New Las Vegas National Hockey League (NHL) team owner Bill Foley speaks to the media in a news conference held at the Encore at Wynn Las Vegas on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced an expansion franchise to Las Vegas after the league's board of governors met earlier in the day. CREDIT: Mark Damon/Las Vegas News Bureau

Vegas Golden Knights Are Finally Becoming A Team

It’s been nearly a year since the NHL awarded Las Vegas an expansion franchise. Now the Vegas Golden Knights are finally starting to take shape.

Head coach Gerard Gallant was hired in April just five months after he was fired by the Florida Panthers. That firing came despite Gallant leading the Panthers to a franchise best 47 wins in the 2015-16 season. Last week, Gallant started to fill out his coaching staff.

He started with a familiar face in Mike Kelly, who was on Gallant’s staff in Florida. But the two connected even before their time with the Panthers. In 2010 Kelly was the associate head coach for Gallant for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The pair helped the Sea Dogs win two league titles and the Memorial Cup in a three year span.

Gallant added to his bench with Ryan Craig, who brings some youth to the Vegas bench, as the 35-year-old will be taking his first coaching job following a 14-year playing career in the NHL and the American Hockey League, the NHL development league.

The Golden Knights have their own AHL team, too. The Chicago Wolves will be affiliated with Vegas, along with the Quad City Mallards of the East Coast Hockey League. With coaches and minor league teams locked in, now all the Golden Knights need are the players.

The team has already signed three free agents: Vadim Shipachyov, Reid Duke and Tomas Hyka. Later this month, they will be joined by about 30 more players.

The expansion draft on June 21 will allow general manager George McPhee the chance to select one player from each of the other NHL teams. But we shouldn’t have to wait that long to start filling out the roster, as McPhee has said he is ready to start making trades that revolve around the expansion draft. Each of the other 30 NHL teams get to protect as many as 11 players from the expansion draft. But if there is a 12th player that a team wants to keep, they can make a deal with McPhee and Vegas. In exchange for not selecting that 12th player, Vegas can select a different player and grab a future draft pick. The expansion draft is the perfect way for a brand-new franchise to build for the future.

The Golden Knights may have already found its first goalie. Marc-Andre Fleury has agreed to waive his no-movement clause, which will make him eligible to be selected by Vegas in the expansion draft. The Pittsburgh Penguins relied on Fleury through the first half of the playoffs before turning back to Matt Murray, who has now been the winning goalie for the last two Stanley Cups. Since teams can only protect one goalie, the Penguins want to keep the 23-year-old Murray and expose the 32-year-old Fleury. Vegas can swoop in and get a six-time all-star who has started between the pipes in nearly 700 regular season games.

Even if McPhee starts adding players immediately, the franchise will still be lacking a key component of the team’s identity: the jerseys. Despite being a franchise for more than 11 months, there are no Golden Knights jerseys available. The Golden Knights did drop a teaser for the uniforms, but we won’t see the full jersey until June 20.

By the end of the month Vegas will be full of hockey coaches, players and uniforms. The first major professional sports team in Las Vegas will at last have something tangible for fans to identify with.

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