Golden Knights sweep the Los Angeles Kings

Yep, you heard that right. The Vegas Golden Knights are the first team moving on to the second round after sweeping the Los Angeles Kings in their first-round matchup. Each game was very hard-fought and tight until the end, as every game was decided by only one goal; including a double-overtime game in game two.

Star Of The Series: Marc-Andre Fleury

golden knights sweep

(Photo By: Sharon Herald)

The star of the series very easily could have been the opposing goaltender Jonathan Quick, but Fleury had to make his fair share of game-saving saves as well.

In round one Fleury put up awe-inspiring numbers. Fleury sported an incredible .65 goals against average along with a .970 save percentage. Both numbers are good for first in the NHL postseason so far.

Fleury’s best performance came in game four when he was able to stop all 31 of the Los Angeles Kings shots to help the Golden Knights secure a one to nothing victory on the way to the teams first ever playoff series win.

Who Is Next?

The Golden Knights will be facing the winner of the Anaheim Ducks versus San Jose Sharks series. Currently, the Sharks hold a three game to none lead over the Ducks and have dominated in each of those games.

San Jose is carrying a goaltender that is playing just as good as Fleury, but the Sharks also have the offense to match.

If these two teams are to meet in the second round, it is undoubtedly going to be an exciting series. The Golden Knights were underdogs versus the Kings as many of the experts across the nation picked them to lose to Los Angeles in the first round.

Resiliency

Vegas has shown that they are not going to back down from a fight. Beating the Kings was no easy task, let alone sweeping them. Riding the back of Marc-Andre Fleury this team has all the tools to make a run at the Stanley Cup.

The Knights proved in this series that they are for real and it is time the hockey world takes note. Their regular season run was not a fluke; it is what they are. It is going to take a lot to stop Vegas, and I am not sure that any team has the tools to take them down in a seven-game series.

 

Featured image by USA Today

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lucky this postseason

Series outlook: Vegas looks to get lucky this postseason

The Golden Knights have broken all expansion barriers and winning a playoff series is the next obstacle in their way. The Kings will be a very tough opponent for Vegas, and this series is sure to be one of the best ones of the first round. Like all playoff series’ in the NHL, the Knights will have to be a bit lucky this postseason to win.

Vegas Playing As A Team

What has made Vegas work, is their ability to work as one unit. Vegas does not have star power on the offensive or defensive end, but they all work very well together as a unit. The Knights had seven players score more than 40 points during the 2017-18 season which was among the top numbers in the league. For the Golden Knights to win in the postseason, it will be critical for them to stick to this formula.

Team Defense

Vegas plays excellent team defense. Their defensemen have done a great job all season of swarming the puck and forcing bad decisions. The Knights finished the season with the second highest takeaway total in the entire NHL. They also had a great takeaway to giveaway ratio at 1.1.

The Golden Knights were able to keep the goaltender relatively clean this season, and when you have a goalie the caliber of Fleury, it makes it very easy to win games. Because of this Andre-Fleury was able to have one of the best even-strength save percentages in the entire NHL with a ..931. He has this save percentage on the 10th least shot attempts in the whole NHL.

William Karlsson

lucky this postseason

(Photo By: Stephen R. Sylvanie – USA TODAY Sports)

Even though the Knights don’t have a superstar the one player you would pick to be the leader is William Karlsson. Karlsson’s career-high 78 points led the Golden Knights, and his 43 goals had him ranked third in the entire NHL.

Karlsson did have success against the Kings this season in the four games he appeared. Karlsson tallied three goals and one assist, along with a plus/minus rating of +3. The Knights are 2-1-1 in those games. If William Karlsson can continue to play well, the Golden Knights will have a very good chance at beating the Kings this series.

Kings Lockdown Defense

Like many of the Pacific division teams, the Kings play physical defense that results in low scoring battles. Los Angeles finished the season with a 2.43 goals against average which was good for the lowest total in the NHL.
Penalty Kill

The Kings had an incredibly good penalty kill in the 2017-18 season. They finished first in the NHL with an 85 percent success rate. The Kings are a team that doesn’t take too many penalties, but when they do they kill them very efficiently.

Vegas’ power play ranks ninth in the NHL so the Kings penalty kill will be put to the test, The Kings will have their hands full with Vegas’ power play, but holding them to five on five play will be their best shot.

Anze Kopitar

lucky this postseason

(Photo By: NHL.com)

Kopitar dominated the offensive side of the ice for the Kings this season. Anze finished the season with 92 points and the next closest player on the Kings had 61. Kopitar was consistently the best player on the ice and he proved it by being a force on the offensive end. In four games against the Knights this season Anze tallied two goals and three assists. If he can play at a high level against the Knights, this series could shift in LA’s favor.

Series Prediction

The Golden Knights have a good chance at winning this series, and it is because they match up very well. The Kings have a very good penalty kill, but when they play five on five, they tend to struggle. Vegas has had a balanced attack all season, and it is what will separate them from the Kings in this one.

If the Kings are going to take this one they are going to have to have to steal a win in the first game. I believe the momentum will be too strong to overcome if the Kings allow Vegas to win game one. The Kings have a very strong at home, but the Knights are a good road team that has good chance to neutralize Los Angeles’ strengths.

I like the Knights to win this series, but it will not come easy. This series will take a lot of both teams and will most likely go to seven games.

Vegas wins the series: 4-3

Featured image by USA Today

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Super 8

Not so Super 8-February 9

And we are back with this week’s “Not so Super 8”.

There was quite a bit of shifting this week in the Super 16, some of which I am not totally in agreement with. I mean sure the Golden Knights lost a couple games in regulation. That doesn’t mean they deserve to be dropped to the third spot.

This week also had a lot fewer teams that even deserved to be in consideration. Most of the teams that missed the Super 16 are on huge slides right now.

Let’s get right to it.

Super 8LA Kings

WHY DID THEY MISS?

This one is tough. They are on a two game win streak, their record the past 10 is 5-5-0 and they are in the top 16 in the NHL. It really just game down to choosing between them, San Jose and Anaheim.

