Every expansion team to enter the NHL since the 1960s has one obvious thing in common: they were total shit. Except the Vegas Golden Knights, that is. In fact, they're now officially the best NHL expansion team of all time, and we haven't even hit the dog days of February yet.
With a 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday, Vegas became the winningest expansion team ever. Not winningest to this point of the season, not on pace for the most wins ever—the Golden Knights passed the 1994 Florida Panthers and Anaheim Ducks to establish a new NHL record for victories (34) in an inaugural season. They've been utterly dominant at home and are winning at a record pace on the road, too.
What's most astonishing is while the Panthers and Ducks managed to snag their 33 wins over a full 84-game slate, Vegas still has 32 contests—or around 40 percent of its season—left to play, and is firmly entrenched in races for top spots in the Pacific Division, Western Conference, and even the Presidents' Trophy.
The 1974-75 Washington Capitals hold the record for the worst first season ever, winning six games and losing a whopping 67. The Ottawa Senators went 10-70-4 in their first campaign, and won just 34 contests in their first three seasons, the same amount that the Golden Knights have collected in 50 games. More recently, the Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets) collected a mere 14 victories in their inaugural campaign in 1999-2000.
Life hasn't been easy for expansion teams until Vegas came around. And let's be real, every single analyst, pundit, writer, media hack, and owner of a brain got this Golden Knights team wrong. It's one of those few situations of the past decade to have mended the divided hockey community over its collective ability to be wrong as shit. With the afforded luxury of sweet hindsight, however, it starts to become a little more clear just how and why this team is crushing league records on a near-weekly basis, and it all started at the expansion draft last June.
Both the league itself and general managers across the NHL have contributed mightily to this Vegas squad's unheard of and historic success. Bettman and his brass kicked it all off by imposing favourable expansion draft rules with the intention of having a competitive team in the market right from the start. Many GMs had a downright horrible read on some players in their own organization, exposing useful and productive talent that was scooped up and utilized brilliantly by Golden Knights GM George McPhee, who doesn't have the best track record of his own dating back to his time with the Capitals.
The club's highest-scoring forwards—William Karlsson, Jon Marchessault, David Perron, Reilly Smith—have all played for at least three other NHL squads in their careers before finding a home in Sin City. Teams didn't value their abilities, and now the Golden Knights are cashing in. Of course, all those players listed above are having career seasons, proving that no matter the analytical, statistical, and developmental model teams have in place to judge talent, this league is unpredictable as fuck.
Could it be as simple as having a Vezina candidate goaltender and a Coach of the Year lock behind the bench? Maybe, but it wasn't too long ago that Marc-Andre Fleury was seen as a liability in the playoffs and Gerard Gallant was outside waiting for a cab after being gassed by the Florida Panthers. So, I don't even know.
This is insanity. It doesn't make sense. It's happening, though, and it's time to just sit back, enjoy the ride, and let the Golden Knights ruin everything we thought we knew about the NHL one game at a time.