2021-22 Vegas Golden Knights preview: go big or go home
The Vegas Golden Knights rewrote the rules of expansion teams (ie “the Vegas effect”) with exceptional success from a young age. In just five years of existence, the Golden Knights have solidified their place at the top of the Pacific Division and the Stanley Cup. If there’s one thing the Vegas offseason has proven, it’s that this team is aiming for a cut or a failure – even if that means trading the franchise’s inaugural goaltender Marc-André Fleury.
Where they left off
The Golden Knights records over the past three years are the stuff of NHL front office dreams. In the 20218-19 season, Vegas went 43-32-7 to clinch third place in the Pacific Division, before losing in the first round of the playoffs to our own San Jose Sharks. The following season, the team went 39-24-8, starting a run for the first in the Pacific Division.
In 2019-20, the Golden Knights lost in the conference final to Stanley Cup finalists, the Dallas Stars. Last season was a return to form, going 40-14-2, placing them solidly atop the West Division. They eventually suffered another loss to the Stanley Cup finalists, this time the Montreal Canadiens.
The Golden Knights are always developing their potential, which means every choice matters. General manager Kelly McCrimmon had four draft picks, and the top two picks were particularly interesting.
Zach Dean was caught in the first round in 30th place overall. He is a fast and skillful center with the soul of a playmaker and who opens up the space naturally to advance his team’s offensive strategy. He spent the 2020-21 season with the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL, occupying the position of assistant captain in 23 games where he totaled 10 goals, 10 assists, 20 penalty minutes and a differential of -4.
Daniil Chayka was Vegas’ second pick at 38th overall. The Russian defenseman recently signed an entry-level contract but has been reassigned to the OHL’s Guelph Storm. Chayka has the potential to be a great NHL defenseman. He has incredible reach and mobility for his 6ft 3in frame and excels in his own zone and on the backcheck. Chayka still needs development to cultivate an overall defensive performance, but he’s a player thief waiting for Vegas behind the scenes.
The other Golden Knights picks are:
- Round 1 (30th overall): Zach Dean, C
- Round 2 (38th): Daniil Chayka, LD
- Round 4 (102nd): Jakub Brabenee, C
- Round 4 (128th): Jakub Demek, AD
- Round 6 (190th): Artur Cholach, LD
- Round 7 (222nd): Carl Lindbom, G
The biggest movement off season was the exchange of goalkeeper Marc-André Fleury. Now, I’ve broken down this trade on the Chicago Blackhawks’ side, which was more of an offer for good PR than anything else, but let’s look at it from a Vegas point of view: why would they trade their famous player, who they ‘have you built the public image of the team around?
The sad reality for goalies is that they are only as good as their most recent performance, and a bad offseason trumps a regular season winner by Vézina. Fleury’s last season culminated with a 1.98 goals against average (GAA) and save percentage of .928 (SV%) in 36 regular season games. While her playoff record of 2.03 GAA and .918 SV% over 16 games is not to be despised, Fleury had some big trouble against the Montreal Canadiens (you remember that turnover next to the net that led to a goal?) And it’s clear that once Robin Lehner put in the net to replace him, Vegas management lost their confidence in Fleury.
The Golden Knights have to be in a cup or bust mentality because they’ve built their entire identity on their unprecedented success, and how successful can it be if they never win the Stanley Cup? The team originally presented themselves as an underdog and now as a historic Cup contender. If the Golden Knights don’t win a Cup sooner rather than later, who will they be?
Remember that hockey is a business and nothing sells a team or tickets like a Stanley Cup.
Aside from Fleury, there are a few other scenarios in Vegas. The first is the addition of Nolan Patrick, who was involved in a three-way trade with the Philadelphia Flyers and Nashville Predators before landing in Sin City. After his trade-in, Patrick signed a two-year contract extension with an average annual value of $ 1.2 million. The forward missed the 2019-20 season with a head injury and debilitating migraines, and returned for a rough time with the Flyers. Recently, Robin Lehner came out to accuse the front office and the Flyers medical staff of mistreating Patrick regarding his brain condition.
Ryan Reaves was traded to the New York Rangers in exchange for a third-round pick in 2022, a move by the Rangers that belies the Tom Wilson effect. For Vegas, Reaves elevated the physicality of the game (a style of play that has benefited Vegas overall), but it has also proven to be a handicap at times. He was a good scratch during the regular season and while Reaves is a fan favorite it’s clear management wanted to move on from Reaves and his contract (though it’s surprising they didn’t get more in return). Reaves played 37 games for the Knights last season, registering 1 goal, 4 assists and 27 PIMs.
Here’s what opening night will look like according to Daily Faceoff:
Max Pacioretty – Chandler Stephenson – Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault – William Karlsson – Reilly Smith
Mattias Janmark – Nolan Patrick – Evgenii Dadanov
Will Carrier – Nicolas Roy – Keegan Kolesar
Alec Martinez – Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb – Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague – Zach Whitecloud
What can we expect in 2021-2022?
The Golden Knights have said they were in serious competition for a Cup from the start, and this next year will likely follow the same heading the team has set for themselves. Another stellar regular season, another playoff appearance, and, if they’re lucky, they finally come out of the conference finals first.
The Sharks will face the Golden Knights for a preseason game Oct. 9 at the SAP Center. The rivalry will slow down to just three games during the regular season, first on March 1, 2022 at T-Mobile Arena, and then on April 10 in San Jose. Their last reunion will be on April 24 in Vegas.