HOW THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS SHAPED A MIRACLE TEAM
An hour after the NHL expansion draft on June 21, 2017, Nashville Predators general manager David Poole was impressed.
“This is, by far, the best expansion team ever,” said Poile, who was talking about the Vegas Golden Knights’ haul.
“The National Hockey League did it right this time. This model, this year, these guys will be competitive. Good for them.”
Then McPhee told me, “Maybe they got too good.”
“Maybe George (McPhee) will win executive of the year next year,” said Poile, in a prediction that appears golden now.”He’s off to a great start."
The Golden Knights accomplished what no other NHL expansion team has: they are in the Stanley Cup Finals. They meet the Washington Capitals, starting Monday at T-Mobile Arena, in a best-of-7 series.
Here’s how McPhee assembled the pieces for a sensational inaugural season, starting with the draft:
Colorado Avalanche: Calvin Pickard, G – The Golden Knights’ first pick in the expansion draft, Pickard, 25, had 15 wins, two shutouts, a 2.98 goals-against average and .904 save percentage in 50 games (48 starts) with Colorado in 2016-2017. He was projected to be Fleury’s backup. However, the Golden Knights claimed Boston goaltender Malcolm Subban off waivers on Oct. 3. Pickard was placed on waivers on Oct. 5, and was ticketed to join Vegas’ AHL affiliate. He cleared waivers the next day, but was immediately traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a 2018 sixth-round draft pick and Tobias Lindberg.
Vancouver Canucks: Luca Sbisa, D -- Sbisa, 27, had 13 points in 82 games in 2016-2017 season and 88 points in 465 NHL games with the Philadelphia Flyers, Anaheim Ducks and Canucks. With Vegas: Two goals and 12 assists in 30 regular season games.
Arizona Coyotes: Teemu Pulkkinen, F -- Pulkkinen, 25, had two goals in 13 games split between the Coyotes and Minnesota Wild in the 2016-2017 season, and has 13 goals and 22 points in 83 NHL games, including 70 games with the Detroit Red Wings. Vegas sent him to their AHL affiliate in Chicago, where he scored 29 goals and had 37 assists in 75 games.
New Jersey Devils: Jon Merrill, D -- Merrill, 25, had six points in 51 games in 2016-2017 and had a 36 points in 216 NHL games with New Jersey. With Vegas: one goal, two assists, three points in 34 games. He signed a two-year, $2.75 million contract on Jan. 16.
Buffalo Sabres: William Carrier, F – Carrier had eight points in 41 games in 2016-17, his first in the NHL. With Vegas: 34 games, one goal, two assists. He’s 23.
Detroit Red Wings: Tomas Nosek, F – Nosek had one goal in 17 games with the Red Wings in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 but helped lead Grand Rapids win the Calder Cup champion, scoring 22 points in 19 playoff AHL games after scoring 41 points in 51 regular-season games. With Vegas, he scored the first home goal in franchise history against Arizona. In 67 games, he had seven goals, eight assists. Excelled as a penalty killer. He’s 25.
Dallas Stars: Cody Eakin, F – Eakin was drafted in 2009 when George McPhee was the general manager of the Washington Capitals. Raised in Winnipeg, he had 12 points in 60 games in 2016-2017 with the Caps but averaged 17 goals, 36 points and 80 games played in each of the previous three seasons with Dallas. With Vegas: 12 goals and 16 assists. He turned 27 on May 24.
Florida Panthers: Jonathan Marchessault, F – Marchessault scored 30 goals for the first time in 2016-2017, one of 26 NHL players who scored at least that many. With Vegas: He was the No. 2 scorer with 75 points (27 goals and 48 assists in 77 games.) He was a force in the playoffs, leading VGK with eight goals and 18 points. He turns 28 on Dec. 27.
Los Angeles Kings: Brayden McNabb, D – McNabb had four points in 49 games in 2016-2017 and 50 points in 238 NHL games. With Vegas: In 75 games, five goals and 10 assists. A 6-foot-4, 215-pound farm boy from the prairie town of Davidson, Saskatchewan, population 1,000, turned 28 on Jan. 21.
Carolina Hurricanes: Connor Brickley, F -- Brickley had five points in 23 games with the Florida Panthers in 2015-16 but spent all of the season in the AHL with Charlotte, where he had 26 points in 69 games. The Hurricanes also dealt a fifth-round pick in 2017 to Vegas for Brickley to be the agreed choice as he was a pending unrestricted free agent. He returned to Carolina July 1 on a one-year, two-way contract.
