Warriors forward says he’ll ‘for sure’ make season debut on Sunday vs. Rockets

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green will make his 2023-24 season debut on Sunday against the Houston Rockets, he told reporters on Saturday. The four-time All-Star has been sidelined for a month with a sprained left ankle.

Green said that he will “for sure” play on Sunday, and expects to be on a minutes limit, but does not know whether he’ll be in the starting lineup, via The Athletic’s Anthony Slater. The Warriors have gone 1-1 to begin this season, losing to the Phoenix Suns on opening night before beating the Kings in Sacramento on Friday.

Green suffered the ankle injury during a pickup game in late September, as first reported by Jason Dumas of KRON4 and later confirmed by Green to Andscape’s Marc J. Spears. At the time, Green said that he expected to miss at least a month with the injury, adding that he “dodged a bullet.”

After recovering from a serious back injury suffered during the 2021-22 campaign, Green played 73 games last season, earning a second team All-Defensive selection and leading the Warriors in assists, while logging his highest scoring average since 2017-18.

There were rumors Green might seek a change of scenery during this summer’s unrestricted free agency, but instead he agreed to a four-year, $100 million deal to stay in Golden State.

“We’re really excited to have Draymond back,” Kerr said in early July. “He’s been such a huge part of this decade run and, as he showed this past year, he still has plenty left in the tank. … Given that he plays so well with Steph [Curry] and Klay [Thompson], it was really a no-brainer to try to bring him back.”

An injury before the official start of training camp wasn’t ideal for the Warriors as they begin to acclimate offseason acquisition Chris Paul into the mix, but the organization is certainly taking a long-haul approach to this season, hoping that everyone is healthy and productive by the time the playoffs roll around.

With Draymond Green back, here are three Warriors starting lineup options from which Steve Kerr must choose

When discussing his plans for the resumption of NBA basketball during the early months of the pandemic in 2020, commissioner Adam Silver quoted his late predecessor David Stern, who told him, “Never make a decision until you have to.” The specific application of the advice was that the development of potential vaccines and regulations surrounding COVID-19 were changing so quickly, it made no sense to decide on a course of action in April when the situation would likely be vastly different in July. The sentiment is almost universally relevant when it comes to making tough choices.

Draymond Green’s left ankle injury that he sustained during a pickup game prior to the start of Golden State Warriors training camp, allowed Steve Kerr and the rest of the organization to postpone a crucial decision about the starting lineup. With Green announcing that he’ll make his season debut against the Houston Rockets on Sunday, the wait is over. Either Green, Chris Paul or Kevon Looney is likely headed to the second unit.

Green came off the bench when he returned from a one-game suspension for stomping on the chest of Domantas Sabonis during this past spring’s first-round playoff series against the Sacramento Kings, so that might make the most sense on Sunday while Green is still on a minutes limit. But, when Green returns to full strength, Kerr’s going to have a major decision on his hands.

Here’s a look at the three most likely starting lineup options from which Kerr must choose moving forward.

On paper, it would make sense to keep this lineup intact until it’s proven to be ineffective. However, the addition of Paul makes things tricky, since the 18-year vet has started every single game of his career, including the first two of this season. Paul coming off the bench might be an easier sell now that he’s already had some experience commanding the Warriors’ second unit, admirably keeping the team afloat with Curry on the bench.

The benefit of this lineup is that you split up Green and Paul, assuring that one master ball-handler will be on the floor at all times. The same goes for separating Green and Looney, who are both excellent defenders but also non-shooters who can potentially clog things up offensively.

The downside is, you start the game with Green — your best defender and the player who’s been described as the engine of the Warriors offense — on the bench.

If Kerr is going to convince Green to come off the bench full-time, this lineup is probably going to have to perform much better.