Super 8

Offensive statistics for the LA Kings (Screenshot from NHL.com)choosing between them, San Jose and Anaheim.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

We need to start seeing more production offensively from players other than Anze Kopitar. Just take a look at their offensive stat breakdown. Kopitar leads the team in points by almost 20 above Drew Doughty. And while there is nothing wrong with defensemen who are offensively minded, why the hell is Doughty above any other forward in point production?

In addition to this, Jonathan Quick is not playing his best for the Kings. With only a 2.51 GAA and a .919 S% he really needs to cement his place as the Kings’ number one guy in the crease.

Philadelphia FlyersSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Flyers did pretty well this week, so much like the Kings, I am not super sure. Also on a two game win streak and sporting an even better record the past 10 games of 6-3-1, I think they also could’ve had a spot in the Super 16.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

It is too bad the Flyers don’t have better goalies because they have three players with plus 50 point production. The struggles in the crease are killing the team. With Brian Elliot and Michal Neuvirth combing for a dismal 2.67 GAA and a .910 S%. They need a pick me up or their woes will continue.

Super 8Carolina Hurricanes

WHY DID THEY MISS?

This is where the play quality takes a steep drop in the list. The Hurricanes are at an okay 4-5-1 the past 10 games. They have been 9-10-1 their past 20 so they are really playing pretty averagely right now.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

They are only pulling out close wins against average or less than average teams and they are getting smoked by good teams. The Hurricanes really need to find a way to pull out wins against the better teams if they want to move up in the league at all. They need more offensive production but they really won’t ever win games if their goaltending continues to be awful. Cam Ward and Scott Darling combine for even worse numbers that Elliot and Neuvirth, with a 2.85 GAA and a .901 S%. I mean those numbers are just awful and potentially the worst in the league with the exception of the Coyotes.

Florida PanthersSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Panthers missed purely because of actual ranking in the NHL. Other than that they are on fire, they have won four straight games and are 6-4-0 in their last 10.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

In their six games before the win streak they had 27 goals against. That is 4.5 goals per game, and it is completely unacceptable. Roberto Luongo needs to step up in a big way to keep their goal differential lower. This team could easily be in the top 16 in the league, they have the pieces to the puzzle. They just need to execute.

New York IslandersSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

They have lost one and are 3-5-2 their last 10. They are gathering points but just not quite enough to keep them on par with the Super 16.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

Win. In. Regulation. A couple of their regulation losses have been by a one goal margin. In addition to that they lost twice in overtime. They need to start pulling that second point instead of settling for one. Also they lost to the Coyotes and the Sabres in that time frame. Those are the worst two teams in the league a win in both of those games flips their past 10 record to a better than average 5-3-2.

Columbus Blue JacketsSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Blue Jackets are closer to being in the league’s top 16 than a lot of the teams above them. They missed because of the three game slide they are on right now with a past 10 game record of 3-6-1.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

They need to start getting contributions from their key players. Josh Anderson is leading in goals with 16 and Artemi Panarin leads in points with 42. That’s fine and all, bit where are Zach Werenski, Nick Foligno and Alexander Wennberg? I found them. Way down the stat sheet not really contributing to their team.

Chicago BlackhawksSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

I was really starting to grasp at straws here. The Blackhawks record the past 10 is 2-6-2. That pretty much speaks for itself.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

With the amount of star power this team has, it never ceases to baffle me how badly they are doing this year. They are just waiting for something to click, and when it does I am sure they’ll be back to their winning ways.

Edmonton OilersSuper 8

WHY DID THEY MISS?

The Oilers are just finally starting to figure things out this season. It is too late at this point. Their 5-4-0 record the past 10 is okay and it’s far better than most of the bottom dwellers they share real estate with.

WHAT CAN THEY CHANGE?

It can’t be just “The Connor McDavid Show” anymore. The kid is LITERALLY carrying the team to victory. He scores the majority of the goals whether they win or lose, and there isn’t much other offensive production.

I have no bonus team this week because every team that did not make the Super 16 cut was relatively average. Whereas in the past teams have been snubbed.

Team logos and featured image courtesy of NHL.com

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Vegas setting a new standard for expansion franchises

The Vegas Golden Knights have put together a historic first season so far and continue to impress game after game. The Golden Knights have taken the bar set by previous expansion franchises and raised it to an unimaginable level. Following the team’s 34th win of the season on Thursday night, let’s reflect on their historic season thus far.

 

A Hot Start

Vegas came out of the gate ready to play. They started out winning their first three games and eight of their first nine. This was easily the best start for an expansion franchise in the history of the NHL. The team went to overtime in three of their first seven games, and came out the winner in all three. They showed early that they weren’t a team to be taken lightly just because they were new to the league.

 

Goaltending Depth

The Golden Knights have been forced to start four different goaltenders this season. During the first quarter of the season there was a stretch of games where the team was plagued by multiple goalie injuries. Marc-Andre Fleury went down after just four games and Malcom Subban got the starting nod in his place. Even without their starting goalie, Vegas didn’t miss a beat and kept the wins coming. Fleury and Subban have accumulated incredible stats this season when healthy. Fleury owns a 14-4-2 record with an incredible 1.79 goals-against-average (GAA) and a .942 save percentage. Subban has earned a sparkling 11-3-1 record this season when between the pipes.

 

Expansion

Starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
(Photo from AP Photo/LM Otero)

Eventually Subban would go down with an injury and third-stringer Oscar Dansk was asked to carry the load. Again the Golden Knights carried on seemingly unfazed as they rolled to three wins in four of his games played. Dansk owns great numbers in his limited action, a 3-0 record with a 1.78 GAA and .946 save percentage.

 

As if it couldn’t get worse, Dansk would also fall victim to an injury. Fourth-stringer Maxime Lagace was the next man up between the pipes. While his numbers aren’t as stellar as the three other netminders, he helped the team to a 6-6-1 record during his play. That’s 13 out of a possible 26 points that the team earned with him in net. His play helped keep the team afloat as their goaltending depth wore thin, there’s not much more you can ask from a fourth-string goalie.

Reliable Goalscoring

The Golden Knights are a team made up mainly of players that weren’t retained by the other 30 NHL teams. While you’d expect these players to produce subpar numbers, that hasn’t been the case. Vegas has three 20+ goal scorers and another two close to that milestone. Plus, they have three skaters with over 40 points and another three above the 30 point mark.

