In this column’s inaugural postseason award, we’re proud to announce that former Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Darren Pang is GamingToday’s NHL Handicapper of the Year.
Although tongue-in-cheek, Pang, a television commentator for NBC Sports Network and the St. Louis Blues, was the first to predict the Vegas Golden Knights would “go 41-0-0 at home” this past season, leading to the off-beat term ‘Vegas Flu.’
Remarkably, Pang proved fairly prophetic, as the club of “misfits” (the players’ term) aided with the city’s healing from “Ten-One” and bringing “Vegas Strong” to “Vegas Born.”
Still, what is the future for the Knights – was this campaign just a once-in-a-lifetime, dream season?
If you follow the track record of general manager George McPhee when he served with the Washington Capitals a decade ago, things will be – as Pang expresses in his catchphrase – “holy jumpin’!”
Optimism abounds for another run at the Pacific Division title, a second Campbell Cup for the Western Conference championship… and perhaps a Stanley Cup.
First: VGK is well under the salary cap, which is expected to rise to around $80M next season. Thus, McPhee can re-sign whoever he wants while staying in the running for quality free agents.
Second: Players want to come here for a variety of reasons. Except for management of the Florida Panthers, everyone loves and wants to play for head coach Gerard Gallant. Plus the local benefits of no Nevada state income tax, brand new hockey facilities (both T-Mobile Arena and the practice rink), and lifestyle issues related to the city (clean environment, good weather, et al.).
Third: Scouts believe all three of Vegas’ first-round draft picks this past season were touchdowns for McPhee, adding to the depth of the organization.
The Chicago Wolves, Vegas’ Triple-A affiliate in the American Hockey League, were Central Division champions (42-23-7), going 37-12-2 down the stretch. Plus Vegas signed defenseman Zac Leslie plus forwards Thomas Hyke and Tyler Wong to contracts for next season.
The only foreseeable problem may be next summer, when the expansion Seattle Totems enter the league.Just like in Pittsburgh, Marc-Andre Fleury may be left expendable – how ironic would that be!