“Lineup of Death” plus “Point God” equals “Death God,” right? So who’s with me? OK, even if the name doesn’t stick (it surely won’t), this is an appealing option for Kerr. We’ve seen a version of this in previous years, most notably with Jordan Poole in the place of Paul, which was dubbed the “Poole Party” lineup. This Warriors unit with Paul hasn’t had a chance to test its mettle yet since Green has been out, but the Poole Party wasn’t as much fun as people seemed to think last season.

Obviously this lineup would look much different with Paul in the place of Poole, but the problem remains the same: By going this small, the offense needs to be dominant in order to make up for the defensive shortcomings with Looney on the bench. Kerr has continued to laud Looney’s presence in the starting lineup over the years, saying it helps the team set a defensive tone from the jump.

It’s going to take a lot for Kerr to bump Looney from the starting lineup, but if anyone’s going to do it, it will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer who’s one of the greatest point guards of all time.

Zion Williamson’s fascinating shot chart from the Pelicans’ first two games of the season is a sight to behold

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Dynamic Pelicans forward Zion Williamson knows exactly what works for him on the basketball court, and he’s not afraid to punish opponents with it over … and over … and over … and over. The two-time All-Star has averaged 23.5 points and six rebounds to help the Pelicans to a 2-0 start to the season, but there’s something pretty fascinating about the way he’s getting his buckets.

Williamson hasn’t attempted a shot outside the paint in the first two games of the season.

The 6-6 Duke product has gone 21 for 34 from the field, and every single one of his attempts has come inside the key. Williamson went 9 for 17 in the first game of the season, a 111-104 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. He almost breached the non-painted area on a jumper from the elbow, but didn’t quite get there.

It was more of the same in New Orleans’ 96-87 win over the New York Knicks on Saturday, as Williamson went 12 for 17 from the field with every single one of his attempts coming in the paint. Here’s what the shot chart looks like when you put the two games together. Simply remarkable.

Williamson doing the majority of his work in the paint is no surprise, but the fact that he hasn’t even looked at a shot from the perimeter speaks to his singular focus so far this season. Last year, Williamson took nine mid-range jumpers and 19 3-pointers in 29 games, according to NBA.com.

Another thing you’ll notice: Williamson hasn’t made a single field goal this season from the right side of the floor. The shot charts show that he’s missed five field goal attempts from the right side, while the vast majority of his baskets come from the left side thanks to his gifted, dominant left hand.

At a listed 284 pounds with the quickness of a guard and the strength of a linebacker, the 23-year-old Williamson simply plows and maneuvers his way through defenses that have been drilled repeatedly not to allow him to go left. There’s simply nothing they can do.

The Pelicans got off to an 18-8 start last season before injuries plagued them. With Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum on the floor, New Orleans outscored opponents by a incredible 16.5 points per 100 possessions last season. They hope that everyone stays healthy this time around, and Williamson is already showing how dominant he can be in the paint — even when everyone knows that’s where he wants to live.

Jordan Poole tried the Steph Curry look-away but forgot to make the shot

Jordan Poole played in the shadow of Stephen Curry for the first four years of his career. He has a similar skillset, and at times, relatively speaking, he has shown that he can be nearly as electric of a shooter and scorer as the two-time MVP and future Hall of Famer.

But having a vaguely similar basketball aesthetic and being able to actually replicate what Curry does on the floor are two very different things.

Poole, now with the Washington Wizards after a fallout with the Warriors (or at least with Draymond Green) found this out on Saturday, when he tried to pull off the famous Curry look-away on a 3-point shot, turning around to the bench as the ball was still in the air.

There was just one problem.

He forgot to the make the shot.



— warriorsworld (@warriorsworld) October 28, 2023
If you want to see how this is really done, here are two full minutes of Curry look-aways that actually go through the net.

Stephen Curry look away shots

¯_(ツ)_/¯ pic.twitter.com/Mm0VXKmlcr

— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) December 11, 2022
Poole’s Wizards knocked of the Memphis Grizzlies, 113-106, on Saturday to even their early record at 1-1, but Poole is yet to really lock in his shot. Through two games, he’s shooting 22% (4 of 18) from downtown and 35% overall. The look-away in Memphis was one of his eight bricked triples on Saturday.

