The Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural season is rightly being called one of the most cinematic sports sagas in a generation.
They’re a team of NHL castoffs representing a desert city long shunned by professional sports. What’s more, the Golden Knights played their first home game less than a week after the United States’ worst modern mass shooting had occurred mere blocks away.
Las Vegas still has three games to win if they hope to bring the Stanley Cup to Nevada, but whatever happens, they’ve already made sports history.
First expansion team since 1980 to make the playoffs
Statistically speaking, the Golden Knights should not have even made the playoffs. It hasn’t happened since 1980, during the first playoffs following the NHL’s merger with the WHA, which added the Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets. Both the Oilers and the Whalers were able to make the playoffs in that first post-merger season, but nine other teams added between 1980 and 2017 missed their shot: The San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild.
First rookie team in NHL history to sweep its first playoff series
Among NHL teams playing their inaugural seasons, the Golden Knights already have the record for most wins and most points. They’re also the first to sweep their first playoff series in their first year. During their first round against the L.A. Kings (who won the Stanley Cup only four years ago, remember), the Golden Knights blew them out in four games. The last time a team performed this way in its first playoff series was in 1970. That year, the Pittsburgh Penguins (along with a young Glen Sather) similarly blew out its playoff series. But unlike the Golden Knights, it wasn’t their inaugural year: The Penguins had two seasons under their belt before they made the playoffs.
The most successful expansion team ever seen in pro sports
The Golden Knights are being dubbed not only the NHL’s greatest-ever expansion team, but the greatest expansion team in the entire modern history of people being paid to play team sports. Back in January, the statistics website FiveThirtyEight compared the Golden Knights’ win percentages to those of expansion teams in the other major pro leagues: NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball. The analysis concluded “the Golden Knights’ current season blows away any would-be challenger from the NFL, NBA or MLB since the early 1960s.” The site notes that expansion teams normally do better in hockey than in any other sport, but that still doesn’t begin to explain the “unthinkable” success of Las Vegas. “New franchises aren’t supposed to be instant contenders,” Neil Paine wrote. “Vegas clearly doesn’t care about any of that.”
First team since 1968 to make the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season
It has been precisely 50 years since a team has advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in its rookie year. In 1968, the St. Louis Blues faced the Montreal Canadiens for the cup, only to be spanked in four games (the Blues have not won a cup since). However, the Golden Knights’ accomplishment is much more unlikely than what the St. Louis Blues pulled off (sorry, Scotty Bowman). For starters, 1968 was the first season featuring the ‘Second Six,’ the six expansion teams added to the NHL’s Original Six. The Blues were playing in a division composed entirely of teams playing their first year with the NHL, and whoever won the division would have a chance at the cup. However the season had played out, the 1968 Stanley Cup Final was guaranteed to feature one team playing its first NHL season. The Golden Knights are also facing a much more competitive league. There were no Russians, Czechs or Slovaks in the 1968 NHL. There were also only 12 teams, as compared to the 31 today.
First major pro sports team in Las Vegas
For decades, pro sports leagues strenuously avoided Las Vegas for the singular reason that they believed any Sin City team would quickly become the paid-off pawns of mobbed-up bookies. But even after Las Vegas’ mafia influence had waned, fears persisted that the city was simply too tacky and embarassing to join pro sports. Nobody learned this lesson harder than the CFL, who added the Las Vegas Posse as an expansion team for the 1994 season. Like a bizarro version of the Golden Knights, the Posse kept breaking records for how terrible they were, including the still-reigning record for lowest-ever attendance of a CFL game. And, of course, there’s the classic video below, depicting a Posse-hired lounge singer utterly butchering O Canada at the opening of a Canadian Football League game. Las Vegas definitely has more hometown pride this time around. During the Golden Knights’ first Stanley Cup game against the Washington Capitals, nearly half of all households in the city were tuned to the game.
Most Canadian players in a Stanley Cup final team since 2007
It’s relatively common that a U.S. team will proceed to the Stanley Cup Final using primarily Canadian players. But there are an incredible 24 Canadian players on the Golden Knights roster. There are Canadian teams who have advanced to the final with fewer Canadians; Vancouver and Calgary each only had 23 Canadian players for their 2011 and 2004 Stanley Cup Final, respectively. Not since 2007, when the Anaheim Ducks won a Stanley Cup with 26 Canadians, has a team brought more sons of the Great White North to a Stanley Cup Final. This final will be watched particularly closely by the 2,500 people in the B.C. town of Port McNeill. Six years ago, hometown boy Willie Mitchell brought the Stanley Cup to Port McNeill after winning it with the L.A. Kings. Now, with the town’s Clayton Stoner on the Golden Knights, Port McNeill could soon be seeing the cup again.
And if they win …
They would be the first rookie team in 100 years to win the Stanley Cup
It’s only happened once before. that a hockey team has held the Stanley Cup less than 12 months after playing their first game. In 1918, the newly founded Toronto Arenas captured the cup after a final against the Vancouver Millionaires. And if their name seems somewhat uncreative, keep in mind that it’s a nickname: Their official name was the Toronto Hockey Club. The Arenas were also the first NHL team to win the cup, this being an era in which a variety of leagues vied for the trophy. However, there are a few reasons why the Toronto Arenas’ achievement isn’t quite as notable as if the Golden Knights win. For one, back then the Stanley Cup was still a trophy reserved exclusively for Canadian teams, which narrowed the competition somewhat. And Canada was in the fourth year of what is still the most devastating war in its history. Canadian hockey teams had signed up for the First World War en masse. As a result, by 1918 much of the country’s top hockey talent was busy getting shot at in France.
Las Vegas would become the first city younger than the Stanley Cup to win it
It was 1892 when Lord Stanley, Canada’s Governor General, donated a Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup to be awarded annually to the country’s best amateur hockey team. At the time, Las Vegas was a single ranch in the middle of the Nevada desert, and would not be inaugurated as a city until 1905. Granted, neither Edmonton nor Calgary (both cup winners) had been inaugurated as cities by 1893, but they were still substantial settlements, with breweries, opera houses, streetcars and standing police forces. Las Vegas at the time was a glorified desert roadhouse; the 19th century equivalent of a highway gas station with an attached A&W.
The Golden Knights would become the lowest ranked underdog to ever win a pro sports championship
Ironically, Las Vegas bookies will lose millions of dollars if their city’s team wins the Stanley Cup. Six million dollars, to be specific; about as much money as the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power famously lost after the unexpected presidential election win of Donald Trump. In September, the team had odds of 500-1 to win the Stanley Cup, meaning that a $1 bet would pay $500. According to CNN, bookies had originally given the team 300-1 odds, but they had to drop them after nobody was biting. This makes the Golden Knights an even longer shot to win their league championship than the famous 1999 St. Louis Rams. The Rams won the Super Bowl despite beginning their NFL season with odds as low as 300-1.
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