The Vegas Golden Knights have gone from an expansion franchise to Stanley Cup champions in just six seasons of existence. Vegas hoisted the Stanley Cup following a convincing 9-3 win over the Florida Panthers in Game 5 on Tuesday.
Their postseason glory was quite impressive, but it was a long road to get there. It was one that was filled with some initial success combined with tinkering with an already talented roster. Let's take a look at how the 2023 Stanley Cup champions came to be.
Plenty of hits in the 2017 Expansion Draft
It all began on June 21, 2017 when the Golden Knights participated in the 2017 Expansion Draft. Vegaswith a good amount of success in the Expansion Draft.
Six members of the 2023 Stanley Cup team were selected throughout the 2017 Expansion Draft, including:
- Jonathan Marchessault
- William Karlsson (acquired from the Buffalo Sabres via draft night trade)
- Shea Theodore (acquired from the Anaheim Ducks via draft night trade)
- Reilly Smith (acquired from the Panthers via draft night trade)
- William Carrier
- Brayden McNabb
It's fair to say that a Stanley Cup wouldn't have been possible without the selection of star winger Jonathan Marchessault. Ironically enough, the Golden Knights selected the 2023 Conn Smythe winner from the Panthers on draft night. Marchessault was coming off of a season in which he registered 51 points (30 goals and 21 assists), but Florida chose not to protect him during the Expansion Draft process.
The Golden Knights also hit a home run with two of their defensemen in Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb. Theodore was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for defenseman Clayton Stoner. Theodore ended up tallying a goal and five assists in the Stanley Cup Final while McNabb added a pair of assists.
Acquisitions of Eichel, Stone pay off
Vegas quickly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the league after they advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18. In a three-year span, the Golden Knights swung for the fences with a pair of massive trades.
With the early success, the Golden Knights made a huge splash at the 2019 trade deadline when the team acquired star winger Mark Stone in exchange for defenseman Erik Brannstrom, center Oscar Lindberg and a 2020 second-round pick. Stone quickly planted his roots in Vegas as he signed an eight-year, $76 million contract extension with the franchise.
Unfortunately for the Golden Knights, the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs were quite a disappointment. Despite a 12-point series (six goals and six assists) from Stone, the Golden Knights were eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in seven games after Vegas dropped the final two games of the series in overtime.
Injuries became a common theme for Stone throughout his Golden Knights tenure. He's played 55 games or less in each of the last three regular seasons, including only playing in 43 games during the 2022-23 season due to a back injury. Despite not playing since Jan. 12, Stone returned for the start of the team's playoff run against the Winnipeg Jets.
He proved to be a force as he compiled 24 points (11 goals and 13 assists), which was the third-highest among Vegas players. When the Golden Knights needed him the most, Stone recorded a hat trick in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final and became the first NHL player since Colorado Avalanche star Peter Forsberg in 1996 to have a hat trick in a Stanley Cup Final game.
In November 2021, the Golden Knights pulled off a blockbuster trade when they acquired star center Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres. It was a huge risk considering Eichel needed spinal surgery before he'd hit the ice for his new team. Eichel became available in the trade market because the Sabres wouldn't let Eichel get the artificial disk herniation surgery he desired.
After getting his preferred surgery, Eichel made his return to the ice on Feb. 16, 2022. Eichel tallied 14 goals and 11 assists in 34 games in his first stretch back on the ice. While Eichel's first season back was a success, the Golden Knights dealt with injuries to multiple players throughout the year and missed the postseason for the first time in franchise history.
The 2022-23 season was much kinder to Eichel and the rest of the Golden Knights. Eichel racked up 66 points (27 goals and 39 assists), which was the third-highest point total of his career. The 26-year-old even returned to Buffalo and registered a hat trick against his former team. Eichel did miss some time with a lower-body injury, but he really turned it on come playoff time.
Eichel ended up leading the Golden Knights with 25 points (six goals and 20 assists) during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He had a sensational postseason that included becoming a more dynamic two-way player in coach Bruce Cassidy's system. While Jonathan Marchessault took home Conn Smythe honors, there's no way the Golden Knights win it all without Eichel's facilitating ability.