Poole is a supremely skilled player, and given that he has his own team now — and the opportunity to fully unleash his creativity that comes with it — he is going do some Curry-like things from time to time this year and throughout his career. But Saturday night was not one of those times. He took at shot at the king, and he missed. Badly.

Suns showcase depth without Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, an essential ingredient for potential playoff success

When the Phoenix Suns acquired Bradley Beal this offseason to join Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, the first thought was how all of that superstar talent and shot-making was going to coexist. The next thought, formulated quickly by most NBA fans, was how on Earth the Suns would construct a viable supporting cast around three players making $130 million combined this season.

Led by president of basketball operations James Jones, the front office went to work, assembling essentially an entire new squad mostly comprised of minimum contracts. The signings — players like Eric Gordon, Yuta Watanabe and Keita Bates-Diop — were lauded, and the depth was bolstered with trades that brought in players like Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen and Jordan Goodwin.

On paper, it looked pretty decent. But on the court, time would have to tell.

Following two games this week without Booker and Beal in the lineup due to injury, it’s safe to say that Phoenix’s depth has passed its first test. The shorthanded Suns nearly spoiled the Los Angeles Lakers’ home opener on Thursday night, ultimately falling, 100-95. Durant was unreal, as he tends to be, scoring 39 points on 28 shots. But the supporting cast stepped up to help the Suns keep the lead until midway through the fourth quarter.

Gordon scored seven of his 15 points in the opening frame, forcing the Lakers defense to reckon with a threat other than Durant. Josh Okogie, one of the few holdovers from last season’s roster, pulled down eight rebounds (four offensive) and hit two of his four 3-point attempts. Goodwin, a throw-in in the Beal trade, put up 14 points, six rebounds and two steals on 6-for-15 shooting, and was a plus-eight in the box score, hitting multiple floaters in the paint.

Goodwin with the touch 😮‍💨 pic.twitter.com/mJUfklcZ3M

— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) October 27, 2023
Despite the loss, the Suns’ “others” showed up in a big way against L.A. But there are no moral victories, as we know. So how about a real victory?

In Saturday night’s home opener, Phoenix absolutely dismantled the Utah Jazz, 126-104, again with Booker and Beal watching from the sideline. The best part about the victory if you’re a Suns fan: Durant only took 11 shots.

It was a complete team effort, registering 31 assists on 45 made field goals, as six Suns scored in double-figures. It wasn’t a lucky shooting night either — they only went 10 for 37 from 3-point range. Durant unsurprisingly led the way with 26 points, but here’s a look at some of the key contributions from the rest of the lineup:

Eric Gordon: 21 points, 4 assists, 9-14 FG
Grayson Allen: 17 points, 4 rebounds, 6-10 FG
Jordan Goodwin: 12 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds
Drew Eubanks: 12 points, 5 rebounds, 6-7 FG
Jusuf Nurkic: 10 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists
Watanabe even made the bench erupt after a smooth behind-the-back and some jelly on the finish.

Okay Yuta 👀 pic.twitter.com/OeDu8qociP

— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) October 29, 2023
Those are extremely encouraging performances that led to a big win over a Jazz team that had beaten the LA Clippers with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George the previous night.

Yes, it’s only three games into the season for a team with championship hopes, but you have to remember that when Durant, Booker and Beal are at full strength in a playoff situation, the Suns aren’t going to need all of these role players to perform every night. Maybe one night it’s Okogie. Another it’s Gordon. Another it’s Goodwin. The point is, head coach Frank Vogel seems to have multiple options.

Whether that pans out in the postseason remains to be seen, but the front office has to at least be giving itself a slight pat on the back for the way the supporting cast has stepped up with two of the three stars out of the lineup.

Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren has already mastered the most important rule of shot-blocking

We’re all gaga over the size and skill of Victor Wembanyama, and rightfully so, but Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren can do a lot of the same things at close to the same size. The offensive stuff will get the headlines, but Holmgren, like Wembanyama, is already an elite defender.

It starts with his instincts, positioning, and his size, of course. He’s 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan. But it’s how he uses that length that is already setting him apart.

Specifically, Holmgren, at just 21, has already shown a masterful sense for the art of defensive verticality. It’s a must for any successful shot-blocker who intends to stay out of constant foul trouble.

What is the rule of verticality? The NBA defines this legal defending position in four parts:

The defender must, first of all, be in the air to defend the shot when contact occurs. If the defender is on the ground, and inside the restricted area, even if his arms are “vertical” when contact occurs, he will be assessed a blocking foul.
The defender must maintain a vertical trajectory by jumping straight up. If the defender jumps toward or to the side of an oncoming player, he will be assessed a blocking foul. A defender may, however, angle his jump backwards slightly in such a way as to absorb the impact of the oncoming player, and of course, he may land behind where he leapt from because of the force of the contact.
The defender must maintain vertical alignment, with his body (arms, hands, torso, legs and feet) in a nearly straight line that is perpendicular to the floor. If a defender leans his arms forward or “jackknifes” his legs toward the oncoming offensive player, he will be assessed a blocking foul.
The defender cannot turn sideways. If he does, he will be assessed a blocking foul.
So, what does defensive verticality actually look like? This:

Look at Holmgren’s arms. Fully extended and straight up. Look at his body. He jumps from Point A, and he lands on Point A. He does not move into the shooter or even in his direction. He holds his ground, to which he is entitled. It is the offensive player coming into his space. The result: Two clean blocks.

For this next clip, we refer back to the following portion of the verticality rule: “A defender may, however, angle his jump backwards slightly in such a way as to absorb the impact of the oncoming player, and of course, he may land behind where he leapt from because of the force of the contact.”


Again, Holmgren keeps his arms and body straight up. This time, he doesn’t jump totally straight up, but that’s still legal in this case, as he is merely “jumping backwards slightly” to “absorb the impact” of the 6-11 Evan Mobley, who is the one crashing forward into Holmgren. It’s another perfectly vertical block — one of the seven Holmgren recorded (an Oklahoma City rookie record) in the Thunder’s 108-105 victory over the Cavaliers on Friday night in just his second NBA game.

If you want to see them all, here you go.

Chet Holmgren hosted a block party last night pic.twitter.com/fWDan8A1Uu

— Derek Parker (@DParkOK) October 28, 2023
An important note: Holmgren keeps these blocks inbounds, thus leading to Thunder fast breaks. That is a bonus to any blocked shot, and Holmgren is in a better position to do that because he’s vertical, rather than swatting at the ball like a volleyball spike. Those kills do look great on the highlight reel, but all that sending the ball into the fifth row does is just give the ball right back to your opponent.

Additionally, the verticality approach limits the likelihood of being called for fouls, which is why Holmgren — despite being as active has he obviously has been — only has three in each of his first two games.

In OKC’s opener against the Bulls, Holmgren wasn’t credited with any blocked shots, but don’t let that fool you. Even when he’s not recording an official block, he’s consistently disrupting shots, without fouling, by keeping his arms high, his body vertical, and by jumping straight up. A few examples:

The blocks will always get the attention, but Chet Holmgren is a transformative defender b/c of the types of shots he’s able to alter, even when he doesn’t block it. Threw in 3 reps from 1st 2 games, 1 where he affects ball handler & big in P&R, & 1 with a transition hold. pic.twitter.com/Xq4jKPlGqo

— Brett Kornfeld (@KornHoops) October 28, 2023
Heck, even when the guy does commit a foul it looks pretty damn close to textbook verticality.

What gets Holmgren whistled here is his momentum takes him forward, slightly, into Isaac Okoro, who has just enough of an angle on Holmgren to force him to leap from Point A to Point B to contest the shot. But it isn’t by much.