Expansion

Golden Knights leading scorer Jonathan Marchessault
(Photo from sportingnews.com)

Jonathan Marchessault has produced 18 goals and another 30 assists to lead the team with 48 points. He’s averaging exactly a point per game as he’s played in 48 of the team’s 51 games. Marchessault was a breakout player for the Florida Panthers a season ago, but was shockingly not protected after the season. Vegas wasted no time and nabbed him during the expansion draft.

Marchessault has made sure to make the Panthers pay for not protecting him. Vegas doesn’t plan on making the same mistake, they’ve since locked him up long-term with a 6-year $30 million deal.

David Perron and William Karlsson round out the top three in points for Vegas. Perron with 46 points and Karlsson with 44. Karlsson, selected from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the expansion draft, leads the team in goals with 27. That number puts him tied for third in the league in that stat and only five goals behind the league-leader, Alex Ovechkin. Perron holds the team lead in assists with 33, only two short of his season-best from back in 2008-2009, but he still has 31 games to play.

The Record

It only took 50 games for the Golden Knights to set a new record for most wins in an inaugural season by an expansion franchise. By downing the Winnipeg Jets in overtime on Thursday night, Vegas set the new record at 34 wins, breaking tie with the 1993 Florida Panthers. The craziest part, is that the Golden Knights still have another 32 games left on the schedule following Thursday night’s win over the Jets. Given how well they’ve played this season, it’s not crazy to imagine that they push the record to somewhere between 50-55 games.

Current Standings

With 31 games left the Golden Knights sit atop the Western Conference standings with 72 points. They only trail the Tampa Bay Lightning by one point for the league lead and own a 2-0 head-to-head record against them this season.

Not only do they lead the West in points, but they also lead the West in goals for (173). They’re tied for second in the league with the New York Islanders (173) and only trail the Tampa Bay Lightning (183).

It’s beginning to look like the Vegas Golden Knights will be the first expansion team in the last 26 years to secure a postseason berth.

 

A New Expansion Standard?

However long it takes for the next NHL expansion franchise to come to fruition, they better start preparing now. They’ll be heavily scrutinized and compared to the incredible season the Golden Knights have put together. Most wouldn’t expect the first season of an expansion franchise to do this well, but Vegas has raised the bar very high. There’s no longer a free-pass for a subpar first season, competing for a playoff spot could be the new expectation set by the greatest NHL expansion franchise of all time.

 

Featured picture courtesy of nhl.com/goldenknights

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pacific division

Pacific Division Uprising

The Pacific Division is not often compared to the likes of the Central. However, this week’s power rankings have some new members in the top 10 that has the division making some noise.

The Vegas Golden Knights, San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames all find themselves climbing the ranks of the NHL.

This is the first time the Pacific has had at least three representatives in the top 10 since October 19th (post week two of the regular season).

The depth does not compete with the Central..but they do have the conference leader (Vegas) and the same number of teams in this week’s top 10.

What do this teams do well? What do they need to work on? Are either of these teams a true contender?

Let’s do it.

Viva Las Dangles

pacific division

Photo from NHL.com

There is no team discussed more recently than the Golden Knights… and they deserve it.

What they do well:

Kill penalties – (23-for-23 since December 19th)..

Win close games – (14-4-3 in one-goal games)..

Kick pucks out – (1.98 team goals against average and a .936 team save percentage).

What they need to work on:

The power play – (1 for their last 27 since December 19th, 17% overall/23rd in the league).

Are they a true contender? Yes.

The Knights have a number one goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury and are 15-6-1 against current playoff teams. Vegas has posted wins against Winnipeg, Tampa Bay and Washington (the three other first place teams in the NHL). They currently sit at number two in this week’s power rankings and atop the Pacific Division.

Newly shark invested waters

pacific division

Photo from NHL.com

The Sharks are one of the newest members of the top 10 from the Pacific Division.

What do they do well:

The power play – (scored one PPG in 14 of their last 17 games/20-for-64 since December 7th, 23% overall/5th in the NHL).

Winning at home and on the road – (13-6-2 on home ice/11-7-4 on the road)..

Work their goalie tandem – (Aaron Dell/backup/1A goalie is 10-3-0 w/a 2.26 GAA and a .925 save percentage).

What do they need to work on:

Plus/minus – (11 players are in the minus column and are only +9 as a team).

Are they a true contender? No.

San Jose comes in at nine in this week’s power rankings and currently sit in second place in the Pacific. They hold a modest 10-8-2 record against present playoff teams and will most likely be playoff bound. However, the Sharks have a 2-7-1 record against teams with a better record than them. The Sharks are hot, but don’t seem deep enough to compete with higher ranked teams in the postseason.

The flames are hot…naturally

pacific division

Photo from NHL.com

Tied for the Sharks in points and more new members from the Pacific in the top 10 are the Calgary Flames. Coming into Thursday, this club is on a seven-game win streak (longest active streak in NHL).

What do they do well:

Special Teams – (During this streak they are 22 for 24 on the PK and 5 for 20 on the PP).

Road Warriors – (They are a league-best 13-5-4 on the road)..

Johnny Gaudreau – (15 goals/39 assists/54 points in 45 games)..

Balanced goalie tandem – (Smith/Rittich have a combined 2.25 GAA and .928 save percentage).

What do they need to work on:

Play at home – (Flames are a modest 12-11-0 on home ice this year).

Goal Differential – (Calgary is just +6 as a team so far this year).

Are they a true contender? Possibly.

The Flames come in at number 10 in this week’s power rankings. They have a solid 11-7-2 record against current playoff teams. Three of those wins have come against first place Washington, Tampa and Winnipeg. Calgary is led by a ferocious young core that can skate with anyone and will be a tough out come playoff time.

Don’t sleep on this one either…

We did just talk about the Central Division being the most ultra competitive division.

Although this is true, the Pacific is right up there.

This is a division with the leader (Vegas) having a 7-point cushion…but there is a log jam right in the middle with only three points separating second to fifth place.

The contender portion of this article may be true, but San Jose, Calgary and Vegas for that matter haven’t proven anything yet..LA and Anaheim are very much motivated to wreak havoc on the division with a great deal of hockey left to be played.

These three teams are hot..but all must be focused on staying hot all the way to mid-April.

