, as well as the unique nature of the event in terms of showcasing the players in a totally fun way. I think that’s just been the recipe that’s made it grow to the way it is and hopefully we can continue that. I’d love to continue to make it bigger and better.”

Smashfest 7 will take place Aug. 1 at Steam Whistle Brewery in Toronto.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Chris Chelios leaving Red Wings to be closer to family in Chicago

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DETROIT (AP) — Chris Chelios is leaving the Detroit Red Wings to return to his hometown of Chicago.

Chelios spent a decade with the Red Wings as a player from 1999-2009, and he’s also been an adviser for the team. His Hall of Fame career as a defenseman started in Montreal before he spent eight years with the Blackhawks.

”For me, this is an opportunity to move back to Chicago to be closer to family, and in particular my mother,” Chelios said Thursday. ”I began to seriously consider moving home last February after the passing of my father. Now that my children have all graduated, it seems like the ideal time for my wife, Tracee, and I to make the move.”

Chelios was traded to Detroit in March 1999 and he remained with the Red Wings through the 2008-09 season before finishing his career with a brief stint with Atlanta in 2009-10.

”I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the Red Wings organization over the last 19 years,” Chelios said. ”Admittedly, I was skeptical about the 1999 trade that brought me to Detroit. As a Chicago guy who was playing for the Blackhawks at the time, we despised those Detroit teams of the 1990s. After the trade, however, things changed quickly and I began to feel right at home.”

Chelios and the Red Wings won Stanley Cups in 2002 and 2008.

”What an unbelievable experience, playing on some of the greatest teams in league history, with some of the greatest players of all-time,” Chelios said. ”I consider myself extremely lucky to have been a part of it all. The Cup-winning teams in 2002 and 2008 are the obvious highlights, but I’m grateful for every chance I had to put on a Red Wings sweater.”

Chelios’ son Jake is a defenseman as well and is in the Red Wings’ organization.

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey