There are two schools of thought when compiling an expansion team. One is to go get the very best players available, believing that the best way to build a foundation for a team and a fanbase is to be as competitive as you can and give fans a reason to get and stay invested. Another is to be as awful as you possibly can. The Vegas Golden Knights correctly subscribe to the latter.
Here’s the roster, pending the inevitable trades over the next days and weeks:
With the obvious caveat that the roster is going to change between now and opening night—and the subcaveat that it’ll be the decent players who are most likely to be traded, making the roster even weaker—that is a bad, bad team.
Some forwards are going to have OK numbers only because someone has to score goals, but this team isn’t going to have more than a dozen regulation wins.
The first line—likely Perron and Neal centered by KHL signee Vadim Shipachyov—is fine. After that you get two lines of guys who would be third- or fourth-liners on better teams. The blueline pairings, currently led by Methot and Emelin, are a little better, but this is still a bunch of fourth defensemen, and they’re going to get torn up by the league’s better forwards. (Grimly, Methot and Emelin are expected to be among the first Golden Knights to be flipped in trades as soon as today.) Fleury is a good, capable starter, but it’s going to be a long year.
Which is fine! This team’s not built to win. GM George McPhee isn’t an idiot. He could have maybe assembled a borderline playoff team if he had taken the best available players, but expensive mediocrity is not a sustainable strategy. Much better to do what McPhee did, and accept picks in exchange for agreeing not to take actual useful players. That’s how the Golden Knights have three top-15 picks in this weekend’s entry draft, and obtained 10 picks over the next four drafts in addition to their own (which should be high). No wonder a rival GM said “I feel like I was just held hostage for the last two weeks.”
Here’s a fun party game: How many of these players will be with this franchise the first time it makes the playoffs? Take a look at the contract situations. The Golden Knights are stocked with guys with one year left on their deals, and even a pair of current UFAs. There are just five players signed for more than two seasons, and one of them is David Clarkson, who’s never going to play hockey again but was acquired just so Vegas could reach the salary floor. Everyone here is here to be moved, or to be allowed to leave, so McPhee can build the roster from the ground up. Recent expansion teams have taken five or six years before their first playoff appearance, so the odds are strong that not more than a couple names on the above list will still be here when the team is good. It almost feels silly to care about who was selected last night as anything more than trivia. (OK, I lied, this party game isn’t fun at all.)
What’s odd to me is how many people who should and maybe do know better are blowing smoke up your ass and saying this team might be good now. You’d expect that from owner Bill Foley, who called it a “great team,” and from head coach Gerard Gallant, who called it “a pretty impressive group.” But from other hockey people, like Nashville GM David Poile, who said “this is by far the best expansion team ever”? Or TSN analyst Dave Poulin, who said this team can contend for the playoffs right now? Or Frank Seravalli, whose gushing column anoints McPhee as the favorite for GM of the Year?
This team is going to be bad, potentially historically so. They’ll be bad for a few years. They won’t even be enjoyable to watch once the novelty of new uniforms wears off, not unless you consider 4-1 losses enjoyable. But this is the plan. They have many, many draft picks, and as much cap space as anyone, and seemingly the go-ahead from the owner to be patient. For now, being bad doesn’t matter, which is not a bad situation to be in.