 

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NHL All-Star Game

NHL All-Star Game: The stars, the surprises and the snubbed

On Wednesday the NHL announced the roster for the 2018 NHL All-Star Game (ASG) in Tampa Bay, FL.

Most of the players that made the cut were obvious choices: Connor McDavid, Anze Kopitar, Nikita Kucherov, etc.

However, a good amount of players that made the team don’t quite fit the bill. There were a lot of quality players that didn’t make the cut in favor of less qualified players.

THE STARS

There are two different categories for the stars in the ASG.

You have the obvious, always have and will be all-stars such as Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, McDavid and more.

There are the stand alone stars who’s teams are seeing mediocre seasons but they still stand out such as: Mike Green, Johnny Gaudreau and Jack Eichel.

Granted the Penguins, Oilers and Blackhawks are having less than stellar seasons so Crosby, McDavid and Kane could all be included in this group too, but lets face it; it’ll be a cold day in hell when these guys aren’t on this roster.

THE SURPRISES

Here we have a category of players who either surprised me (in a good way) individually this year or they come from a surprisingly good hockey team (looking at you Vegas).  In this group we see: James Neal, Marc Andre-Fleury and John Klingberg (are you kidding me, 33 assists as a D-man?).

Some additions in this group of surprises are: Josh Bailey, right winger for the New York Islanders, who is sporting impressive numbers this season in goals and assists for the floundering team. Bailey has a career plus/minus of -31 so this season is definitely a turn around for him.

Aleksander Barkov a center for the Florida Panthers is also somewhat of a rising star this season.  With 14 goals, 21 assists and a +4 rating; Barkov has definitely surprised hockey fans (especially with his flashy shootout moves). (Youtube link from Puck Daily)

In addition to these positive surprises I also have a list of “how the hell did you make it on this roster”.

Starting us off. Carey Price. I get that they are picking a player from each team, but even the shockingly bad Canadiens have better to offer this season.  After missing a handful of games due to injury, Price returned and has since been sporting a 2.89 GAA and a .911 S% over 29 games.

Our second victim in this category is Oliver Ekman-Larsson. This is by far the worst selection of the ASG. Sitting at 6 goals and 13 assists with an absolutely HORRENDOUS plus/minus of -34, Ekman-Larsson’s name doesn’t belong anywhere near the word all-star. Honestly, just give Shane Doan an alumni appearance in his place.

The final selection for the (bad) surprises is Rickard Rakell. He isn’t a bad player, he just isn’t the best the Anaheim Ducks or the Pacific has to offer. He has a respectable goal count with 15 but he only has 16 assists and a -6 rating.

THE SNUBBED

Speaking of that surprise selection from the Ducks, where is Ryan Getzlaf on this roster? I get that he only has 4 goals this season, but with 20 assists, a +9 rating and his leadership qualities he seems like a better choice for the ASG.

Mark Giordano somehow slipped under the radar for this year’s ASG. Coming from one of the best defensive cores in the NHL it is amazing that no D-men from the Calgary Flames made this roster. Dougie Hamilton could’ve easily been taken in place of Ekman-Larsson as well.

NHL All-Star Game

These are the top five forwards for the Vegas Golden Knights.   (Screenshot from NHL.com)

Finally we have the omission of Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson.

Marchessault leads the Golden Knights in points with 40 (16 goals and 24 assists) and Karlsson is right behind him with 36 (22 goals and 14 assists). James Neal made the roster in favor of these two which is shocking to me, especially if you look at the statistical breakdown of the Golden Knights’ forwards.

 

 

 

The Wrap Up

Overall, I am not impressed by this year’s ASG roster. Just bring back the fan vote (I want to see more John Scotts in the ASG) or the draft because that at least would make things more exciting and dramatic.

The 3-on-3 format is nice because it’ll keep things moving and showcase more speed so at least that will be interesting.

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Grades for the latest NHL trades

Browsing social media this week, hockey fans were champing at the bit for newsworthy NHL trades. There were minor deals as the expansion draft passed, and the suspense only grew as the NHL Draft approached.

It’s safe to say that the fans got their wishes.

The past two days have featured former first round picks, backup goaltenders and Stanley Cup champions. If that wasn’t enough, there are likely more coming even before free agency hits on July 1. Until that happens, let’s analyze the top NHL trades that went down before the draft.

Golden Knights ship Trevor van Riemsdyk to Hurricanes

Trevor’s time in Vegas was short-lived, as the expansion team acquired a 2017 second round pick for trading him and a 2018 seventh round selection.

van Riemsdyk is a young asset heading to a younger team. One needs perspective when analyzing his season. He missed time with an upper-body injury which underscored his stats. Still, he was +17 with 100 blocks and 16 points in 58 games.

The former Blackhawk joins three former teammates in Teuvo Teravainen, Joakim Nordstrom and Scott Darling. Perhaps that can help his transition. He’s a capable right-handed shot that helps Carolina get younger and faster. Vegas adds another high draft pick to build their team.

Grade: B+ for Carolina, B for Vegas

Oilers and Islanders swap Jordan Eberle and Ryan Strome

Jordan Eberle was the first of what Isles fans hope to be more NHL trades.

Jordan Eberle heads to the Big Apple. Photo by Andy Devlin, NHLI via Getty Images.

New York getting Eberle long seemed inevitable, but it was intriguing how it occurred. It was a one-for-one swap after many reports had Edmonton seeking a prospect or draft picks.

This was an excellent move from Isles general manager Garth Snow. He paid a heavy price in a first-rounder to prevent Vegas from taking a number of players, and it essentially means they traded it for Eberle.

The former first-round pick disappointed with the Oilers after scoring just 51 points. Pairing with his world championship teammate, John Tavares should boost his input and give Tavares confidence to sign in New York long-term.

As for Edmonton, this was a move that helps more for cap than on-ice skill. They ship $6 million on Eberle’s contract, which helped them extend defenseman Kris Russell. It also increases cap space for when Hart winner Connor McDavid needs a new deal.

As for Strome, he didn’t live up to his fifth overall selection with just one 50-point campaign in four years. He could benefit from a new environment, but on the ice, the Oilers don’t benefit as much. Edmonton could’ve received more for Eberle, it seemed.

Grade: A for New York, B- for Edmonton

Canadiens bring in David Schlemko from Golden Knights

Vegas sends out another expansion draft pick for a 2019 pick. This was a minor move from both sides, which didn’t have to give up much.

Montreal needed defensive help after shipping prospect Mikhail Sergachev and Nathan Beaulieu. In Schlemko, they get a blue liner with back-to-back double-digit point seasons. The 30-year-old vet had 112 blocks and a 53.6 percent Corsi rating. It’s not a major step forward; he hasn’t played a full season. If he’s healthy, he helps.

Grade: B for Montreal, INC for Vegas with draft pick too far away to judge

Niklas Hjalmarsson moves from Blackhawks to the Coyotes

Niklas Hjalmarsson's move to Arizona ignited the flurry of NHL trades.

Niklas Hjalmarsson is headed to the Coyotes. Photo by Matt Marton, AP.

This is when the NHL trades started to boil. Chicago sent their 10-year defenseman to Arizona for defenseman Connor Murphy and forward Laurent Dauphin.

Even though Arizona’s front office is in a tenuous phase, they still took a big swing for a three-time Stanley Cup winner. He logged over 20 minutes per game in the past six seasons and had a career-high 181 blocks last season. He has excellent size, moves the puck well and can anchor the Coyotes’ blue line for a few more years.

As for Chicago, let’s just say fans were not happy about the news. They lose a strong core of their championship teams to relieve their cap.

Murphy is the better piece in the return deal, but he’s not as skilled as Hjalmarsson defensively. He’s 6-foot-4 and more lauded for his skating ability. The 2011 first-round pick can develop well under new assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson. How well he does dictates if this gamble pays off for Chicago.

Grade: A- for Arizona, C+ for Chicago with chance to work out better

Brandon Saad returns to Midway while Artemi Panarin heads to Columbus

Chicago wasn’t finished. In fact, they dropped a bomb on the NHL with this move. Saad returns to the Blackhawks along with goalie Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth-rounder. The Blue Jackets receive Panarin as well as forward Tyler Motte and a sixth round pick in today’s draft.

This is a slam dunk for Columbus. They receive a Calder Award winner with consecutive 30-goal seasons. He’s dominant on the power play and adds a versatile offensive game to a team that can use it. His contract runs for two more years at $6 million, about the same as Saad.

The decision-making behind this for Chicago stems from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Panarin’s next contract would cost too much for Chicago based on their contracts. Plus, Saad was impressive playing on Toews’s line for two Stanley Cups.

Chicago Sun-Times writer Mark Lazerus made a good point yesterday: Toews could regain his success with Saad while Kane will still produce without Panarin.

The Blackhawks have turned their team around to keep themselves atop the Western Conference. They have the chance to do that after these trades, but it’s a gamble. Columbus should get a productive Panarin, but it remains to be seen if he can contribute just as much without Kane. Each trade has its risks, but this is a balanced trade on both sides.

Grade: A- for Columbus and Chicago

Rangers dispatch Antti Raanta, Derek Stepan to Coyotes

Arizona continued to wheel and deal yesterday when they snagged their new starting goalie and a top-six forward. In exchange, young blue liner Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick, which the Rangers used to pick center Lias Andersson.

As written last week, Raanta was a name to watch in the expansion draft. When Vegas didn’t select him, Arizona was salivating. The Blueshirts’ netminder enjoyed a career season. He deserves the chance to nab the starting job.

As for Stepan, his contract was steep for New York and he’s automatically the Coyotes’ most expensive player. He’s also the best center now, recording four straight 50-point campaigns. Stepan also helps on the power play that ranked 26th last season in the desert. This was a high-upside trade that fills multiple roles. Now, about finding a head coach…

Meanwhile, New York gets younger on defense with DeAngelo. He’s just 21 years old with an offensive acumen, notching 14 points in 39 games for the Coyotes. DeAngelo is undersized and will have to improve defensively to crack the Rangers’ lineup. Andersson’s play will determine how this trade shakes out for New York. He comes from the elite HV71 in Sweden. While his skating, versatility and defense are superb, he didn’t stuff the scoresheet with 19 points in 42 league games.

Grade: A for Arizona (not just for the alphabet), B- for New York

Blue Jackets and Wild exchange forwards

Rounding out yesterday’s pre-draft NHL trades came with a small move for both teams. Dante Salituro heads to Minnesota while Jordan Schroeder goes the other way.

The 20-year-old Salituro provides goal scoring ability from a 5-foot-8 frame. He impressed in training camp and signed a three-year, two-way contract with Columbus last July. In 295 games across five OHL seasons, he tallied 122 goals and 160 assists. He won’t arrive in the Twin Cities anytime soon, but he has potential.

Schroeder is another small forward but is six years older. With the Wild this year, Schroeder scored six times for 13 points in 37 games. At 5-foot-9, he has to overcome his size. But on the ice, he has the instincts to maintain a roster spot.

Grade: B for Minnesota, C for Columbus

Blues snag Brayden Schenn from Flyer to shed Jori Lehtera

While yesterday trade hype built in the afternoon, it was quiet for most of the draft. There was a minor Blackhawks-Stars trade, but St. Louis and Philadelphia broke the silence. Schenn heads to the Blues by himself while Philly acquired Lehtera, the 27th overall pick (used on Morgan Frost) and a future conditional first-round pick. Elliotte Friedman breaks down the conditional pick.

The Blues upgrade with a more bona fide scorer in Schenn, who has 82 goals in the past three seasons. Lehtera is a great facilitator, but Schenn is an upgrade and Lehtera is making a lot of cash. The negatives for St. Louis is the possible price. They went back into the first round by trading Ryan Reaves to Pittsburgh, so the 27th doesn’t hurt. Two possible first-round picks can be a steep price.

Philadelphia can use Lehtera for depth as they ease new draft pick Nolan Patrick into the team. Frost provides speed and special teams abilities down the middle too. It seems the Flyers are prioritizing playmakers that can move the puck. Depending on where the conditional pick winds up, they can add even more pieces.

They have to replace Schenn’s production. Will they give Patrick the chance? Those two questions are the risks for Philadelphia at the moment, but ones that have quick solutions for a team on the rise.

