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.

NBA looking into 76ers star’s comments that Daryl Morey is a ‘liar,’ per report

The NBA has opened an investigation into the nature of Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden’s public comments about team president Daryl Morey, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne. While on tour in China earlier this week, Harden called Morey a “liar” and said he would “never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of.”

The goal of the league’s inquiry is to determine whether Harden was suggesting that he would begin a holdout, which is a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, or if he was referencing previous contractual discussions that could be proof of the team circumventing the salary cap.

Harden has reportedly maintained in private that his comments were strictly about Morey deciding to end trade discussions earlier this month and that he’ll report to training camp if necessary. If that is the case, then neither party would be punished, but the investigation is only just underway.

It’s worth noting that the league investigated the Sixers for similar concerns last offseason after Harden signed a team-friendly two-year $68.6 million deal, which allowed them to sign PJ Tucker and Danuel House. The league did not find any proof of a handshake deal that Harden would be taken care of in the future for taking less money, but they did strip the Sixers of two second-round picks for discussing contracts with Tucker and House prior to free agency.

That two-year deal Harden signed included a player option for next season, and it was widely expected that Harden would opt out and enter unrestricted free agency this summer. Instead, he decided to opt in but simultaneously requested a trade. His preferred destination was the Los Angeles Clippers, but the two sides have not been able to work out a deal, which led Morey to pull the plug and instruct Harden to report to camp.

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Harden responded with his comments in China, which took the NBA world by storm. He made further noise upon returning to Houston by saying “I think so” when asked if his relationship with Morey and the Sixers was beyond repair. “I’ve been patient all summer,” Harden said. “For me, it’s just focus on what I can control and getting ready for this season.”

The Sixers will begin training camp on Oct. 3 ahead of a crucial season for the franchise. Whether Harden will be there remains to be seen.

Tee Morant holds son Ja Morant accountable for suspension, says star guard ‘got in trouble for his decisions’

Tee Morant, the father of embattled Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant, candidly held his son accountable for the actions that have led to his suspension while speaking to campers at the Up Next Elite Camp in New Orleans. Morant, a two-time NBA All-Star and the league’s 2020 Rookie of the Year, was suspended for the first 25 games of the 2023-24 NBA season after flashing a gun on Instagram Live on two separate occasions.

Speaking to the campers, the elder Morant reminded the young attendees to “be mindful of every decision you make,” using his own son’s example to illustrate his point. Rather than claim that his son got in trouble because of the people he chose to associate himself with, Morant reminded the campers that his son was solely responsible for his actions.

“My son didn’t get in trouble for people around him — he got in trouble for his decisions,” Morant said. “So always be mindful of every decision y’all make, because it can pretty much take over you and consume you and make you think that you’re who you’re not. … I’m just telling y’all, just make the right decisions, alright?”

“My son didn’t get in trouble [because] of the people around him. He got in trouble because of his decisions.”

Tee Morant spoke to kids at the ‘Up Next Elite Camp’ about his son Ja Morant when asked how to handle opinions from others.

(via @relmyers)

— Ball Don’t Lie (@Balldontlie) August 19, 2023
Morant’s trouble started on March 4, when he brandished a firearm at a Denver nightclub while livestreaming on Instagram following a victory over the Denver Nuggets. 10 weeks later — and after being suspended eight games for his actions — Morant flashed a gun yet again while livestreaming in a car driving through Memphis, leading to him being suspended for 25 games.

Morant will now miss a third of the season and will not be eligible to return until December.