Many are shocked by the success of the 2017-18 expansion-team Vegas Golden Knights. Their regular- season success, so far, has translated well into the NHL playoffs. Honestly, who cannot like them? They play hard, exciting hockey. And, unlike so many of the lovable-losers expansion teams, they actually win.
Outside from the fact that they’re live-game experience is among the best in the NHL, and their Twitter feed is hilarious as heck, here are five reasons why hockey fans of all ages should root for the Golden Knights.
Reason #1: They are “The Replacements”
One of my favorite sports movies of all time was The Replacements. In this movie, a pro football league is hit with a players’ strike and replacement players are called in. The owner of one fictional team – the Washington Sentinels – hires his own former coach for the final four games of the season with these replacement players. The coach only has one condition – he will be able to sign the players he wants without interference.
To make a long story short, the film (a sports-comedy) is about redemption – especially for former All-American quarterback Shane Falco, whose career fell apart and now lives on a houseboat. [As a comedy, a favorite part is watching the team dance to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.] The film casts a bunch of “losers” – former players who didn’t make it in “the show.” These players band together, motivated by the dream of a “second chance.” Well, the good guys win; but, in the end, the replacement players leave the field with only the personal satisfaction that they have had their “second chance.”
That’s why I like the Vegas Golden Knights – they are living their second chance, and living it large.
Reason #2: Marc-Andre Fleury
please meet Bark-Andre Furry
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) May 10, 2018
Obviously, Marc-Andre Fleury is a sold NHL goalie who one day will probably be in the NHL’s Hall of Fame. He’s right up there for Playoff Goalie Wins (his 71 Wins are 9th on the list and he might pass Chris Osgood [74 Wins] and Mike Vernon [77 Wins] this 2017-18 season). Still, for me his infectious smile and good humor make him the face of the Golden Knights. How can you not like this guy? He obviously just loves playing hockey.
Reason #3: James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault, and William Karlsson
HEREEEEE'S JOHNNY pic.twitter.com/mIQYWZU14n
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) May 15, 2018
Really, who are these guys? James Neal (from the Nashville Predators) most people knew, but Jonathan Marchessault (Florida Panthers) and William Karlsson (Columbus Blue Jackets) were good players that Canadian hockey fans probably missed. As well, first-round draft pick D-man Shea Theodore (Anaheim Ducks) and Reilly Smith (Florida Panthers) are not that well-known either. All flew, until this year, under the radar. Granted GM George McPhee did a masterful job drafting and trading, but these guys are just a great team to watch. Here’s hoping they have found a long-term home in the desert.
Reason #4: Pat Quinn
Out of nothing, George McPhee’s #GoldenKnights are rewriting the rules.
The Vegas GM talks to me about record-breaking expansion West finalist & is unapologetic about rules that helped pluck studs like Haula, Tuch, Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith. STORY>https://t.co/EgVgpMiFMv
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) May 11, 2018
Former lawyer. Tough as nails. Stubborn. Runs things his way. What more can be said about the late Pat Quinn. Vegas GM George McPhee was Quinn’s student; and, like Quinn, McPhee believes hockey should be an entertaining game that advantages speed, creativity, and reacting to the ebbs and flows of lucky bounces.
No doubt, McPhee drafted and traded for the players he did for two reasons: (1) Vegas fans would find this brand of hockey entertaining (he would help fill the stands – perhaps with Canadian Snow Birds living in the Vegas area) and fun for the players. And, (2) he really believed a team could win championships playing this way. This was the old Edmonton Oilers, and both Pittsburgh and Chicago had done it more recently. So, why not Vegas?
One note about Pat Quinn’s coaching style. When Quinn coached the 1979-80 Flyers, Bobby Clarke captained the team. Clarke noted that Quinn “re-invented coaching.” Specifically, Clarke noted that Quinn did individual teaching – he talked to players one-on-one, giving personal instruction. Such coaching “wasn’t done before.”
According to Clarke, Quinn “was years ahead of everyone” and teams spent the 1980s “catching up.” Quinn had the Flyers playing an open, free-flowing game, which players on the other teams noticed. Quinn just played differently than other teams, and the Golden Knights play that old-Pat-Quinn style.
Reason #5: They are Well-Coached.
Amazing seasons from all of their squads. The Jack Adams Award finalists are Jared Bednar, Bruce Cassidy and Gerard Gallant.
— NHL (@NHL) April 25, 2018
When GM George McPhee went looking for a head coach, he wanted someone with experience as an NHL player and a coach, a good communicator, a tactician, and someone who inspired player loyalty. He hired Gerard Gallant, who had been fired by the Florida Panthers during the 2015-16 season. As McPhee notes, Gallant is a “low-ego guy.” With Gallant, it’s all about the team.
Gallant should win the 2017-18 coach-of-the-year award, mostly because he got players to buy into his fast, aggressive fore-checking, put-the-team-first mentality. Even Gallant says about himself, “I’m not a boring coach.”
Perhaps the Golden Knights are simply better than most teams. Perhaps they are embodying the mentality of last-chance replacements. Perhaps they have bought into a system that works. Whatever the reason, the team plays fast, fore-check hard, and never quit working. Even when all their goalies went down with injuries, Vegas didn’t change its vision of how hockey should be played. It paid off.
They are fast. They compete hard. They create. They don’t sit back and trap. They play upbeat, high-tempo hockey, which is what you get when you watch them play. How can a hockey fan not like this team? Just sayin’.