Grade: B for St. Louis, B+ for Philadelphia

The Final Trade

As for Reaves heading to Pittsburgh, it’s icing on the cake for the Metro division. Reaves is an aggressive player that was 10th last season in hits. The Penguins love those types of players. He should perform well there as the division improves exponentially.

 

Feature image of Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman by Anthony Souffle of the Chicago Tribune

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NHL Awards predictions for the 2016-2017 season

It’s understandable to devote all the attention to tonight’s expansion draft. Lest we not forget, however, that the NHL Awards are happening too.

Perhaps it is mostly because the Vegas Golden Knights’ selections occur during the presentation, but this year’s awards are must-see as a hockey fan. From a heated Norris race to multiple options for the best coach and general manager, the finalists well deserve the recognition. These were tough decisions, but there are very few choices where the voters could err.

The postseason stat awards are already apparent: Connor McDavid collects the Art Ross trophy for the most points, Sidney Crosby the Maurice Richard award for the most goals and Braden Holtby the William Jennings nomination for allowing the fewest tallies.

Off the ice, Columbus’ Nick Foligno bagged two awards: the Mark Messier Leadership Award and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy. Travis Hamonic of the New York Islanders won the NHL Foundation Player Award.

Will these talented players receive more hardware than they already have? Find out below for the official predictions from The Game Haus.

Hart Trophy – Most Valuable Player

Connor McDavid is nominated for two NHL Awards.

Connor McDavid. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Nominees:

Oilers C Connor McDavid

Penguins C Sidney Crosby

Blue Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky

Crosby has history and hardware on his side in this race. The Pittsburgh star is a two-time Hart winner in 2007 and 2014 while collecting three Stanley Cups and two Conn Smythe Awards. McDavid and Bobrovsky are first-time nominees, with the latter reaching as high as fifth in the voting back in 2013.

The Columbus netminder had a phenomenal season, but this is a two-man race between McDavid and Crosby. McDavid bested Crosby in points even though he scored 14 less goals. The first 100-point season in Edmonton since 1995-96 is no small feat. Sid the Kid was still elite this season with 89 points.

In the end, the award is for the most valuable player. McDavid was absent on the score sheet for consecutive games just twice this year, registering points in 70 games. Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl enjoyed banner years, while Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle also performed well. McDavid’s 70 assists helped everyone’s cause, and his team reached the playoffs because of it.

Prediction: Connor McDavid

Ted Lindsay Award – NHLPA’s Most Outstanding Player

Nominees:

Oilers C Connor McDavid

Penguins C Sidney Crosby

Sharks D Brent Burns

This award seems redundant since it’s basically the MVP with a different voting pool. The only difference from the Hart is the addition of Burns, who had 76 points and 320 shots this season. Burns’ feats will be explained further in the Norris category, but he is undoubtedly worthy of a most outstanding player award. He makes this award tougher to choose.

As mentioned before, McDavid and Crosby each have worthy cases. Crosby is seeking his fourth Lindsay award, which would tie his fellow Penguin Mario Lemieux for second-most all-time. McDavid could be the third overall Oiler to win and the first since Mark Messier in 1990.

In the end, though, this is the same award as the Hart. It’s a difference of voter opinion, but it’s hard to say one clearly deserves one award while another does the other. With that in mind, this goes to the same player as the Hart, who overall was the best player this season.

Prediction: Connor McDavid

Norris Trophy – Best Defenseman

Nominees:

Lightning D Victor Hedman

Senators D Erik Karlsson

Sharks D Brent Burns

Finally, an award that McDavid can’t win! Instead, we get three players who were the backbone of their teams. Although the award technically is for the best defenseman, players over the years get more accolades for their offensive work as well. All three have played that part well this season.

Hedman has never made it to the top three in Norris voting. His 72 points this season and 53.4 percent Corsi rating have vaulted him there. Averaging 24:30 minutes of ice time is stellar. However, he’s not as talented offensively or defensively as Burns or Karlsson, so he likely won’t win.

From here’s it’s a matter of preference. Burns led the league in shots; Ray Bourque was the last defenseman to achieve that mark 22 years ago. Twenty-nine goals and almost 25 minutes of playing time per game are insane, too. He is an impressive shot blocker and a prime two-way talent.

If the award had voting through the postseason, Karlsson would win in a landslide. His postseason performance while injured was tremendous, and his 71 points, 26:50 TOI and 201 blocks are as well. However, the voting doesn’t include postseason performance. Therefore, based on a slightly better season, Karlsson will have to wait to grab his third Norris trophy.

Prediction: Brent Burns

Vezina Trophy – Best Goaltender

Nominees:

Canadiens G Carey Price

Captials G Braden Holtby

Blue Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky

This category features the top two netminders across most of the basic statistics and another who had a 10-game winning streak this season. This is the hardest player award to predict based on how close two nominees are.

First off, Carey Price will likely not win. That winning streak is impressive, and a 2.23 GAA and .923 save percentage are too. However, they dwarf in comparison to Holtby and Bobrovsky. While he carried his team to an Atlantic Division title, Washington and Columbus had better seasons. Price was great, his competition is better.

As for that competition, it’s difficult to firmly say one was better than the other. Consider Holtby’s stats: league-leading 42 wins and nine shutouts alongside a 2.07 GAA and .925 save percentage. Now, match them with Bobrovsky’s numbers: 41 wins and seven shutouts, with a league-leading 2.06 GAA and .931 save percentage. How do you decide who was better when the stats are so close?

The deciding factor may come down to the Bob’s 14-game winning streak in December. He had another seven-game unbeaten stretch. Holtby’s best was a 14-game stretch without losing in regulation. This isn’t the best tiebreaker, but voters may have put more weight.

Prediction: Sergei Bobrovsky

Calder Trophy – Best Rookie

Auston Matthews can win the first of what could be many NHL Awards

Auston Matthews. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Nominees:

Jets RW Patrik Laine

Maple Leafs C Auston Matthews

Blue Jackets D Zach Werenski

While the Hart and the Vezina are close, this one is more clear-cut. Matthews was the favorite the moment Toronto drafted him first overall in last year’s draft, but Laine and Werenski made it tougher for voters this season.

