How many teams in their first season have made it to the championship? Growing up in Mobile I know that all the Saints fans had t0 wait 43 years before the Saints won their first Super Bowl and Alabama didn’t win their first championship until 1925 (30 years after their first season). SB Nation states the Golden Knights are the first expansion team in any of the four professional sports to win their division in their inaugural season. Let that sink in for a minute. How many teams have always been dominant in their sport? Alabama wasn’t always winning championships and the New England Patriots didn’t always make the playoffs.
To see a team in their first year make it to the championship is huge even if I am still losing sleep to see if my team will make the Stanley Cup.
I still remember when the Houston Texans played their first season in 2002. In their first draft the team drafted David Carr to be their quarterback of the future but in his rookie season he finished 4-12 as a starter and was sacked 76 times. Many first-year teams aren’t expected to do much their first year but the team isn’t supposed to look like a bad idea by the businessmen who worked for years to bring a team to the community. For the Las Vegas Golden Knights, it is a little different though. While they aren’t the NHL team to reach Stanley Cup Final in their first season they have a chance to accomplish something that hasn’t been done before.
In 2015 the NHL opened up for prospective owners to bid on expansion teams and in July of that year Bill Foley (who would go on to become one of the owners of the team) submitted a bid for an expansion team in Las Vegas. In 2016 after a long competition with Quebec the expansion team was awarded to Las Vegas and the team would immediately begin playing games during the 2017-18 season. The Knights became the first major professional sports franchise in Las Vegas and the first NHL expansion team since 2000.
On November 22, 2016, the name was revealed as the Vegas Golden Knights.
Originally owner Bill Foley wanted to honor his alma mater the Army Black Knights with the name but decided it would cause too many legal issues. Before settling on the Golden Knights the other options were Desert Knights or Silver Knights. Ultimately they chose the Vegas Golden Knights to represent Las Vegas as their first professional team and on April 13, 2017, Gerard Gallant was hired as the first head coach.
After hiring the coach and taking care of the front office it was time to draft the team. In the 2017 NHL expansion draft, 30 players were drafted from other teams to be the first players on the Vegas Golden Knights. In an expansion draft current teams are allowed to protect seven forwards, three defencemen, and one goaltender or, one goaltender and eight skaters regardless of position. Of the 30 players drafted, only five remained on the team that made it to the Stanley Cup.
At the end of the first year in the NHL, the Knights led their division with a record of 51-24 with the Anaheim Ducks in second with a record of 44-25. At the beginning of the season, the Knights were at a 500-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup. As someone who isn’t the biggest follower of hockey, I could’ve told you that either the Penguins, Lightning, Predators or Blackhawks would win the Stanley Cup just based on their standing in years past. However, we all saw how that ended and sports can be unpredictable.
Whether they play the Lightning in the Stanley Cup, let’s give it up for the Vegas Golden Knights. Las Vegas, you are finally on the sports map.