Otherwise Holmgren is in pretty classic vertical position, his hands and body perpendicular to the ground. It serves to illustrate the instincts and muscle memory he’s already developed that he’s defaulting to the most legal positioning possible even when the play doesn’t allow for total, or certainly natural, verticality.

This is elite, veteran shot-blocker stuff, and with this package of size, skill and smarts, it’s why Holmgren is likely going to throwing block parties for NBA opponents for years to come.

Golden Knights prove that envy is only problem with NHL’s new expansion model

Gone are the days when NHL expansion teams would languish in obscurity for years while struggling to piece together a contending roster. Vegas Golden Knights fans had to wait less than eight months for their first Stanley Cup Final appearance and just six years for their first Stanley Cup victory.

The NHL changed the rules of the expansion drafts in 2017 and 2021 in the hopes of making the Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken more competitive right out of the gate, and it worked like a charm. There were envious looks from the other 30 teams, but the NHL made the right call by setting up its new markets for success.

In the past, the NHL gave expansion teams less to work with, and it took them years to find their footing within the league. Look at the teams that entered the NHL between 1998 and 2000 — the Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild — and it’s easy to see why the league was more interested in dealing better hands to the Golden Knights and Kraken.

In those earlier expansion drafts, existing teams could protect the following players:

One goaltender, five defensemen and nine forwards
Two goaltenders, three defensemen and seven forwards
Under those rules, in theory, expansion teams might have to settle for a backup goalie, sixth defenseman or fourth-line forward from each existing franchise. Those rules set up expansion teams for failure in the early years, and the early results from the four teams mentioned above make that very clear.

The Predators missed the playoffs in their first five seasons and did not win a playoff series until 2011
The Thrashers made the playoffs once and won zero playoff games before relocating to Winnipeg
The Blue Jackets didn’t make the playoffs until 2009 and did not win a playoff game until 2014
The Wild reached the conference final in their second season but have not been back
Those four teams have one relocation and one Stanley Cup Final appearance between them. If the NHL is trying to develop new fan bases in non-traditional markets, that is not the way to do it.

When the NHL chose to expand into Las Vegas and Seattle, it decided to do things a little differently. Instead of forcing the Golden Knights and Kraken to take other teams’ scraps and like it, the league tweaked the rules to make the new franchises more competent right away. In the 2017 and 2021 expansion drafts, existing teams could only protect:

one goaltender, three defensemen, and seven forwards
one goaltender and eight total skaters, regardless of position
On top of those new rules, teams had to protect players with no-movement clauses, which only handcuffed the existing franchises even more.

In 2017, some teams panicked, and the Golden Knights took advantage. Vegas received William Carrier, Reilly Smith, Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch in exchange for taking other players on their respective teams. In the cases of William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, they were the players the Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers wanted Vegas to take.

Tuch was dealt to the Buffalo Sabres as part of the Golden Knights’ blockbuster trade for Jack Eichel in November 2021. The other five players were on the ice celebrating with the Stanley Cup on Tuesday night.

When the Kraken’s turn came in 2021, teams had learned their lesson from dealing with the Golden Knights. Seattle didn’t make any trades in which they received one player to take another unprotected player. That said, the Kraken still got quality players at every position.

Yanni Gourde, Jared McCann, Jordan Eberle, Brandon Tanev, Jamie Oleksiak, Carson Soucy and Vince Dunn all played big roles in the Kraken’s playoff run this past season. They helped lead Seattle past the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in the first round, and they pushed the Dallas Stars to seven games in the second round.

As it turns out, letting new franchises have access to NHL-caliber players is a good idea. Is that fair to the expansion teams that came before Vegas and Seattle? No, but that doesn’t make it wrong. The league recognized that it was too harsh on those teams in the past and made the proper corrections. Now, the NHL is firmly entrenched in two new markets, and those teams have the foundation to keep their success rolling for the foreseeable future.