Laine scored 36 goals in his inaugural season with Winnipeg, leading the team and finishing second amongst rookies. He did it all at 18 years old. Werenski, meanwhile, was quietly the best rookie defenseman and a quality blue liner in general. He notched 47 points and was a +17 on the ice. He had more points his rookie season than Rick Nash. That’s insane to realize.

Unfortunately for both, Matthews had a special year in the NHL. This was apparent the moment he scored four times on Opening Night. He tallied 40 goals and 69 points on the season, leading the Leafs into the playoffs this season. This is an easy choice.

Prediction: Auston Matthews

Selke Award – Best Defensive Forward

Nominees:

Wild C Mikko Koivu

Bruins C Patrice Bergeron

Ducks C Ryan Kesler

There’s a mix of former nominees and newcomers for the Selke. Bergeron has won it three times and nominated three more times. Kesler won in 2011 and has finished in the top three in five total instances. Koivu is a first-time finalist who’s finished as high as fourth in voting.

Koivu had more blocked shots than points with 65 and 58 points. Kesler won over 57 percent of his faceoffs and ranked third in the NHL as a forward with an average time of 21:18 on the ice. He is likely the toughest one of the bunch to go against one-on-one.

The toughest out of all of them this year, however, as Bergeron, who did everything on the ice. He may have had fewer points, but he had more faceoff wins than Kesler (1,089 to be exact) and was more efficient in the circles. Bergeron goes up against many top lines and creates havoc on the ice. He can match Bob Gainey as the only four-time Selke winners.

Prediction: Patrice Bergeron

Other NHL Awards Predictions

Lady Byng Award for Most Gentlemanly Player – Wild C Mikael Granlund. Every nominee was a first-timer, so this is a toss-up. However, if you go 27 games without being called for a penalty, you need some kind of recognition.

Masterson Trophy for Dedication to Hockey – Senators G Craig Anderson. Easy money. His wife overcame cancer and he was lights out during her battle. The best story of the NHL this past year had a happy ending and follows up with a happy epilogue.

Jack Adams Award for Best Head Coach – Toronto’s Mike Babcock. All three candidates (Todd McLellan of Edmonton and John Tortorella of Columbus) turned around mediocre teams into playoff contenders. But did anyone expect the Leafs to go to the playoffs? Babcock created the right winning culture.

NHL General Manager of the Year – Nashville’s David Poile. His team’s run to its first Stanley Cup Final didn’t count in voting; it didn’t need to anyway. His offseason acquisition of P.K. Subban electrified the team.

 

Feature image courtesy of Cali Sports News

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Five NHL Expansion Draft names to watch

The dust in the Nevada desert has settled, but not for long. A suspenseful weekend consisted of a few trades before the NHL’s roster freeze before the NHL unveiled the lists of 30 teams’ protected players for Wednesday’s expansion draft.

There are plenty of unsurprising names for the Vegas Golden Knights to collect, and a few that no one expected to show up. As the clock begins to tick for George McPhee and Vegas, the suspense around the NHL hasn’t wavered. The Golden Knights’ general manager can still negotiate deals on unprotected players in exchange for draft picks.

While we won’t know until draft day what those deals will be, there are plenty of names to keep an eye on as it gets closer. All players listed are available as of June 18. Here are five important names to watch in the expansion draft.

Red Wings G Petr Mrazek

The Red Wings netminder is without a doubt the most surprising name left off of a protect list. Many hypothesized a Marc-Andre Fleury-Jimmy Howard tandem in Sin City. However, Detroit opted for the veteran Howard over the younger Mrazek.

The 25-year-old carries a meager $4 million cap hit for next season. He performed admirably as the Red Wings’ starter in 2015-2016, compiling a 27-16-6 record.

General Manager Ken Holland may have a short-term memory, though. Mrazek struggled last season, allowing three goals a game and stopping just 90 percent of his shots. Howard, on the other hand, posted a respectable 2.10 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

Vegas already had a delectable pallet of goalies to choose from in Fleury, Antti Raanta, Philipp Grubauer and Calvin Pickard. Add Mrazek to that list as a younger option for Vegas.

Islanders GM Garth Snow

NHL expansion draft

Islanders GM Garth Snow. Photo courtesy of CBS New York/Photo by Andy Marlin, Getty Images

Snow isn’t a player, and he isn’t on the move, even if some Islanders fans want to see that. Despite that, he’s likely the general manager to observe the most in this process.

The Islanders were the only team to shield three forwards and five defensemen using the eight-skater option. In doing so, they left interesting forwards and an intriguing defenseman up for grabs.

Brock Nelson has had three consecutive 20-goal seasons while Josh Bailey had 56 points on the top line. On the blue line, Calvin de Haan chipped in 25 points, blocked 190 shots, fourth-most in the NHL, and has averaged 20 minutes of ice time in his career.

Snow couldn’t protect all of those players, but he unexpectedly chose to protect Adam Pelech over de Haan and Nelson. Pelech logged valuable minutes under now permanent head coach Doug Weight. It’s also possible that the Isles could send picks to Vegas to have a player protected.

Nonetheless, the Islanders have playoff expectations next season. Snow will have eyes on him to see who could, or could not, end up going to Vegas.

Panthers C Jonathan Marchessault

There were reports earlier last weekend that Marchessault was on the block. Still, it was shocking to see his name available for discussion.

The 26-year-old Quebec native has improved upon each year. He exploded for a team-high 30 goals last season. Eighteen of his 51 points came on the power play. For a team that was 23rd last year in scoring, exposing your best goal scorer is risky. Pair that with his stick handling and his knack for creating his own shot, and it’s incredible he was left off.

There’s always the possibility that Florida works out a trade with Vegas. The Golden Knights could use the leverage to acquire the 10th overall pick. If McPhee doesn’t, they can just scoop Marchessault in the expansion draft. Vegas has the upper hand in this scenario, and they benefit from wherever Marchessault winds up.

Senators RW Bobby Ryan

In the big picture, Bobby Ryan’s availability is not that shocking. Ottawa went 7-3-1 in their order, which was necessary when Dion Phaneuf didn’t waive his no-movement clause. The Senators had to expose a forward and a defenseman, and Ryan was an easy target.

