As an expansion franchise, expectations for the Vegas Golden Knights are low. In the last 25 years, the NHL has added eight new teams; none have made the playoffs or posted a winning record in their first season. While most expansion teams have avoided being the worst team in the NHL, most new teams aren’t challenging for a playoff spot. Only the 1993-1994 Florida Panthers had a shot though they finished one point shy.
But Golden Knights general manager George McPhee has already made a splash. He beat out other teams to sign Vadim Shipachyov of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. This past season for SKA St. Petersburg, Shipachyov posted 26 goals and 50 assists in 50 games. He’s a playmaking center that will deliver the style McPhee desires.
We want people to fall in love with the sport. It is a beautiful game that combines a lot of skill with grit and toughness. And when it is played right, it is beautiful to watch.—George McPhee, Golden Knights general manager
“We want to be a very competitive club and at the same time be an entertaining club,” McPhee says. “We want people to fall in love with the sport. It is a beautiful game that combines a lot of skill with grit and toughness. And when it is played right, it is beautiful to watch.”
Even though the Golden Knights are expected to have a stronger group of defensemen than forwards, McPhee doesn’t want his team to play in a shell. “There are different ways to play the game. There are times when some people try to play too defensive. The game should never be boring,” McPhee says.
Though providing an attractive skill-based product over a boring style may not be beneficial to the winning percentage in year one, it may help a community new to hockey enjoy the game more.
But what will benefit the winning percentage is that the Golden Knights will have the most lucrative expansion draft in the league’s history by getting to select one player from each of the other 30 NHL clubs. Teams will only be able to protect 11 players, as opposed to the 15 they could protect back in 2000.
For the uninitiated, the expansion draft, which is only for when a new team enters the NHL, happens first. This is how new teams get their first set of players. The entry draft is next, and takes place every season for new players to selected by NHL teams.
The NHL Draft Lottery gave Vegas its first defeat as a franchise, though, as the Golden Knights will select sixth—the worst pick for any expansion franchise—in the first round NHL Entry Draft. But that pick is for the future, not year one. The expansion draft will likely be about acquiring future assets as well.
McPhee is likely to come out of the expansion draft with bundles of picks and trade bait for other teams. The Golden Knights could easily select five goalies and look to trade most of them for future assets.
Another way to secure future assets: lose as many games as possible to get the best odds for the number one pick in the 2018 NHL Draft Lottery. McPhee is convinced he’ll get his future superstars in the entry draft, not this year’s expansion draft. But don’t expect the Golden Knights to be the worst team in the NHL next season.
“Tanking doesn’t appeal to us. Never has, never will,” McPhee says. “We want to play the game right and compete and develop this team as quickly as we can.”