I wonder if there was a sportsbook who, at one time, offered a line on which of the four major sports leagues would put a team in Vegas first. If that prop was ever offered, or if perhaps two drinking buddies made a similar bet leaning against the wood of their local haunt, one would have to imagine that the NHL would have the longest odds.
But here we are, 17 years into the new millennium, and Las Vegas, Nevada has an NHL team.
With just over a week to go until the NHL season starts, Pinnacle has Vegas at +11886 to win the Stanley Cup, +7615 to win the Western Conference and +3020 to win the Pacific Division. The Canadian Sportsbook has set their O/U at 67.5 points.
The Golden Knights went into the expansion draft with their eye on the future. The team’s GM, George McPhee, worked out a slew of side deals with teams to take some bad contracts in return for draft picks and other assets. Still, a look up and down the Vegas roster and it’s hard to call them a terrible team, but as expected, the roster has some big flaws.
|Jonathan Marchessault||Vadim Shipachyov||James Neal|
|David Perron||Cody Eakin||Reilly Smith|
|Erik Haula||Wiliam Karlsson||Oscar Lindberg|
|Will Carrier||Pierre-Edouard Bellemarre||Teemu Pulkkinen|
It’s nearly impossible to get a good idea of how a team that’s never played together will fare over a long season, but there’s some talent in this unit, albeit none of it game-breaking. Vadim Shipachyov comes over from the KHL after standing out on a SKA St. Petersburg team that also featured Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk. The 30-year-old center has been over a point-per-game player for three consecutive KHL seasons and finished last year with 76 points over 50 games.
Flanking the Russian will be 2016-17 breakout star Jonathan Marchessault and veteran sniper James Neal. Of all the players left exposed by their respective teams, Marchessault (Panthers) and Neal (Predators) were probably among the most surprising. Marchessault is coming off a 30-goal campaign and has been a positive possession player over his NHL career.
Outside of Shipachyov, Vegas is pretty weak down the middle. Asking either Cody Eakin or William Karlsson to act as a No. 2 center is a tall order, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemarre is not very good, even as a fourth-line center.
The Knights could see a bounceback year from Reilly Smith, who put up a 25-25 season with the Panthers in 2015-16. At this point, we already have a good idea of the type of player David Perron is, but there are a few intriguing names as we travel a little further down the depth chart.
Both Oscar Lindberg and Erik Haula have had positive impacts in limited roles with their former clubs and with an expected uptick in minutes with the Knights, it wouldn’t be surprising to see both of them around the 40-point plateau.
|Brayden McNabb||Shea Theodore|
|Nate Schmidt||Colin Miller|
|Deryk Engelland||Jason Garrison|
|Luca Sbisa||Griffin Reinhart|
|Clayton Stoner||Jon Merrill|
Both of these depth charts are educated guesses at how the Knights will line up, but the defense is definitely a little murkier than the forwards. It seems sensible that the top six in the table above would be the unit that the Knights go with barring any injuries, but like with everything else with this team, there’s no guarantees.
Nate Schmidt is an analytics darling due to his ability to push play from the back-end, but he’s succeeded against soft competition so far. The same logic can be applied to Shea Theodore, Colin Miller and Brayden McNabb. Each of them have passed their first test as NHLers, but they will be asked much bigger questions this season.
It is tough to suggest to place a bet on an expansion team, but there’s more to like than to not like with Vegas, and it starts with their goaltending. Fleury may not be a star, but he’s certainly a viable NHL starting goalie. If he stays healthy, he will keep the Knights in most games and will help the defense in front of him gel.
Calvin Pickard struggled on a horrible Avalanche team last year, but he has shown enough in his career to think that Vegas has a decent deputy behind Fleury.
As expected, there are more questions than answers with the NHL’s 31st team. But one thing they will have on their side is that other teams will have a tough time preparing for a team that has never played a game. They could catch teams off guard and be a live dog, especially in the early going.
As stated above and in Part III of our NHL Preview, it’s hard to justify a wager on an expansion team, but if you’re a new fan and want to hop on the bandwagon, the over 67.5 points seems worth a second look. Additionally, with a new team it will take some time for the bookmakers to adjust and get a good feel for the Knights. Hockey is already such a volatile sport that upsets happen on a nightly basis, so there figures to be decent value in backing Vegas in the early part of the season.
Photo: Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today