Las Vegas wanted the NHL. And now the city has the Stanley Cup | Vegas Golden Knights

A A month after Las Vegas hosted an NHL team in the summer of 2016, a local newspaper ran a series of unofficial, in the publication’s own words, “extremely unscientific” polls asking its readers to choose the name of the franchise. The Black Knights, Knights, and Neon Knights were all top picks. But only the Knights made it past the second ballot, proving less popular than the Scorpions and the eventual winner, the Outlaws. The Knights name – and its variants – was not a winner.

It is now. The Vegas Golden Knights are Stanley Cup champions, claiming the coveted trophy with a landslide 9-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night in Las Vegas. And while the speed at which the Golden Knights climbed to the top of the NHL was surprising, to many (this was the franchise’s second visit to the Finals in its first six years of existence), that’s exactly what team owner Bill Foley promised in 2017. It was a bold prediction, considering the only other team to do so was the Edmonton Oilers with a kid named Wayne Gretzky.

But six years later, here we are.


— NHL (@NHL) June 14, 2023


We had almost arrived earlier. Vegas made an unlikely run to the Finals against the Washington Capitals in their inaugural season in 2018, only to lose the Cup at home. And while Vegas has remained a contender since then, missing the playoffs only once since joining the league, the road the team has traveled hasn’t necessarily been glorious. In their relentless pursuit of a championship, Vegas established a reputation in the NHL as a team willing to disrupt locker room cohesion, spend with almost gratuitous abandon, and ship some really good players for what seemed at the time little potential gain – guys like Nate Schmidt or Marc -Andre Fleury. On Tuesday, the Knights could call on just five of the initial 20 players they hired when forming. It was evidence of relatively high turnover in a relentless pursuit of a winning team or, more cynically viewed, cap space.


Mark Stone gives the @GoldenKnights the lead!

🇺🇸: @NHL_On_TNT ➡️ #NHLonTNT
🇨🇦: @Sportsnet ➡️

— NHL (@NHL) June 14, 2023


Few would say now that those many moves over the years weren’t worth it. The Golden Knights have opened their wallets wide, with eight starters earning more than $5 million this season, including Jack Eichel, Mark Stone and Alex Pietrangelo, who are signed at more than $8 million a year each over long stretches. . But those moves also meant there were already nine Stanley Cup rings on the Vegas bench at the start of Tuesday’s game — an experiment that ultimately paid off for the Golden Knights.

Their win over Florida was near total, unleashing the Panthers much the same way the Panthers had teams in the East down the stretch. Their approach was simple and effective, including the physical play that frustrated a Panthers team that had, so far, been able to crush their opponents. Vegas also has perhaps the best defensive corps in the league, which protected goaltender Adin Hill and destroyed Florida’s power play. The Panthers had managed to convert about a third of the time on the man advantage in their previous three rounds, but failed to score a single power-play goal against Vegas.

The countdown to Stanley. ⏳

Turn it up, soak it in. #StanleyCup

— NHL (@NHL) June 14, 2023


Tuesday night was a perfect example of Vegas dominance. Florida looked like it was shorthanded the entire game, and to some extent it was. After leaving Game 4 with a mystery injury (and only briefly returning to the ice), Panthers star forward Matthew Tkachuk was tied for Game 5. Tkachuk had been a key factor for the Panthers over the first three rounds, leading his team in many basic stat categories and, arguably, giving Florida some semblance of depth on their own.

His absence was no doubt part of the reason Florida didn’t look like the team that so easily got rid of Boston, Toronto and Carolina. But in reality, Florida had struggled to solve Vegas even with Tkachuk in the lineup. The somewhat chaotic attacking style that Florida had successfully used for three rounds was suddenly ineffective against good defense and a goaltender on such a hot streak as Bobrovsky (who Vegas had already chased out of his net en route to a 7 -2 in Game 2).

Florida looked a bit like the regular season Panthers. In the fall, the Panthers were inconsistent, sometimes winning by wide margins, but more frequently losing – also by wide margins. For a time, the Panthers struggled to get past the .500 mark, and while they got better over time, they still relied partly on each other’s losses to secure their playoff spot. None of this takes anything away from what they achieved once there. Florida was a force in the East, wreaking havoc from the moment it came back in the first round against Boston. But Vegas changed that, and once again — especially Tuesday night — Florida once again became an uneven, unruly team backed by unreliable goaltenders.

But maybe it’s only fair that after spending so much time lately in Florida (albeit across the state of Tampa), the Cup should settle down West a bit, leaving Denver for explore a new place. Vegas is still somewhat uncharted territory for the NHL. The league’s foray into Nevada wasn’t necessarily a professional league’s first (Canadians will remember the CFL’s ill-fated American venture of the 1990s, which included the Las Vegas Posse), but it did. was the most important. Since the arrival of the Golden Knights, Las Vegas has also gained an NFL team via relocation, and they may soon get an MLB franchise as well. And although NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the city was “not front and center” for the league, he also admitted it “will one day make a great location for a franchise.”

It shouldn’t go unnoticed that Vegas fans broke tradition and booed NHL commissioner Gary Bettman as he stood on the ice to present the Stanley Cup to Vegas captain Stone. It’s possible they were just all being very polite, but that’s more likely a testament to how new to most Vegas fans. Many of them probably don’t remember a 1994 lockout and wouldn’t care, let alone harbor any historical grudges. For Bettman, the silence is probably significant. Even if his expansion bets, on Vegas and more broadly, haven’t quite paid off, he’s arguably now at least break even.

While courting the NHL nearly a decade ago, the group of potential Las Vegas owners created a website to outline their long-term plans and goals. There was a slogan: Vegas Wants Hockey. Vegas had hockey. Now hockey has officially taken over Vegas.

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