How Golden Knights went from expansion team to Stanley Cup champions in six seasons

The Vegas Golden Knights have gone from an expansion franchise to Stanley Cup champions in just six seasons of existence. Vegas hoisted the Stanley Cup following a convincing 9-3 win over the Florida Panthers in Game 5 on Tuesday.

Their postseason glory was quite impressive, but it was a long road to get there. It was one that was filled with some initial success combined with tinkering with an already talented roster. Let’s take a look at how the 2023 Stanley Cup champions came to be.

Plenty of hits in the 2017 Expansion Draft
It all began on June 21, 2017 when the Golden Knights participated in the 2017 Expansion Draft. Vegas set the foundation of its roster for several seasons with a good amount of success in the Expansion Draft.

Six members of the 2023 Stanley Cup team were selected throughout the 2017 Expansion Draft, including:

Jonathan Marchessault
William Karlsson (acquired from the Buffalo Sabres via draft night trade)
Shea Theodore (acquired from the Anaheim Ducks via draft night trade)
Reilly Smith (acquired from the Panthers via draft night trade)
William Carrier
Brayden McNabb
It’s fair to say that a Stanley Cup wouldn’t have been possible without the selection of star winger Jonathan Marchessault. Ironically enough, the Golden Knights selected the 2023 Conn Smythe winner from the Panthers on draft night. Marchessault was coming off of a season in which he registered 51 points (30 goals and 21 assists), but Florida chose not to protect him during the Expansion Draft process.

The Golden Knights also hit a home run with two of their defensemen in Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb. Theodore was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for defenseman Clayton Stoner. Theodore ended up tallying a goal and five assists in the Stanley Cup Final while McNabb added a pair of assists.

Acquisitions of Eichel, Stone pay off
Vegas quickly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the league after they advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18. In a three-year span, the Golden Knights swung for the fences with a pair of massive trades.

With the early success, the Golden Knights made a huge splash at the 2019 trade deadline when the team acquired star winger Mark Stone in exchange for defenseman Erik Brannstrom, center Oscar Lindberg and a 2020 second-round pick. Stone quickly planted his roots in Vegas as he signed an eight-year, $76 million contract extension with the franchise.

Unfortunately for the Golden Knights, the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs were quite a disappointment. Despite a 12-point series (six goals and six assists) from Stone, the Golden Knights were eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in seven games after Vegas dropped the final two games of the series in overtime.

Injuries became a common theme for Stone throughout his Golden Knights tenure. He’s played 55 games or less in each of the last three regular seasons, including only playing in 43 games during the 2022-23 season due to a back injury. Despite not playing since Jan. 12, Stone returned for the start of the team’s playoff run against the Winnipeg Jets.

He proved to be a force as he compiled 24 points (11 goals and 13 assists), which was the third-highest among Vegas players. When the Golden Knights needed him the most, Stone recorded a hat trick in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final and became the first NHL player since Colorado Avalanche star Peter Forsberg in 1996 to have a hat trick in a Stanley Cup Final game.

Expressive Mark Stone followed by a relieved Keegan Kolesar. 🫡 pic.twitter.com/EdK3HaXsUR

— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 14, 2023
In November 2021, the Golden Knights pulled off a blockbuster trade when they acquired star center Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres. It was a huge risk considering Eichel needed spinal surgery before he’d hit the ice for his new team. Eichel became available in the trade market because the Sabres wouldn’t let Eichel get the artificial disk herniation surgery he desired.

After getting his preferred surgery, Eichel made his return to the ice on Feb. 16, 2022. Eichel tallied 14 goals and 11 assists in 34 games in his first stretch back on the ice. While Eichel’s first season back was a success, the Golden Knights dealt with injuries to multiple players throughout the year and missed the postseason for the first time in franchise history.

The 2022-23 season was much kinder to Eichel and the rest of the Golden Knights. Eichel racked up 66 points (27 goals and 39 assists), which was the third-highest point total of his career. The 26-year-old even returned to Buffalo and registered a hat trick against his former team. Eichel did miss some time with a lower-body injury, but he really turned it on come playoff time.

