As the Golden Knights close in on puck drop for the franchises 5th season in the NHL, the aspirations and goals of a Stanley Cup remain. After a disappointing end at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens in the “final four” of last years postseason, the Golden Knights 5th season only amplifies those Cup aspirations.
It has been a long time since the NHL had an expansion franchise burst onto the scenes of the league in a way that the Golden Knights have. Not since the St. Louis Blues expansion in 1967 has a new franchise hit the ice with this level of success and a Stanley Cup within grasps so soon in their inception.
Unfortunately for the club, each season has ended in heartache that most fans of other teams only become accustomed to over long tenures. Losing in the Final their first year, a blown series lead against the San Jose Sharks the next season, and disappointing conference final exits the past 2 seasons have filled the Golden Knights tenure with crushing ends to promising seasons.
On the flipside, there is no other franchise in the NHL outside of the Colorado Avalanche or Tampa Bay Lightning that are as close to the perennial cup favorite as the Golden Knights are. That’s truly a testament to the franchise and it’s owner Bill Foley who has made sure the coffers are readily flowing to put out a winner year after year.
This year while changes have happened is truly no different. Yes, the franchise moved on from future hall of fame goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in favor of the younger Robin Lehner which has struck controversy and division amongst many including the fans but the mission remains the same. If Lehner continues his return to the elite status that he has shown with Laurent Brossoit being a more than capable backup the Golden Knights will be just fine in net. They also have Logan Thompson who was the top goaltender in the AHL last year in the depth charts who may be knocking on the NHL door soon.
The front office also went out and addressed center core depth which was a sore point for the team especially in the absence of Chandler Stephenson. Acquiring Nolan Patrick from the Philadelphia Flyers was essentially taking a “flier” on the young center. Once touted as a dynamic highly ranked prospect, it has not exactly translated to the NHL level with much to blame of injuries. Healthy and ready to start fresh in a new environment may be just what Patrick needed to get rolling on his NHL career.
A key problem that hurt the club last season was lack of production outside of the top line. While captain Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Stepehnson dazzled on the Vegas ice, players like Riley Smith had their least productive season with the club. Smith in his final year of his contract is due for a bounce back season and no time better to do it than in a contract year.
With that, the front office also went out and picked up Evgeni Dadonov from the Ottawa Senators. Dadonov who seemed to be a rising star with the Florida Panthers dropped off considerably when joining the Senators which truly is no surprise. The hope is that the year over year drop offs he was having are reversed when he suits up in the more high octane offense that the Golden Knights are capable of. They also acquired Sven Baertschi from the Vancouver Canucks who is another player that dropped off from his production over time. Adding to the depth is the re-signing of Mattias Janmark who was another player that performed well for the club.
Ironically the moves have a sort of familiar feel to them. Could this group of cast-offs be this season’s “group of misfits” as the inaugural season core has been coined? If so, and the Golden Knights can catch lightning in a bottle once again, then look out rest of the league.
Most importantly, the team brought back Alec Martinez. Martinez solidified the defensive group and was easily one of the best players overall for the club especially in the postseason. With him, Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo who was another top postseason performer in the defensive core, the club is solid on the backend.
While all of the moves lead to questions and inevitably a bit of doubt, there is no question the end goal for the franchise here. As it is every season since the Golden Knights first took the ice, it is Stanley Cup or bust.