The question is if his stellar postseason entices Vegas. The 30-year-old right winger had a career-low 25 points in the regular season. He responded with several clutch playoff goals, finishing with six tallies and 15 points. His shot looked much better and he meshed well with his teammates. Ottawa doesn’t escape the first round without him.

With that in mind, will Ryan have that much value to Vegas? Overall, he seems on the decline. But, he is a former second overall pick and showed there’s still something left in the tank. Ultimately it comes down to whom on Ottawa’s available list entices McPhee more.

Many linked defenseman Marc Methot to the expansion draft if Ottawa went 7-3-1. With the useful options up front, Methot has more value for Vegas than Ryan. However, what happens here shows where Ryan’s current value is right not.

Rangers G Antti Raanta

NHL expansion draft

Rangers goalie Antti Raanta. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

As mentioned before, this is a deep expansion draft for goaltenders. With Fleury likely headed to the Strip, Vegas can use the other two spots for a younger netminder and a dependable veteran. Of the goalies in the latter category, Raanta has the most value for Vegas.

The Rangers have had a knack for finding backup goaltenders in the past few years. Cam Talbot flourished and now starts between the pipes for Edmonton. Raanta has almost done the same, posting a 16-8-2 record backing up Henrik Lundqvist. His minutes spiked and he stopped over 700 shots in 30 games.

Raanta is a solid backup for the Blueshirts, and the Rangers would have to figure out an alternative plan if he departs. On the other hand, if Fleury is out of service, Raanta can fill in and contribute. A Fleury-Raanta tandem is solid for a team in its inaugural season.

Vegas could even turn around and trade Raanta for other assets. Arizona is still in the market for a goalie, and teams like Winnipeg and Vancouver don’t have reliable options in net. Like Ottawa, the Rangers have other attractive options like Michael Grabner, Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast. Raanta can give Vegas the most flexibility and value.

 

Feature image courtesy of NHL.com

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Las Vegas can sustain Golden Knights as area grows

Ice and Las Vegas aren’t synonymous with one another. In fact, everyone is primarily using ice for cooling the patrons’ drinks in casinos and figure skating shows.

With all due respect, those activities are popular, but they have to start sharing the ice soon.

Starting on Sept. 26th, professional hockey begins in the Sin City when the Vegas Golden Knights play their first home game at T-Mobile Arena.

Las Vegas Golden Knights

The ice rink at T-Mobile Arena. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

The hockey world has focused its attention on Las Vegas as it witnesses the first expansion team since 2000. Fans have already brought into the hype: full season tickets have already sold out. The Golden Knights’ official website says limited amounts of half, quarter and partial season packages are still available.

As the team begins to take shape this week with the expansion draft, expectations take shape on how the franchise can sustain its fanbase and grow out west. But with a growing economy and population as well as a myriad of draft options to field at least a competitive team, the Golden Knights are here to stay, even with the ice shows and casinos.

The Las Vegas Market

When the NHL officially awarded the bid to Las Vegas last offseason, critics initially shot it down for being a western market and a town without a hockey atmosphere. Vegas also has the connotation of being a tourist spot for its nightlife and was hit hard during the economic recession in the late 2000s. Becoming a sports town, however, can shake off those reputations, though the area is improving from a population and real estate standpoint.

The city has seen rapid growth in tourism, population and real estate. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the tourism sector in Clark County has recovered 98.7 percent of its losses from the recent recession. These numbers come from travelers from McCarran International Airport, hotel and motel occupancy rates and the gaming industry.

The Golden Knights can take advantage of these areas. Fans of visiting teams can enjoy other activities in the city while taking in a game. This is how the team can attract revenue while building its brand as a hockey town.

Of all the economic sectors, population has seen the biggest climb. Multi-Housing News reported that almost 148,000 people moved to Las Vegas since 2011. Employment jumped 3.4 percent in 2016. While those rates will likely slow down moving forward, the increase still is a good sign for the city’s stability.

An influx of residents in the area have skyrocketed housing demands as well. Apartments are building up along the 215 highway, and surrounding areas like Henderson continue to see spikes in development. Single and multi-family housing permits increased by 27.7 percent in 2016 and will slow, but the area is expanding. With more long-term residents living in Las Vegas, the Golden Knights have the potential to put people in seats each night.

The On-Ice Product

Las Vegas Golden Knights

George McPhee is the first general manager in Golden Knights history. Photo by Benjamin Hager of the Las Vegas Review-Journal

The expansion draft is just four days away, and the Golden Knights will scoop a player from each team to add to their roster. While it will change the NHL landscape, Vegas likely won’t become an immediate contender. The previous three expansion teams (Minnesota, Columbus and Atlanta/Winnipeg) haven’t reached the Stanley Cup yet after more than 17 seasons.

The Blue Jackets recently started to play well but haven’t escaped the first round, while the Wild can’t reach the next level. Vegas doesn’t want to repeat the Thrashers incident either.

At the same time, they shouldn’t be a team that plummets to the cellar of the Western Conference. Marc-Andre Fleury is a great available option, as he’s starting-caliber goalie with Stanley Cup experience. They can also take advantage of roster constraints from teams like Nashville and Ottawa, who are deep in forwards and defensemen. Vegas can get a nice piece from each.

Even so, their lines won’t have as much firepower as other teams. However, General Manager George McPhee has a nice selection in front of him. They’ll compete in games this season.

Not only can the Golden Knights build through veterans, but the actual NHL Draft will yield results too. They have the sixth pick and seven selections total, with the opportunity to accrue more. If a team doesn’t want Vegas to pick one of its players, they can offer pick compensation as a result. Building around young players along with first signee Reid Duke generates buzz with fans. McPhee has all the leverage in those negotiations too, should they come up.

The Future of the Golden Knights

Casinos and ice shows are still king in Sin City. However, hockey is about to become another attraction in Las Vegas. The expansion draft has the entire NHL in frenzy on who will become a part of the first roster. Concerns about sustaining a franchise in a new market are understandable, but the area is growing.

The Golden Knights can also learn from a fellow Western Conference franchise on how to build a hockey market. The fanbase is excited about the new team and have showed it in ticket sales already. The on-ice product is still a question mark at this point in time, but the buzz of the new team is palpable. Enjoy the moment now.

 

Feature image courtesy of T-Mobile Arena’s official website.

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