Winnipeg Jets: Chris Thorburn, F – After being drafted by Vegas as an unrestricted free agent, he signed a two-year deal with the St. Louis Blues for $1.8 million.
Philadelphia Flyers: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, F – Prior to joining Vegas, Bellemare had eight points in 82 games in 2016-2017 and 34 points in 237 games in three NHL seasons. With Vegas: Six goals and 10 assists. Excelled as a penalty killer.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Jason Garrison, D – He started the seasons with the Golden Kings but was sent down to the AHL Chicago Wolves after four games (one assist). He played in eight games with Vegas, scoring one assist. He turns 34 on Nov. 13.
New York Islanders: Jean-Francois Berube, G—Berube’s selection in the draft was based upon a trade in which the Islanders sent Vegas a first-round picked in 2017, a second-pick in 2019, prospect Jack Bischoff and the contract of long term injured player Mikhail Grabovski. Berube signed a two-year free contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Nashville Predators: James Neal, F – Neal came to Vegas with one year on his contract after scoring 23 goals in the 2016-2017 season and six in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Entering this season, he had 238 goals and 451 points in 632 NHL regular-season games. With Vegas, he scored the Golden Knights’ first and second goal in franchise in a 2-1 season opening win against Dallas. In 71 games he had 25 goals and 19 assists. He turns 31 on Sept. 3.
Calgary Flames: Deryk Engelland, D – Engelland could have been an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2017. Instead he was selected by the Golden Knights and became their captain in the city where he’s lived for more than a decade after marrying a local girl he met while playing for the Las Vegas Wranglers from 2003 to 2005. He had scored four goals and 16 points in 81 games in 2016-17 with Calgary. With Vegas: a career-high 23 points (five goals and 18 assists) and 150 blocks at even strength. He turned 36 on April 3.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Brendan Leipsic, F – Vegas sent Leipsic to Vancouver for defenseman Phillip Holm.
Boston Bruins: Colin Miller, D -- Miller, 25, scored a personal NHL-high 41 points (including 31 assists) in 82 games. That was big jump from his 13 points in 61 games in 2016-2017 after scoring 16 points in 42 games the year before as when a rookie.
Ottawa Senators: Marc Methot, D – The Dallas Stars acquired the 32-old veteran defenseman in exchange for goaltending prospect Dylan Ferguson and a 2020 second-round pick.
San Jose Sharks: David Schlemko, D – Vegas traded Schlemko, 30, to the Montreal Canadiens for a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft.
St. Louis Blues: David Perron, F – Perron had a team-leading 50 assists in the regular season for Vegas. That and his 16 goals gave him 66 points, third most on the team. He had seven assists, no goals, in 11 playoff games. Perron, who turns 30 on May 28, was the St. Louis Blues 26th overall pick in 2007.
New York Rangers: Oscar Lindberg, F – Lindberg appeared in 63 games and scored 11 points (nine goals), down from his 20 points in 65 games with the Rangers while playing primarily as their fourth-line center after he recovered from offseason hip surgery. He had one assist in three playoff games. He turns 28 on Oct. 29.
Edmonton Oilers: Griffin Reinhart, D – The fourth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Reinhard was sent to Vegas’ AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves on Oct. 30, where he scored two goals and 10 assists in 60 games.
Montreal Canadiens: Alexei Emelin, D – Emelin was traded to Nashville for a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft.
Anaheim Ducks: Clayton Stoner, D – Stoner, who had played in 14 games for the Ducks in 2016-2017 after appearing in 50 the previous season, suffered the return of an abdomen injury and was placed on injured reserve list Oct. 3. He was traded with the incentive that defenseman prospect Shea Theodore, the Ducks’ 26th overall pick in 2013, would go to Vegas. Theodore appeared in 61 games and scored 29 points (23 assists). He scored the only goal in Game 1 in the Knights’ 1-0 opener of the sweep against the Los Angeles Kings.
Minnesota Wild: Erik Haula, F – Drafted in the seventh round by Minnesota in 2009, Haula had scored an NHL career-high 15 goals, part of his 26 points in 72 games in 2016-2017. His 29 goals this year trailed only William Karlsson’s 43. He had 26 assists.
Columbus Blue Jackets: William Karlsson, F – Karlsson had NHL career highs in assists (19) and points (25) in 81 games in 2016-17 season after getting 20 points in 81 games the previous year. Born on what would have been Elvis Presley’s 58th birthday, Karlsson lit up Las Vegas with his career year: 43 goals and 35 assists. He’s 25.
