Stop me if you heard this before, Golden Knights fans. A Stanley Cup champion picked to repeat come June? That’s nothing new! It’s especially true when you bring nearly every piece of that title-clinching team back the next season. Plus, Vegas started 6-0-0, which was a first in the NHL for a defending Stanley Cup champ! It’s hard NOT to pick them to win… Right?
Well, here’s the thing. In the preseason, experts handpicked teams like the Dallas Stars, Carolina Hurricanes, Colorado Avalanche, and Edmonton Oilers to hoist Lord Stanley in the summer. From Toronto to ESPN, nearly everyone was going crazy for these four. It’s easy to understand why, with all four having loaded squads or megastar talent.
However, I’m convinced the Vegas Golden Knights will repeat as the Stanley Cup champions once the kids are out of school. But I bet you’re wondering, “Why, though?” Here are a few reasons why that’ll be the case at the end of the year.
For all the hype the Edmonton Oilers receive (you know why), the Oilers are not as great as you think. Last year, the Vegas Golden Knights eliminated the Oilers with an array of scorers and strong play from all lines.
Yes, ESPN’s favorite team destroyed Vegas’s penalty kill. However, five-on-five was a different story. When you only have a formidable line consisting of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, that can only carry you so far before you collapse.
Edmonton is also weak to teams with balanced scoring. Just look at their Western Conference Finals series against the Colorado Avalanche a couple of seasons ago. They might’ve had the best two players in the world. But the Avs had Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, and Nazem Kadri carrying the load, to name a few.
Add in a weak blue-line unit and see that the Oilers are nothing more than a glass cannon. They only hope to outscore you to win games, sparing its defense. Otherwise, they’re as bad as McDavid’s taste in licorice. Someone, please save Stuart Skinner!
It isn’t just the Oilers that isn’t convincing me. The Seattle Kraken are experiencing a major pullback to start the season. There isn’t a defining offensive leader on the Kraken right now. Andre Burakovsky? Matty Beniers? The Emerald City still has a young hockey team that needs to get their cuts in. Maybe they could have Julio Rodriguez play hockey?
Another team lacking an imposing offensive figure is Los Angeles. Auston Matthews was supposed to hit the free agent market next season, making him the perfect target for the Kings. However, with him inked to the Maple Leafs, it takes an option away from a growing team.
Meanwhile, Anaheim, San Jose, and Vancouver are all rebuilding, while Calgary is listless. This will lead to the Vegas Golden Knights reigning supreme over the Pacific Division once again. Looking at the Central Division shows the Western Conference is a bit weak, altogether.
The only Western Conference competition Vegas has are the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche. However, Colorado dealt with numerous injuries last season and the Knights have adjusted to the Stars’ style. Therefore, the door’s open for Vegas to take the west again.
The Gold Standard
Now, let’s look at what will make the Golden Knights back-to-back champions. First, they find ways to beat you. I mean, any particular way they can win, they will. Whether it’s an offensive onslaught against Seattle or a come-from-behind victory against Dallas, Vegas will emerge on top.
Just look at the stat cards against the Chicago Blackhawks. While the main stars like Chandler Stephenson and William Karlsson didn’t have their best games, the rest of the team stepped up, specifically on the penalty kill. In a game where Vegas was outplayed, they came together as a unit and pulled away late.
Vegas’s team mentality also extends to the offensive end. Entering Tuesday’s game against the Flyers, the Golden Knights were tied for fifth in team goals per game with four. The Knights’s power play has also improved, ranking ninth in the NHL (27.3% entering Tuesday).
Other aspects include the aforementioned penalty kill (88.9% entering Tuesday, ranked ninth) and Jack Eichel emerging as a leader. But the improved power play and overall scoring depth make the Golden Knights a threat to repeat. That’s especially true with the Pacific Division being as horrible as Connor McDavid’s socks.
Who Can Topple The Golden Knights?
However, you can’t expect Vegas to be perfect against everybody. While the prospects of 82-0-0 sounds enticing, it’s simply unrealistic. Besides, striving for that pace burns out a team. Just ask the Boston Bruins last season.
With that, who are the biggest threats to the Knights’s reign over the NHL? What teams could give Vegas the most problems and leave them to drink a few whiskey shots at a slot machine at MGM Grand?
New Jersey Devils
New Jersey has goal scorers everywhere, making them line-for-line threats against Vegas. Whether it’s Jesper Bratt on the second line or Erik Haula on the third, the Devils can present problems that the highly-touted Oilers couldn’t.
They also house the best power play in the NHL (42.9% entering Monday). If Vegas plays the Devils in the Stanley Cup Final, that could prove worrisome. That’s especially true in the Edmonton series last season, where McDavid and Draisaitl devastated the Golden Knights on the man advantage.
Detroit Red Wings
Believe it or not, Steve Yzerman has this team headed in the right direction. Entering Tuesday, the Red Wings had the top two leaders in points, with Alex DeBrincat (12) and Dylan Larkin (11) leading the way. Hockeytown also has the likes of Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider, who are ready to take the next step.
Like the Devils, Detroit has a good power play (39.1% entering Tuesday, second-best in the NHL). But they also have a big body in the net in Ville Husso. If the Finnish-born goaltender becomes a threat, that could be no bueno for Vegas if they meet the Wings in the Stanley Cup Final.
While we talked about Vegas being able to surpass Colorado, they’re tough to beat when healthy. In fact, the Golden Knights aren’t the only undefeated team left. Entering Tuesday, the Avs were 5-0-0, putting them near the top of the NHL standings.
While the Avalanche has offensive juggernauts like Mackinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Artturi Lehkonen, they play a similar style to Vegas. A constricting defensive plan where the Golden Knights are squeezed out of scoring opportunities could be devastating in a playoff matchup.
The Consensus: The Golden Knights Will Repeat
Still, the Vegas Golden Knights are poised to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. It’s uncommon to see a team return most of their starting lineup, which makes them a massive threat. The core is still there and will be for years to come, with cornerstones like Mark Stone and Eichel sticking around.
Anything can happen in an NHL season, ranging from cringeworthy injuries to surprising teams. However, a safe bet would be for the Golden Knights to hoist Lord Stanley come June.
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