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. 🫡

— 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…

— 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.

How the Golden Knights can repeat as champions next season

The Vegas Golden Knights captured their first Stanley Cup in franchise history by demolishing the Florida Panthers in five games. After coming close to hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup back in 2018, the Golden Knights were able to get the job done this time around.

Now that Vegas has reached the mountaintop of the NHL world, the question becomes: Are they capable of winning it all again during the 2023-24 campaign?

Yes, it’s not an easy task to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Only 16 teams have done it. Most recently the Tampa Bay Lightning pulled the feat off in 2020 and 2021. It’s only been done twice (Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017) over the past 25 years.

According to Caesars Sportsbook, the Golden Knights currently have the second-best odds at +800 to win the 2023-24 Stanley Cup, behind only the Colorado Avalanche. So what exactly do the Golden Knights need to do in order to repeat?

Re-sign Hill, Barbashev
Like any Stanley Cup champion, the Golden Knights are going to be tasked with some difficult decisions. Lucky for Vegas, this is a team that doesn’t have a ton of key free agents that need to be re-signed.

The biggest one lies between the pipes in the form of goaltender Adin Hill. He is slated to be an unrestricted free agent, but the Golden Knights did use several different goalies throughout the 2022-23 season. Still, this Stanley Cup wouldn’t have been possible without the performance of Hill.

Hill became the savior for Vegas after Laurent Brossoit began the postseason with some mighty struggles.
After replacing Brossoit, Hill became a man on a mission. During the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the 27-year-old keeper posted a 11-4-0 record, a 2.17 goals-against-average and a .932 save percentage in 16 games.
The talented netminder also excelled throughout the Stanley Cup Final, as he tallied a 2.40 goals-against-average and won four of his five starts.
Oh yeah, and Hill made the most spectacular save of the postseason when he turned aside Nick Cousins with his goalie stick from 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…

— NHL (@NHL) June 7, 2023
The Golden Knights acquired Hill in exchange for just a fourth-round pick, and Hill made just $2.675 million during the 2022-23 season. Considering the impressive postseason run Hill had, he’s in line for a sizable pay raise. There will certainly be other teams that will be interested in Hill, but the Golden Knights need to make sure they retain his services.

One of the Golden Knights’ other top free agents is center Ivan Barbashev. He was acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Blues during the 2022-23 season and had a good amount of success after joining the Golden Knights roster.

Barbashev, 27, finished fifth on the team with 18 points (seven goals and 11 assists) during the 2023 postseason. He also registered a goal and two assists during the Stanley Cup Final.
Barbashev really thrived in the second-round series against the Edmonton Oilers, when he racked up three goals and three assists.
The talented forward helped open that series in a big way with a two-goal performance in Game 1.
While Vegas does possess a ton of forward depth, re-signing Barbashev certainly needs to be a priority if the Golden Knights want to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Barbashev made $2.6 million a season ago, so a fairly large salary increase is likely in order for him as well.

Now, in addition to Hill and Barbashev, players like Brossoit, Jonathan Quick and Phil Kessel are also going to be unrestricted free agents. However, it’s fairly likely the Golden Knights will let those players walk since they didn’t figure into the equation too much in terms of the team winning it all. The Golden Knights will be able to allocate all their resources into retaining Hill and Barbashev.

Eichel must continue to be elite
When the Golden Knights acquired Jack Eichel back in 2021, it was a move that was expected to put the franchise over the top in terms of competing for a Stanley Cup. That’s exactly what happened. He was one of the top reasons Vegas won a Stanley Cup.

Eichel has showcased his ability as an elite offensive producer over the course of his eight-year professional career. In back-to-back seasons (2018-19 and 2019-20), Eichel recorded 82 points and 78 points, respectively. After a pair of down years in which he was affected by a neck injury, the former No. 2 overall pick compiled the third-highest point total of his career with 66 (27 goals and 39 assists).


— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) April 21, 2023
While it wasn’t the highest number of points he’s recorded in a single season, Eichel really took his game to the next level during the 2022-23 campaign.

Under first-year coach Bruce Cassidy, the Golden Knights’ new system was one built around defense and intensity. With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Vegas blue-liners Alec Martinez and Brayden McNabb finished one-two among the league’s top shot blockers.

In addition to the team’s defensemen beefing up their presence, Eichel also became a more productive two-way player in his first season playing under Cassidy.