Eichel ended up leading the Golden Knights with 25 points (six goals and 20 assists) during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He had a sensational postseason that included becoming a more dynamic two-way player in coach Bruce Cassidy’s system. While Jonathan Marchessault took home Conn Smythe honors, there’s no way the Golden Knights win it all without Eichel’s facilitating ability.

Hiring of Bruce Cassidy puts Vegas over the top
For an NHL franchise that only existed for five seasons, the Golden Knights were already slated to be on their third head coach. Gerard Gallant was originally at the helm in 2017 and did have a great of success throughout his tenure. Gallant produced a 118-75-20 record (256 points) and even won the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best head coach in the 2017-18 campaign. Still, the veteran bench boss ended up being fired midway through the 2019-20 season.

The Golden Knights hired Peter DeBoer for the next two seasons, and DeBoer was also quite successful. DeBoer tallied a 98-50-12 record (208 points), but Vegas missed the postseason for the first time in franchise history during the 2021-22 season. After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs, DeBoer was given his walking papers.

Enter Bruce Cassidy. Cassidy was relieved of his duties with the Boston Bruins in June 2022 despite taking the team to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of his six seasons in Boston. The 58-year-old certainly didn’t last on the market long. In fact, the Golden Knights hired Cassidy as the team’s head coach just eight days after he was shown the door by the Bruins.

In Cassidy, Vegas finally found the voice that they had been searching for since the franchise was founded. In his first season with the Golden Knights, Cassidy helped lead the team to a 51-22-9 record and a franchise-best 111 points. Cassidy placed more of an importance on defense and the Golden Knights clearly bought in. Defenseman Alec Martinez blocked 244 shots to lead the league in that category while teammate Brayden McNabb had the second-most blocks (197). In addition, fellow blue-liner Alex Pietrangelo finished with the seventh-most blocked shots (177). Jack Eichel also established himself as more of a two-way player under Cassidy’s tutelage.

After falling just short of winning the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals as the Bruins coach, Cassidy got the job done this time around with a very talented roster.

Tough decisions are rewarded
During the pursuit of a championship, there are often tough decisions that need to be made, and the Golden Knights made a few big ones in recent years.

For his performance during the 2020-21 season, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury produced a spectacular 1.98 goals-against-average and won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie. However, just one month after winning the prestigious award, Fleury was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks because the Golden Knights needed to clear salary cap space. It marked the first time the Vezina Trophy winner was traded since Dominik Hasek was moved back in 2001.

In the 2022 offseason, still needing to clear salary cap space, Vegas traded star forward Max Pacioretty to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Golden Knights acquired Pacioretty to be an integral part of the team in 2018, but they just simply had to make a move. Vegas was forced to rely on role players, such as Brett Howden and Nicolas Roy, to help fill the void left by Pacioretty.

Hill replaces Brossoit as starting goalie midway through the postseason
Late in the 2022 offseason, Vegas was dealt a brutal blow when it was learned that goaltender Robin Lehner would have to undergo hip surgery and miss the entire 2022-23 season. Just days after the team announced Lehner’s impending surgery, the team acquired netminder Adin Hill from the San Jose Sharks for a 2024 fourth-round pick.

The Golden Knights entered the 2022-23 season with Logan Thompson as the team’s starting goalie, and that proved to be a great decision. Thompson had a strong first half and even was selected to his first career All-Star Game. However, Thompson dealt with a lower-body injury down the stretch and didn’t play in the postseason.

Vegas elected to start goaltender Laurent Brossoit through the first eight games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, Brossoit recorded a 3.18 goals-against-average through that stretch, so Bruce Cassidy was forced to make a change. That’s when he went to Hill and everything changed.

