When the Vegas Golden Knights hit the ice for the first game in franchise history last October, there were some who thought the roster might be good enough to keep them out of the cellar. No could have possibly foreseen what’s happened since.
Heading into the all-star break, the Golden Knights aren’t just contending for a spot in the playoffs, they’re contending for the President’s Trophy as the best regular season team in the league.
An expansion team being this good in its first year isn’t just unheard of in the NHL, it’s unheard of in pro sports.
The Golden Knights are already a lock to finish with the most wins ever by a first-year team in the NHL. The most successful expansion team in NHL history was the 1993-1994 Florida Panthers with 83 points. The Golden Knights have a legitimate shot at 100.
The Golden Knights are the first expansion team to join any major North American sports league since Houston joined the NFL in 2002. The majority of teams don’t break the .500 barrier in their first season and many finish far below that mark.
The first year Ottawa Senators managed just 10 wins in 84 games in 1992-1993, while the 1974-1975 Washington Capitals cobbled together only eight wins and lost a staggering 38 road games in a row.
The 1962 New York Mets wrapped up their inaugural season with a mind numbing record of 40-120. Even the best MLB expansion team of all time, the LA Angels in 1961, only finished 70-91 and trailed the first place New York Yankees by 38.5 games.
The 1966-67 Chicago Bulls are one of the few expansion teams to make the playoffs in their first season but they were swept away in straight games during the first round of the NBA playoffs. The NBA’s worst opening expansion season record is shared by the 1967-1968 San Diego Rockets, 1970-1971 Cleveland Cavaliers, 1980-1981 Dallas Mavericks, 1988-1989 Miami Heat and Canada’s own Vancouver Grizzlies, all with identical records of 15-67.
It doesn’t get any worse than the NFL record of 0-14, owned by the expansion 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Carolina Panthers started 0-5 in 1995 but managed to turn their inaugural season around and finish 7-9 for the best expansion record in NFL history.
These Golden Knights are likely to leave them all in the dust.
A huge difference between expansion teams of the past and the Golden Knights is that Vegas had the lucky break of starting up during the salary cap era. That left players like former 40 goal scorer James Neal and Stanley Cup winning goaltender Marc Andre Fleury exposed during the expansion draft.
The team also scouted the league to find players who they thought weren’t living up to their full potential with the teams they were playing on. That includes players like William Karlsson, who has already scored 25 goals this season, nine more than his previous career high.
The scary part is that they’re likely only going to get better. Last year they selected three of the top 15 picks in the NHL draft, and they have more picks stockpiled.
There’s little question the Golden Knights will finish as the best expansion team of all time, the only question left is how good will it get?