The Golden Knights star registered new career-highs in both blocked shots (56) and takeaways (47) during the 2022-23 regular season. That didn’t change when the Stanley Cup Playoffs rolled around, as Eichel recorded 30 blocked shots, 25 hits and 19 takeaways in 22 contests.

Eichel has taken his star to the next level and re-established himself as an elite player at his position in his first postseason. If he can continue to lead by example, the Golden Knights definitely have an opportunity to be crowned Stanley Cup champions once again in the near future.

Stay healthy
This might seem like an obvious factor for any team that wants to repeat as champs — in any sport — but it rings so true.

After the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 2022, they looked poised to potentially repeat. But they weren’t the same team throughout the 2022-23 season because of injuries. The loss of captain Gabriel Landeskog crushed them. He underwent knee surgery following the 2022 Stanley Cup Final and ended up not playing a single game during the 2022-23 campaign (Landeskog has to have cartilage transplant surgery and will miss the upcoming season as well). In addition to Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Artturi Lehkonen missed time this past season.

As they embarked on their 2023 postseason run, the Golden Knights were relatively healthy. Star talent like Eichel, Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone didn’t miss any action throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Stone was limited to just 43 games during the regular season, but he returned for Game 1 of Vegas’ opening-round series against the Winnipeg Jets.

If this extremely talented group can stay healthy, the sky is the limit for what they an achieve.

Las Vegas police arrest man for allegedly threatening mass shooting at Game 5

Prior to Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, Las Vegas police arrested a man who allegedly threatened to carry out a mass shooting at T-Mobile Arena, according to the Associated Press.

Matthew DeSavio, 33, was arrested hours before puck drop and is facing a charge of threatening an act of terrorism or mass destruction.

In several phone calls, text messages and social media posts, DeSavio threatened to “shoot up” the Stanley Cup Final game, per the police report. The exact details of DeSavio’s threats leading up to Game 5 are not known at this time, but least three different individuals contacted the police about DeSavio’s posts on social media, including a former grade school acquaintance who accused DeSavio of stalking her.

Another person who alerted authorities to the social media posts was a relative of DeSavio who had a restraining order against him.

A woman who claimed DeSavio had been harassing her for years said he called her on Tuesday to say he was coming to her office.

“No more nice man,” DeSavio said, according to the arrest report. “I’m headed to your office now. I’m almost there.”

She called 911 and, according to ESPN, DeSavio was arrested upon arriving at the woman’s workplace. The police report does not indicate whether he had any weapons in his possession at the time. DeSavio was then taken to county jail and is being held on a $60,000 bond. He has not been formally charged and is slated to appear in court later in June.

This was not DeSavio’s first arrest in Las Vegas. His run-ins with the law go back to 2014, and he has been charged with domestic battery and stalking in the past. As recently as last October, DeSavio was charged with threatening an act of terrorism or mass destruction. A judge dismissed that charge in April after the state could not get him a bed at one of its psychiatric facilities.

In 2017, just days before the Golden Knights’ first game in team history, the deadliest mass shooting in American history happened on the Las Vegas Strip at the Route 91 Harvest music festival. The shooting killed 60 people and injured at least 413 more.

Coachella Valley Firebirds ask fans to stop eating chocolate while team faces Hershey Bears

Teams will do whatever it takes to win a championship. The American Hockey League’s Coachella Valley Firebirds are taking that mantra to a completely different level.

According to ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski, the Firebirds are actually asking their fans to give up all forms of chocolate while the team is facing the Hershey Bears in the Calder Cup Final. The team called for “a boycott and removal of all chocolate in the Coachella Valley, including chocolate bars, chocolate milk, chocolate ice cream, chocolate donuts, and chocolate chip cookies.”

The Bears, who are the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals are from Hershey, Penn., which is the home of the popular Hershey candy company. As a result of the Bears calling “Chocolatetown USA” home, the Firebirds decided to come up with a campaign in which they’ve asked the team’s fanbase to stay away from the sugary treats for a few weeks.

“Our fans have been fantastic all year in terms of buying in and kind of doing whatever we kind of ask of them. So we were thinking of something to get a little rivalry going with the Hershey Bears,” Firebirds director of broadcast and communications Evan Pivnick said. “We knew there was going to be one on the ice. So we settled on a chocolate boycott in the Coachella Valley off the ice. Don’t buy any. Don’t eat any. Just one of those old school little [gimmicks] to keep it fun and light.”

