New team, new surroundings and the best new ‘start’
In case you missed it, the Vegas Golden Knights are not your typical expansion team.
Just one month into their inaugural season, Sin City’s first professional sports squad is undoubtedly the top story of the National Hockey League’s first month of the season.
Sure, the rules from the Expansion Draft gave the Golden Knights a leg up compared to the four NHL teams – Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild and the Atlanta Thrashers (now known as the Winnipeg Jets) – that started their franchise over the last three decades. The marquee names that were taken in June’s Expansion Draft included James Neal, Marc-Andre Fleury, Luca Sbisa and Deryk Engelland to name a few.
That wasn’t the only buzzworthy attention on the Strip during the dry-heat night of a late-June sunset. In addition to selecting from a crop of players from the 30 other NHL teams, Golden Knights GM George McPhee found himself wheeling and dealing as he stocked up on draft picks and added other players who weren’t necessarily exposed to the draft. It helped Reilly Smith go from South Florida to the Vegas Strip.
With a solid core of veterans and youngsters all calling Vegas home for the first time in their careers, the Golden Knights have taken the league by storm. Their 8-4-0 mark is the best start for an expansion club in the league’s illustrious 100-year history.
Not bad for a team that is down to their fourth-string goaltender in Maxime Lagace, who started his third career game on Thursday night.
“The guys are going to work hard and compete hard, and like I said it’s a group of guys that got picked up in the Expansion [Draft],” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said during Thursday’s morning skate at TD Garden.
“You know, some of the guys talk about having a chip on their shoulder, but I don’t believe they do. I believe that everyone is really happy to be here and they really enjoy Vegas so far. We have a beautiful new practice facility – second to none in the league – we really have a beautiful arena, and it’s a great place to play. So I think they’re really excited and happy and they’re really gelling as a team right now.”
Gelling, they are. But what about that thing about players having a chip on their shoulder?
Sure, this list isn’t one of nobody’s. Some, like Fleury and Neal, are proven NHL commodities. Others, like former Boston College standout Alex Tuch and ex-Bruin Colin Miller, are hoping to showcase their potential after their original teams gave up the players’ rights to Vegas in the summer.
That’s why guys like Tuch and Miller have chips on their shoulders. Regardless of stature, the young guns and grizzled veterans all have something in common – adjusting to a new home, new surroundings, and in most instances a whole new set of teammates.
“I think everyone has a chip on their shoulder from the Expansion Draft and trades and such,” Tuch said. “I was traded from Minnesota so I got a little chip on my shoulder and I feel the same way. And I know Colin Miller is returning tonight and he was unprotected by Boston. I don’t know if he’s mad about the situation because Vegas is such a great place and such a great opportunity for guys like me and him, but he’ll have a little bit of a chip on his shoulder and there are no friends when you step on the ice.”
Whatever the motivation is, the Golden Knights have come together and persevered through the first month of the season that most teams would have a difficult time handling both on and off the ice. From the goaltending situation to giving Vegas’ residents something to cheer for following the tragic shooting on the strip in September, the Golden Knights have rallied around each other and given their fans something to cheer for as the city continues to heal.
“I think that there are lots of positives to take,” the ex-Boston blue-liner Miller said prior to the Bruins 2-1 win. “We did a great job at the start and right now we’re in a bit of a skid, but that’s going to happen; there’s going to be some ups and downs of the season. So we’re going to battle and we’ll be back at it tonight.”
At some point, they may hit a wall. But make no mistake, the Golden Knights will be back at it each and every night during their first 82-game regular season.