Hill finished the 2023 postseason with a 11-4-0 record, a 2.17 goals-against-average and a .932 save percentage. The veteran netminder thrived throughout the Stanley Cup Final as he posted a 2.40 goals-against-average and won four of his five starts. Hill also made arguably the most impressive save of the postseason when he stopped Nick Cousins with his goalie stick at point-blank range.

Ain’t no mountain (or Hill) high enough 🎶

Just look at how strong @Adin_Hill’s #StanleyCup Playoffs performance has been so far… pic.twitter.com/UeAVjQub6p

— NHL (@NHL) June 7, 2023
Hill is an unrestricted free agent this summer, so he picked the best time to go on the run of his career. It’ll be interesting to see if the Golden Knights elect to keep him in their crease for the foreseeable future after the postseason he just had.

Golden Knights Stanley Cup championship gear released
The Golden Knights are Stanley Cup champions for the first time ever. You can now buy Golden Knights championship shirts, hats, hoodies, autographed jerseys, and more to celebrate the historic win. Get Las Vegas NHL championship gear here now.

Canadiens legend Henri Richard, 11-time Stanley Cup champion, posthumously diagnosed with CTE

Hockey Hall of Famer Henri Richard had stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy at the time of his death in March 2020, the family of the Montreal Canadiens legend announced Wednesday.

“I hope my father’s brain donation and diagnosis will lead to more prevention efforts, research, and eventually a CTE treatment,” said Richard’s son, Denis Richard, in a statement published by the Concussion Legacy Foundation. “I want people to understand this is a disease that impacts athletes far beyond football.”

CTE is described as “a progressive and fatal brain disease associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Richard, who won an NHL-record 11 Stanley Cups, died at the age of 84 and was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease at the time. According to the foundation’s press release, 16 of the 17 NHL players studied have been diagnosed with CTE, including Steve Montador, Ralph Backstrom, Bob Probert and Stan Mikita.

Richard retired in 1975, and helmets were not made mandatory by the NHL until 1979.

Richard’s former Montreal teammate, fellow Hall of Famer Ken Dryden, has been asking for the National Hockey League, as well as hockey at other levels, to severely penalize all hits to the head because of the long term damages they cause.

“I played with Henri. We won two Cups together. He fits none of the easy stereotypes, checks none of the easy boxes,” Dryden said in a statement. “Played in a different time, old-time hockey, all the fights? Not Henri. Big hitter? Not Henri. Like Stan Mikita and Ralph Backstrom, he was a great skater, and physical, but he had a playmaker’s mind, and played that way. But all those hits to the head. We have to understand, whatever the sport, a hit to the head is not a good thing.”

Jesper Bratt, Devils agree to eight-year, $63 million contract extension

The New Jersey Devils are keeping one of their best young players for the long haul. On Thursday, the Devils signed star forward Jesper Bratt to an eight-year contract worth $63 million.

Bratt, 24, was set to become a restricted free agent this summer, but New Jersey wanted to make sure he would be in red for many years to come. Bratt’s AAV comes in at $7.875 million per season, which is now third-highest on the team behind defenseman Dougie Hamilton and center Jack Hughes.

General manager Tom Fitzgerald released a statement saying he expects Bratt to be a key part of the Devils’ pursuit of a fourth Stanley Cup.

“It was always a priority to keep Jesper Bratt here long term and both parties are thrilled that a deal was completed,” Fitzgerald said. “I value and commend the commitment Jesper made to this organization. We believe that he is a special player and a key member of our core group of talent who will contribute towards the team’s long-term success, and organizational goal of bringing the Stanley Cup back to New Jersey.”

A sixth-round pick by the Devils in the 2016 NHL Draft, Bratt has blossomed into one of the franchise’s brightest young stars.

This past season, Bratt scored 32 goals and added 41 assists in 82 games played. Bratt did struggle a bit in the playoffs, with just one goal in 12 games, but his postseason shooting percentage should rise above 4% percent as his career progresses.

With Bratt now under contract for the foreseeable future, the Devils can turn their attention to re-signing winger Timo Meier, who was traded to New Jersey this past spring.