Chocolate of course isn’t literally banned, as fans can still purchase the sweet treat at Coachella Valley home games. However, the team made a rather hilarious statement on social media regarding Hershey chocolate.

In a video that was posted to Coachella Valley’s Twitter account prior to the series getting underway, the team’s mascot, Fuego, was shown destroying some chocolate. Fuego could be seen throwing some of the chocolate in the trash, but there was one small problem. Some of the candy included M&Ms, which are made by Mars — not Hershey.

PSA: no chocolate allowed 🔥 #FiredUp

— x – Coachella Valley Firebirds (@Firebirds) June 7, 2023
Since the Firebirds can’t exactly ban chocolate, they’ve also put together a chocolate exchange program. If fans bring chocolate to the arena, they’ll receive a bag of Brandini Toffee popcorn, which is made in nearby Rancho Mirage, Calif.

The chocolate ban was thought to be working in the early going of the series. The Firebirds outscored the Bears 9-0 in the opening two games of the Calder Cup Final and took a 2-0 series lead.

However, once the series shifted to Hershey, the Bears’ fortunes seemed to change. The Bears rallied to win Game 3, 5-4, in overtime thanks to a game-winning goal from forward Riley Sutter. Hershey continued to climb back into the Calder Cup Final in Game 4 as they earned a 3-2 win over the Firebirds thanks to a two-goal performance from forward Mike Vecchione.

The Calder Cup Final is currently tied at 2-2 with the Bears set to host the Firebirds in Game 5 in Hershey before the series moves back to Coachella Valley.

Golden Knights will be challenged by contenders in West

Congratulations to the Vegas Golden Knights, who will have their names etched on the Stanley Cup after an incredible postseason run. They overcame adversity to capture a small slice of immortality, the likes of which most human beings can only dream about.

And now it’s time to look ahead to next season.

This article is for the other 31 fan bases, who, upon seeing the Golden Knights kiss and drink out of the Cup, wondered what it might take for their team to be there in 2024. The future offers hope and optimism.

These way-too-early 2023-24 NHL Power Rankings did require some degree of forecasting, since they are coming before the draft and free agency. Which teams have players aging into their prime? Which ones have the flexibility and cap space to improve this summer? Did the team show growth this past season? Those things and more were taken into consideration when peeking ahead to next fall.

William Karlsson’s epic speech, Adin Hill’s Ricky Bobby impression among top moments

The Vegas Golden Knights captured their first Stanley Cup in franchise history when they defeated the Florida Panthers in five games earlier in June. As with any title, a massive championship parade ensued — and with it some stellar (and intoxicated) moments.

The Golden Knights held their Stanley Cup celebration on Saturday, and it was no different. Here are a few of the best moments from the celebration.

Karlsson delivers epic speech
Golden Knights forward William Karlsson provided the highlight of the night, as he delivered a poignant, expletive-filled speech that really got the team’s fanbase in attendance riled up.

“This guy, this effin guy, has been here since Day 1. And you have been here — Day f—ing 1. You guys are so amazing,” a shirtless Karlsson said when talking about teammate Jonathan Marchessault. “We played in Arizona the first game. We beat the s–t out of them. And I had no points, but that’s OK, because Year One, I was pretty f—ing great, but you guys were greater. We’ve been on this journey … we’ve been waiting six long years for this guy to be MVP.”

Eventually, the microphone was taken away from Karlsson, but not before he gave some more expletive-filled comments about how much he loves his teammates. You can check out his entire speech here.

Marchessault won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL’s playoff MVP following the Stanley Cup Final. The Golden Knights star finished the 2023 postseason with 25 points, which was second on the team behind only Jack Eichel. Marchessault led Vegas with 13 goals during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Hill does his best Ricky Bobby impression
Golden Knights goaltender Adin Hill also proved to be one of the stars of the show during the team’s championship parade. Hill delivered a hilarious interview in which he impersonated Will Ferrell’s iconic Ricky Bobby character from the movie “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

“Pretty wild, I don’t know. I don’t know what to do with my hands right now,” Hill said while he was interviewed.

“I don’t know what to do with my hands right now.”

