If things continue in the NHL season as they’ve gone to date, and the Las Vegas Golden Knights qualify for the playoffs in their first year as an expansion team, NHL owners may be placing pressure on their general managers to start modelling their rosters following much of the same plan.
The Knights, so far, are proving an NHL team does not necessarily need high-priced superstars to succeed in the league.
However, how far they go in the playoffs may be a different matter all together.
During the past decade, teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, the Chicago Black Hawks with Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane, and the Anaheim Ducks led by the terrific duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have all had their names engraved on Lord Stanley.
Those are all tough acts to follow, but should the Golden Knights get through a round or two of the playoffs, teams are going to rethink their strategy when compiling their rosters.
And, for those who claim a team needs superstar power to succeed at the NHL level, may I beg to differ by shamelessly pointing at Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and the Washington Capitals as proof that isn’t always the case.
The Knights put together a solid core of average to slightly above average NHLers backed by solid goaltending and a deep defensive core.
And, make no mistake about it, a couple of members of that deep defensive core, and possibly a forward or two, will be moved by the NHL trade deadline to deepen the team’s already fairly impressive prospects pool.
Indeed, general manager George McPhee did an excellent job of assembling the Golden Knights.
In fact, McPhee was vice-president and director of hockey operations for the Vancouver Canucks squad that won a divisional championship and made it to the 1994 Stanley Cup Final before losing a heartbreaking series to the New York Rangers.
The Washington Capitals also made their only Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1997 under McPhee’s guidance, and racked-up eight 40 or more win seasons while capturing seven Southeast Division championships with McPhee at the helm.
McPhee also drafted Alex Ovechkin for the Capitals, but for all the star power he had in Washington over the years – Ovechkin, Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Gonchar, Peter Bondra, Michael Nylander, et al – he was never able to get the Capitals their first Stanley Cup, which they’re still looking for today.
Could McPhee have learned a lesson or two about having a roster top heavy in high-priced talent during his time in Washington?
If McPhee takes the Knights into the playoffs, Marc-Andre Fleury gets hot between the pipes, and the team actually makes some noise, there will be a number of NHL superstars thanking their lucky stars that they already signed long-term lucrative deals with their current clubs.
Others, such as New York Islander John Tavares, may find themselves singing that old NHLPA song of collusion when the NHL general managers start low-balling them during their free agency years.
Wouldn’t that be a change of events good for, at least, a snicker or two?
It may also have teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs looking at the signing of players such as Connor McDavid to an eight-year, $100-million contract, and them turning to their own young stars such as William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews to exclaim I don’t think so, while teams like the Montreal Canadiens will be eating contracts such as star goaltender Carey Price’s eight-year deal averaging an annual cap hit of about $10.5 million for a very, very long time with little or nothing to show for it.
While it’s been a load of fun to watch an expansion team such as the Golden Knights racking-up the wins, there could be a whole lot more riding on the team’s success than a trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Who would have thunk it?