Hiring of Bruce Cassidy puts Vegas over the top
For an NHL franchise that only existed for five seasons, the Golden Knights were already slated to be on their third head coach. Gerard Gallant was originally at the helm in 2017 and did have a great of success throughout his tenure. Gallant produced a 118-75-20 record (256 points) and even won the Jack Adams Award as the league's best head coach in the 2017-18 campaign. Still, the veteran bench boss ended up being fired midway through the 2019-20 season.
The Golden Knights hired Peter DeBoer for the next two seasons, and DeBoer was also quite successful. DeBoer tallied a 98-50-12 record (208 points), but Vegas missed the postseason for the first time in franchise history during the 2021-22 season. After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs, DeBoer was given his walking papers.
Enter Bruce Cassidy. Cassidy was relieved of his duties with the Boston Bruins in June 2022 despite taking the team to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of his six seasons in Boston. The 58-year-old certainly didn't last on the market long. In fact, the Golden Knights hired Cassidy as the team's head coach just eight days after he was shown the door by the Bruins.
In Cassidy, Vegas finally found the voice that they had been searching for since the franchise was founded. In his first season with the Golden Knights, Cassidy helped lead the team to a 51-22-9 record and a franchise-best 111 points. Cassidy placed more of an importance on defense and the Golden Knights clearly bought in. Defenseman Alec Martinez blocked 244 shots to lead the league in that category while teammate Brayden McNabb had the second-most blocks (197). In addition, fellow blue-liner Alex Pietrangelo finished with the seventh-most blocked shots (177). Jack Eichel also established himself as more of a two-way player under Cassidy's tutelage.
After falling just short of winning the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals as the Bruins coach, Cassidy got the job done this time around with a very talented roster.
Tough decisions are rewarded
During the pursuit of a championship, there are often tough decisions that need to be made, and the Golden Knights made a few big ones in recent years.
For his performance during the 2020-21 season, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury produced a spectacular 1.98 goals-against-average and won the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goalie. However, just one month after winning the prestigious award, Fleury was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks because the Golden Knights needed to clear salary cap space. It marked the first time the Vezina Trophy winner was traded since Dominik Hasek was moved back in 2001.
In the 2022 offseason, still needing to clear salary cap space, Vegas traded star forward Max Pacioretty to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Golden Knights acquired Pacioretty to be an integral part of the team in 2018, but they just simply had to make a move. Vegas was forced to rely on role players, such as Brett Howden and Nicolas Roy, to help fill the void left by Pacioretty.
Hill replaces Brossoit as starting goalie midway through the postseason
Late in the 2022 offseason, Vegas was dealt a brutal blow when it was learned that goaltender Robin Lehner would have to undergo hip surgery and miss the entire 2022-23 season. Just days after the team announced Lehner's impending surgery, the team acquired netminder Adin Hill from the San Jose Sharks for a 2024 fourth-round pick.
The Golden Knights entered the 2022-23 season with Logan Thompson as the team's starting goalie, and that proved to be a great decision. Thompson had a strong first half and even was selected to his first career All-Star Game. However, Thompson dealt with a lower-body injury down the stretch and didn't play in the postseason.
Vegas elected to start goaltender Laurent Brossoit through the first eight games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, Brossoit recorded a 3.18 goals-against-average through that stretch, so Bruce Cassidy was forced to make a change. That's when he went to Hill and everything changed.
Hill finished the 2023 postseason with a 11-4-0 record, a 2.17 goals-against-average and a .932 save percentage. The veteran netminder thrived throughout the Stanley Cup Final as he posted a 2.40 goals-against-average and won four of his five starts. Hill also made arguably the most impressive save of the postseason when he stopped Nick Cousins with his goalie stick at point-blank range.
Hill is an unrestricted free agent this summer, so he picked the best time to go on the run of his career. It'll be interesting to see if the Golden Knights elect to keep him in their crease for the foreseeable future after the postseason he just had.
Golden Knights Stanley Cup championship gear released
The Golden Knights are Stanley Cup champions for the first time ever. You can now buy Golden Knights championship shirts, hats, hoodies, autographed jerseys, and more to celebrate the historic win. Get Las Vegas NHL championship gear here now.
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