Adin Hill with an early candidate for best quote of the @GoldenKnights championship parade. 😆

— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 18, 2023
Hill did know what to do with both his blocker and glove hands throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After replacing Laurent Brossoit during the team’s second round series against the Edmonton Oilers, Hill tallied a 11-4-0 record to go along with a 2.17 goals-against-average and a .932 save percentage.

Cassidy talks about a repeat
Vegas fans repeatedly chanted “Bruce” while Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy was at the podium during the celebration. Cassidy ended up getting fired up and egged on the crowd as they also chanted “Back to Back.”

Bruce Cassidy’s already thinking about winning the Stanley Cup again next year 👀#VegasBorn

— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights (@HockeyDaily365) June 18, 2023
Cassidy won a Stanley Cup in his first season as the Golden Knights head coach after parting ways with the Boston Bruins following the 2021-22 season. The 58-year-old head coach was finally able to capture the Stanley Cup that alluded him after coming close to winning it all in 2011 with Boston.

It certainly will be a tough challenge to repeat. After all, only 16 teams have repeated as Stanley Cup champions with the Tampa Bay Lightning being the most recent in 2020 and 2021.

Kentucky vs. Duke, Gonzaga vs. UCLA among games college basketball needs most

Kansas and North Carolina injected some life into college basketball’s summer news cycle on July 24 when they announced a home-and-home series to be played Nov. 8, 2024 at KU and Nov. 14, 2025 at UNC. The on-campus showdowns will be a massive early-season attraction in the sport and mark something unprecedented in the series.

These two grand brands — tied together by Dean Smith and Roy Williams — have previously played just one on-campus game against each other. That was in 1960 at Kansas. UNC has never hosted the Jayhawks in the series, which is tied 6-6 after KU bested the Tar Heels 72-69 in the 2022 national title game to even the series.

The home-and-home is rightly being labeled as “Battle of the Blue Bloods,” and perhaps it’ll inspire some other big brands around the country to get bold with scheduling on-campus games. For this week’s edition of the Dribble Handoff, our writers are taking a cue from the Kansas-North Carolina news and exploring which home-and-home series they would most like to see in college basketball.

Arizona vs. UCLA
I’m convinced even the people who run college athletics and are making these decisions will someday look back at conference realignment largely with regret. The money’s nice, sure. But willingly jumping to bigger and better leagues will always decrease the likelihood that you’ll win as much as you’ve previously won. And losing isn’t fun for anybody. Which is why I really do believe that fans of some schools — not all, but certainly some — will eventually bemoan their place in the world of college athletics and wonder why their favorite university threw geography in the trash just to have nicer practice facilities and stuff.

Simply put, these decisions come with a price. Rivalries are among the things sacrificed. And we’re possibly about to lose another one when UCLA officially leaves the Pac-12 for the Big Ten next year because that could represent the end of UCLA and Arizona playing annually in men’s basketball.

I hope it doesn’t, though.

Mick Cronin and Tommy Lloyd are running two of the best programs in the sport — evidence being that the only Pac-12 schools besides UCLA and Arizona to win a regular-season conference title in the past 12 years are Oregon and Washington. The Bruins own a league-best 32 conference titles. Arizona has the second-most with 17. So it would be a shame if these Pac-12 rivals declined to continue playing each other regardless of whether the Pac-12 actually exists moving forward, which is now very much in doubt.

So get together, Mick and Tommy!

Work it out.

UCLA-Arizona feels like a big game almost always because it’s a meeting between two programs that have won national championships and have all of the things in place to someday do it again. College basketball benefits when the best play the best. Starting next season, that’ll no longer happen twice a year with the Wildcats and Bruins. But there has to be a way to continue the series with the two schools agreeing to meet annually while alternating between the McKale Center and Pauley Pavilion. — Gary Parrish

Kentucky vs. Duke
The two most popular (and polarizing) teams in college basketball should be willing to schedule each other in a home-and-home, and do so as soon as possible. Yes, the Devils and Cats do face off once every three seasons thanks to Champions Classic. It’s better than not having them play at all, obviously. But were it not for that made-for-TV event, these programs (most likely) would be in the midst of a 20-plus-year drought of playing each other. And for as much as the Champions Classic offers, the matchup is always on a neutral court (in a variety of cities) and does lack the playful viciousness that would come with a home-and-home. Picture Kentucky strolling into Cameron Indoor, or likewise, Duke sauntering into Rupp Arena. What a huge event those games would be for college hoops.

