The Vegas Golden Knights Will Definitely Make the Playoffs

We’re a little over the quarter way mark this season, and although an average of 30 games played doesn’t provide a huge sample size for predictions. What can be learned from performances so far, shouldn’t be overlooked. In regards to Vegas, we’re no longer talking about a team having a great game, or a hot week, we’re talking about a team that’s 2nd in the Pacific and 11th in the League, often a solid start to the season for a playoff team.

One factor that could point to Vegas’s likely playoff candidacy is that you have to go back to the 2011-2012 season until the team 2nd in the Pacific on December 1st didn’t make the playoffs.

2nd in Pacific on December 1st:

Year Team W-L (as of Dec) End of Season Division Results
16-17 Ducks 12-12 Finished 1st
15-16 Sharks 14-10 Finished 3rd
14-15 Ducks 15-11 Finished 1st
13-14 Ducks 18-11 Finished 1st
12-13 LOCKOUT
11-12 Stars 15-10 Finished 4th (No Playoffs)

Yes, the Ducks are a great team as you can clearly see, maybe all those numbers mean is that Anaheim can put together a consistent club. However, the Sharks managed a run to the Stanley Cup Finals from Vegas’s current position as well, and Dallas wasn’t incredibly far off either. Although what the Stars 11-12 season does show us, is that a good record early-on isn’t a sure thing.

Goalie Situation

Goalie injuries have been in abundance around the league so far this year, but nowhere has been hit harder than Vegas. Five different goalies have hit the ice for Vegas already, with the Knights having to reach as far as the WHL to find a backup in their darkest hour. Thankfully those dark ages are nearly over as Subban is back, and Fleury is taking shots in practice.

Maxime Lagacé deserves massive credit for stepping up as the starter for the club when they had nowhere else to turn. 24 years old, having never played an NHL game before, he’s gone (5-6-1) with the Golden Knights. Although that’s not a perfect record, he’s no sack of potatoes in net and helped keep Vegas in contests during his time as a starter.

What Would Vegas in the Playoffs Mean for the NHL?

For starters, if Vegas makes the playoffs in their inaugural season, it will be something that has never been done before by a modern-day, ground-up expansion team. To see for yourself, below is a list of the first season results for every NHL expansion ever, broken up into four sections: Modern, WHA Acquisition, Early and ’67.

Modern Expansion:

Year Team Inaugural Season Results Playoffs
00-01 Blue Jackets Last in Central (28w-39l-9t-6o)
00-01 Wild Last in Northwest (25w-39l-13t-5o)
99-00 Atlanta Thrashers Last in Southeast (14w-57l-7t-4o)
98-99 Predators Last in Central (28w-47l-7t)
93-94 Mighty Ducks 4th/6 in Pacific (33w-46l-5t)
93-94 Panthers 5th/7 Atlantic (33w-34l-7t)
92-93 Senators Last in Adams (10w-70l-4t)
92-93 Lightning Last in Norris (23w-54l-7t)
92-91 Sharks Last in Smythe (17w-58l-5t)

In modern years no teams have even come close to the playoffs. The Panthers finished 5th in the Atlantic and almost broke even with their win-loss ratio finishing with a (33w-34l-7t) record, but that’s as good as it gets. Most teams finished last in their respective Divisions, with the Thrashers, Senators, and Sharks especially dropping the ball in their inaugural seasons.

WHA acquisition Expansion:

Year Team Inaugural Season Results Playoffs
79-80 Hartford Whalers 3rd/5 in Norris (27w-34l-19t) Lost in 1st Round
79-80 Jets 5th/6 in Smythe (20w-49l-11t)
79-80 Quebec Nordiques Last in Adams (25w-44l-11t)
79-80 Oilers 4th/6 in Smythe (28w-39l-13t) Lost in 1st Round

I put very little weight on the World Hockey Association expansions. Even though an expansion draft was held, these clubs were already established, coming from another league. This is not to say they came in clean however, they did lose players, as many NHL teams held rights to players in the WHA prior to the merger. Even still as you can see, the two teams that did barely make the playoffs didn’t fare well.

Early Expansion:

Year Team Inaugural Season Results Playoffs
74-75 Kansas City Scouts Last in Smythe (15w-54l-11t)
74-75 Capitals Last in Norris (8w-67l-5t)
72-73 Islanders Last in East (12w-60l-6t)
72-73 Atlanta Flames 7th/8 in West (25w-38l-15t)
70-71 Canucks 7th/8 in East (24w-46l-8t)
70-71 Sabres 6th/8 in East (24w-39l-15t)

The early years of the 70’s were more consistent with the expansions we are used to now. No large batches of teams flooding the NHL, or organizations coming from other leagues. In this batch of expansions, the Sabers did the best finishing 6th in the East. Consistent with the modern expansion teams the rest of the clubs finished dead last or next to it. Including the Washington Capitals, who hold the record for the worst inaugural season in NHL history, with only 8 wins in an 80 game season.

Expansion of ’67 (Eastern Western):

Year Team Inaugural Season Results Playoffs
67-68 California Golden Seals Last in Western (15w-42l-17t)
67-68 Kings 2nd/6 in Western (31w-33l-10t) Lost in 1st Round
67-68 Minnesota North Stars 4th/6 in Western (27w-32-15t) Lost in Semi-Finals
67-68 Flyers First in Western (31w-32l-11t) Lost in 1st Round
67-68 Penguins 5th/6 in Western (27w-34l-13t)
67-68 Blues 3rd/6 in Western (27w-31l-16t) Lost in Finals

The expansion of ’67 was the first expansion in the NHL as we know it today, and the expansion doubled the size of the league. Separating the original six into an eastern conference, and putting all the newcomers into a new western conference. So from the get-go of the 67-68 season, only two of the new teams were gonna miss the playoffs, and as you can see anyways, surprise, surprise the eastern conference took home the Stanley Cup in the end.

The Knights Charge On

I presented my case, I gave you a bit of a history lesson, so now what? Well, the Vegas Golden Knights look to continue their push. They’ve won six out of their last ten games, which included a five-game winning streak at the end of November, one of those wins being a 4-2 victory over the 1st in the Pacific L.A. Kings.

Their goaltending situation is still not back to normal and yet they poss a serious threat. Additionally, their nearly recovered starter Marc-Andre Fleury needs no explanation for the force he can be in net, which will only make the team more dangerous.

Lastly, If you look at a team like Edmonton, a team that was championed by many to come out of the gate swinging. A team with a freshly signed supers star, one that helped them make a serious push in the playoffs last year. It’s no shocker to say that Edmonton has been an overall disappointment at this stage in the season. Although they can still bounce back, they sit 2nd last in the Pacific only above the Coyotes. It’s apparent to many that if they don’t adjust something soon, they’ll start watching their playoff chances slip further and further away. Edmonton couldn’t have lost Talbot to injury at a worse time. A loss to Vegas right now is nowhere near as damning as a loss to Edmonton. Which is not something anyone in September thought they’d hear.


Sources:
http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/teams.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_organizational_changes_in_the_NHL
http://dropyourgloves.com/Games/AnyDateStandings.aspx?League=1&Date=2016-12-01
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expansion_draft

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