Ah, stability. Ain’t nothing like it. Especially if you have a professional sports franchise with designs on having long-term success.
I can’t predict that the Vegas Golden Knights will win the Stanley Cup in this, their third season in the NHL. I can’t even guarantee they’ll make the playoffs. What I can guarantee is the pieces are in place for both to happen, the latter more likely than the former, given how problematic it can be to find yourself playing in mid- to late-June.
In their brief existence, the Knights have been a huge success, both on and off the ice. To me, a big part of it is the stability of the franchise. The players who have been part of this from the beginning have settled in, are part of the community, have their routines down and combined, that makes for few distractions and a happy environment.
Those who have served the franchise with distinction have been financially rewarded and they don’t have to worry about their futures. Yeah, it pushed the team to the edge of the salary cap. But they managed to figure out a way to not surpass it, though it probably cost them a potential star in Nikita Gusev, who they decided they could not afford to keep around.
The management has stayed pretty much intact since it was formed back in 2016 following the NHL awarding Vegas a franchise that June. Kelly McCrimmon got a promotion to general manager. The core of the team’s hockey operations, from scouting to analytics to personnel, are all here, save for a few scouts who’ve moved on.
George McPhee, the architect of the team’s construction in every facet, is still calling the shots. The coaching staff of Gerard Gallant is also still together. There is stability throughout the organization.
McPhee has established a culture of success in a short time, no doubt through lessons learned along the way, first in Vancouver, then in Washington, and later, with the Islanders and Team Canada. Everything is provided for the players to succeed, whether it’s where they play, where they practice or how they travel. All that’s asked in return is you give your best every day you come to the rink.
And they have bought in. It didn’t take Mark Stone very long to fit in and find a comfort level when he joined Vegas back in late February after being traded to the Knights from Ottawa. Some, myself included, think he will be the team’s first-ever captain someday.
Things have been just as successful on the business and promotional side. The team has a multitude of sponsors endorsing just about everything. There’s a waiting list for season tickets. The in-game experience at T-Mobile Arena is arguably the best in the NHL. Practices at City National Arena in Summerlin regularly draw capacity crowds.
And when things go awry, like they did on the night of October 1, 2017 and 58 people lost their lives at the hand of a deranged gunman and hundreds more were wounded and injured, the Golden Knights made sure they took part in helping Las Vegas heal. Tuesday, the day before the season is to open, the team held a practice by invitation only to the survivors and their families along with the first responders who acted so bravely in the face of mortal danger. And when the pregame activities commence Wednesday night for the season opener against San Jose at T-Mobile, you can bet it will be tastefully and respectfully done.
Bill Foley wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Knights’ owner was the one who truly established a tone for the franchise. He was the one who hired McPhee, then he let McPhee do his job. He has trusted his hockey people as well as team president Kerry Bubolz, who instituted all the lucrative business deals.
If you’re looking for the guy who deserves the most credit for the remarkable success of the Golden Knights, look no further than the former West Point captain turned billionaire.
And while the kudos are deserved for what the Knights have done off the ice and in the community, it is what they do on the ice by which they will truly be judged. For some, it’s Cup or bust here in Year Three. For others, it makes a deep run, as was the case in their inaugural season.
The Westgate SuperBook has Vegas as the second choice to win it all at 7-1 behind Tampa Bay (6-1). Jay Kornegay’s guys who make the lines for the future book are pretty smart. So they obviously believe the Knights are pretty good.
Me? I think this is a pretty good team as well. Perhaps good enough to hoist the Cup in June. But it’ll take a great year from veteran goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a bounce-back year from Max Pacioretty, some overall consistent play from the defense corps and some more offensive output from the bottom six group of forwards.
A lot can happen between now and then. Already, Alex Tuch is out with an upper-body injury, so losing a key piece early on isn’t a good thing. But there’s enough depth to potentially compensate for the loss of a third-line winger.
I foresee a deep postseason run by the Knights. The Cup? Guarantee me that No. 29 is healthy, in net and playing well come April and I might be inclined to go along with you.