The schools have met 20 times in their history. The last time it happened in an on-campus environment? We have to travel back more than 50 years ago, all the way to Dec. 20, 1969. Kentucky beat Duke 98-76. The last time Kentucky played at Duke? More than a decade further back: Dec. 8, 1958 (UK won 78-64). Woof. Let’s end this dry spell.

Fortunately, Jon Scheyer seems more than willing to engage in home-and-homes in the years to come than Mike Krzyzewski was in the final 20 years of his career. I think Duke will be aligning with some big-time programs, and that will be great. Hopefully he can convince John Calipari to do the same, and before the end of this decade we can get Kentucky and Duke to face off in enemy territory. — Matt Norlander

Gonzaga vs. UCLA
We’ve been blessed as a nation enough over the years to see these two west coast powers go head to head frequently in the NCAA Tournament and in standalone non-conference popups. And they almost always deliver the goods. The people want — no, the people demand — that a recurring series between the two programs be on the books annually from here until the end of time. It’s only right.

We could get a head-to-head at the Maui Invitational this upcoming season should both run the table to meet in the title game — which would be delightful — but we can’t leave fate to decide when or if these two teams should meet.

Gonzaga and UCLA played in a thriller in the last NCAA Tournament with Gonzaga advancing 79-76, ending a roller-coaster finish that saw two lead changes in a dramatic final 15 seconds of action. That was a fitting follow-up to their previous NCAA Tournament meeting, which ended with Gonzaga winning 93-90 in overtime on a buzzer-beater from Jalen Suggs in the Final Four.. (And oh, by the way, that 2006 epic between the two in which Adam Morrison’s career came to a stunning end? That was another chapter in this rivalry. Need I say more?)

Not only are Gonzaga and UCLA the two biggest basketball brands on the West Coast and two of the most successful programs historically, but each head-to-head presents us with an elite coaching head-to-head as well with defensive-minded Mick Cronin pitted against offensive-friendly Mark Few. Even the style of the fight adds some flair.

With both teams consistently performing as top-20 teams in the sport, more matchups are sure to develop in big moments in coming years. But a back-and-forth series in Westwood and in The Kennel would elevate this rivalry to a new level. It’d be a fabulous atmosphere, and could net us a new and exciting rivalry in the sport. — Kyle Boone

Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State
If the college football coaches are too cowardly to make it happen, then let basketball enjoy the beauty of Bedlam. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will be Big 12 foes for just one more season before the Sooners depart for the SEC, thus ending regular meetings in a series that has been contested 240 times dating back to 1916.

OU maintains a 134-106 all-time edge, but the Pokes have won seven of the past eight. If they continue that dominance over the Sooners in the 2023-24 season, then Oklahoma should be begging to play Oklahoma State as a non-conference opponent in the 2024-25 season. You can’t walk away from a rivalry that’s more than a century old having been dominated so thoroughly dominated in recent meetings.

College basketball needs juice early in the season, and this game would bring some. Play it every November, alternating between campuses. Home-court advantage has proven massive in the rivalry with the Cowboys enjoying a 61.3% winning percentage in Stillwater and the Sooners winning 70.5% of the games in Norman. Don’t let conference realignment kill all semblance of common sense. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State must continue playing each other every season. — David Cobb

Texas vs. Baylor
Texas is on the rise and the jokes about the Longhorns’ football program being “back” don’t apply to the program that Rodney Terry is running. The Longhorns had their best season since the 2007-08 campaign and won 29 games despite major turmoil that included Chris Beard being fired at the start of the new year.

With Texas departing for the SEC in 2024, a matchup with an in-state rival should be on the books immediately. Texas looks as if they’re reading to take the next step with Terry being the man in charge. As for Baylor, they have been one of the most competitive programs in the country under Scott Drew and won a national championship in 2021.

When you think of Big 12 rivals, Texas-Baylor isn’t necessarily at the top of the list, but it’s still a very competitive series. Baylor owns a 22-20 all-time edge over Texas since 2005 and both programs look to be in the contender tier for seasons to come. The best solution would be to play this game at the start of the season. Both teams would likely be ranked near the top of the polls and it could set the tone for the season. Conference realignment shouldn’t rob college basketball fans of seeing good basketball between two soon-to-be ex-conference foes. — Cameron Salerno