Thursday, April 26, 2018

Could the Golden Knights beat an all-star team from every other expansion draft in NHL history?

The Vegas Golden Knights are the greatest expansion team we’ve ever seen. That point isn’t really up for debate anymore — by earning 109 points during the season and then sweeping their way to the second round of the playoffs, the Knights have already surpassed anything any other newcomer had ever accomplished. Forget the NHL — they’re the best expansion story in pro-sports history.

So today, as the Knights prepare to open their second-round series against the Sharks, let’s see how they stack up against the rest of the NHL’s expansion teams. As in, all of them.

We’re going to put this year’s Golden Knights up against a roster made up of the best picks of all the other NHL expansion teams of the modern era combined. That’s 25 teams, if you’re keeping track, assembled through a dozen different drafts dating back to 1967.

First, a few ground rules. We’ll count the four WHA teams from the convoluted 1979 process as part of our pool, but only the players who were part of the actual expansion draft, not the dispersal or reclamation portions — sorry, Wayne Gretzky and his personal-services contract can’t suit up for our team. We’re also looking at only the first year after the player was picked (since that’s all we have to go on for the Knights), so players like Bernie Parent and Billy Smith that blossomed into stars years later won’t help us. And we’re only counting players who were chosen in the expansion draft, not any first-year draft picks or trade acquisitions.

That last bit gives the Knights a slight advantage, since they had the benefit of adding players like Reilly Smith and Shea Theodore from trades, but we’ll allow it given they’re otherwise outnumbered 25-to-1 here. The Knights may be the most successful expansion team ever, but surely the best of the rest of the league’s history can unite to take them down.

Or can they? Let’s figure it out.


Starter: John Vanbiesbrouck (Panthers)

This one isn’t an especially tough call. Vanbiesbrouck had already won a Vezina in New York, but with only one spot to protect a goalie and a younger Mike Richter on the roster the Rangers couldn’t keep both. He was phenomenal in the Panthers’ first season, finishing as a finalist for both the Hart and Vezina while leading the team to within a point of the playoffs.

Backups: Glenn Hall (Blues) and Guy Hebert (Ducks)

Goaltender is historically the deepest position for expansion teams to choose from, so there’s no surprise that we have plenty of strong choices available. Heck, arguably the greatest goalie of all time was once exposed in the same expansion draft that saw Vanbiesbrouck and Hebert snapped up — but Dominik Hasek went unclaimed, one year before winning his first Vezina.

Still, we could have also gone with names like Terry Sawchuk, Doug Favell or Tomas Vokoun, among others. (But not Darren Puppa — he didn’t join the Lightning until their second season.)

The Knights: Marc-Andre Fleury‘s season rivals Vanbiesbrouck’s as the best ever recorded by an expansion goaltender. But while the rest of the Knight’s goalies filled in admirably early in the year when Fleury was hurt, they don’t match up to Hall and Hebert.

Edge: The all-expansion squad wins on the basis of depth, although it’s closer than it should be.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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