Chicago Blackhawks: Trevor van Riemsdyk, D -- Van Riemsdyk was traded the day after the expension draft, along with a seventh-round pick, to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for a second-round selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He had an NHL career-high 16 points and a plus-17 rating in 58 games in 2016-2017 and was a Stanley Cup champion with Chicago in 2015-2-16. He played 79 games with the Hurricanes, scoring 16 points (13 assists).
Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury, G – Fleury flourished in his new surroundings after winning three Stanley Cups with the Penguins. He had a 29-13 record with a 2.24 goals against average for a 0.927 saves percentage in Las Vegas. He stopped 45 of 46 shots in the Golden Knights’ first game, a 2-1 win over Dallas. On Oct. 13, he suffered a concussion after a knee to the head from Detroit’s Anthony Mantha. He missed 25 games but came back to represent Vegas in the All-Star Game. He won the inaugural Save Streak competition, saving 14 in shootout attempts. He had a 1.68 goals-against-average in the playoffs for a .947 save percentage. Key matchup: Alex Ovechkin has scored 10 times on 62 shots against Fleury in 14 post-season games.
Washington Capitals: Nate Schmidt, D – Schmidt had an NHL career-high 17 points in 60 games with the Caps in 2016-2017 and has 43 points in 200 games with Washington. He doubled that in 76 games with Vegas, scoring 36 with 31 assists. He’s been embraced by media and Knights fans for his winning personality.
In addition to the draft selections, the Golden Knights made the following transactions:
--Acquired D Shea Theodore from Anaheim.
--Acquired Buffalo's 6th-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft (No. 161).
--Acquired Boston's 5th-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft (No. 142, previously acquired by Carolina).
--Acquired F David Clarkson, Columbus' 1st-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft (No. 24) and Columbus' 2nd-round pick in 2019.
--Acquired F Reilly Smith from Florida for Vegas' 4th-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. He had a career-high 60 points (22 goals, 38 assists) in 67 games. He turned 27 on April 1.
--Acquired F Alex Tuch from Minnesota for Vegas' 3rd-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Tuch, 22, came on strong with a career year (37 points on 15 goals and 22 assists in 78 games). He had six goals and three assists in the playoffs. The Wild’s 18th overall pick in the 2014 NHL draft, he had played in just six games with the Minnesota in 2016-2017 and didn’t score any points.
--Acquired Pittsburgh's 2nd-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
--Acquired F Nikita Gusev, Tampa Bay's 2nd-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft (No. 45) and Pittsburgh's 4th-round pick in 2018 (previously acquired by Tampa Bay).
--Acquired Winnipeg's 1st-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft (No. 13) and 3rd-round pick in 2019 for Columbus' 1st-round pick in 2017 (No. 24, previously acquired by Vegas).
Key in-season transactions:
--Malcolm Subban, G, was acquired when the Boston Bruins tried to slide him through waivers before the season (Oct. 3). The Bruins’ No. 1 pick in the first round of the 2012 draft (24th overall), he had made just two appearances with them, losing both, one in 2014-15 and the other in 2015-16. With Vegas he moved into the backup role behind Fleury. When Fleury suffered a concussion Oct. 12, 2017, Subban notched his first NHL win two nights later, allowing one goal on 22 shots to…the Bruins! He missed a month with a lower-body injury, but 11 of his first 13 decisions, making a big difference in the Golden Knights’ fast start. His statistics: 22 games played, 19 games started. A 13-4 record, no ties. A 2.68 GAA and a .910 save percentage. Turns 25 on Dec. 21.
--Ryan Reaves, one of the premier brawlers in the NHL, was acquired Feb. 23 from the Pittsburgh Penguins to give the Golden Knights the enforcer they lacked. Reaves had a career-best seven goals in 80 games (13 points) in 2016-2017. His tip-in goal was the difference in the Golden Knights’ series winning game against Winnipeg, Reaves’ hometown.
--Tomas Tatar was acquired Feb. 26 for three draft picks, giving the Golden Knights a player who had averaged more than 23 goals during his first four full seasons with the Red Wings. He scored four goals and two assists in 20 regular season games for Vegas. In the playoffs, he had one goal. He was Detroit’s second-round pick in 2009 (30th overall). He turns 28 on Dec. 1.