The Hockey News’ 2018-19 Season Preview series dives into off-season transactions, best- and worst-case scenarios and one burning question for each team in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds.
Stanley Cup odds: 20-1
Key Additions: Max Pacioretty, LW; Paul Stastny, C; Daniel Carr, LW; Nick Holden, D
Key Departures: James Neal, RW; David Perron, LW; Luca Sbisa, D; Jason Garrison, D; Clayton Stoner, D
The Golden Knights got a lot of teams thinking last season. Design a game plan based on speed, energy and a tenacious forecheck, and the offense will take care of itself. GMs around the league are still scratching their heads trying to figure out how a group of castoffs, or ‘Golden Misfits’ as they called themselves, managed to post the fifth-best offense. And in the process, the expansion franchise made it to the Stanley Cup final, losing to Washington.
So the best-case scenario is to do it again, right? But maybe win the final series this time. Betting outlets had Vegas with the sixth-best odds of winning the Cup, better than Washington’s and Pittsburgh’s. The loss of James Neal and David Perron hurts the forward depth, but Paul Stastny is a premier two-way center and adding Max Pacioretty, who is looking to bounce back, should be good for somewhere in the 30-goal range.
Naysayers claim Vegas will struggle this season because it won’t be able to sneak up on teams with its high-tempo approach. But wouldn’t that have been the case in the playoffs last season? Coach Gerard Gallant gets the most out of his troops, and that’s not likely to change just because of some Year 1 success.
Career seasons are, by definition, one-offs. They don’t happen again for most players who have been in the league for several seasons. So while William Karlsson proved himself an impressive talent at age 25, the odds of him matching or topping 43 goals and 78 points has to be far less than 50-50. The same is likely true for Jonathan Marchessault’s 75 points, Erik Haula’s 29 goals and Colin Miller’s 41 points from the blueline. If more than a few Golden Knights slip back to career norms offensively, Vegas will find itself middle of the pack in terms of goals.
The same is true for the once no-name defense corps. Nate Schmidt (who is suspended for the first 20 games of the season), Brayden McNabb, Shea Theodore, Deryk Engelland and Miller all proved themselves capable, but none carries the cache of being a bona fide No. 1 defenseman. A blueline market correction is in order.
In this space a year ago, Vegas was picked to finish eighth in the Pacific, behind Arizona and Vancouver. Don’t be hard on us. You thought the same thing, no? But we’ve now seen the Golden Knights shock people. Don’t be surprised, though, if that can’t be replicated. And don’t be surprised if this team misses the playoffs.
Is it possible the Golden Knights’ offense actually improves?
Listen, everyone and their siblings are expecting Vegas to take a step backwards offensively, in large part because Karlsson isn’t expected to replicate his 40-goal output and the long list of career-best seasons make this a team ripe for regression. But consider how the Golden Knights have gone about replacing the losses of David Perron, one of the players most likely to see a downturn in production, and James Neal, a veteran power forward. First, they went out and scooped high-scoring, two-play playmaker Stastny in free agency. Then, in a move that most woke to the next morning, Vegas made a late-night deal for and later extended Max Pacioretty, who, despite a down year last season, is 10th in goal scoring over the past five seasons.
If Stastny and Pacioretty really gel in Gallant’s system, both are capable of splendid offensive performances, and there’s serious opportunity for the likes of Tomas Nosek and Oscar Lindberg to prove they have more to give. Everyone is assuming we’re going to see the offense take a step back, but, as bizarre as it may sound, Vegas may actually be more threatening on the attack than last season.
THE HOCKEY NEWS’ PREDICTION: 3rd in the Pacific Division. It’s not a Stanley Cup hangover �� and we imagine it would be a much more literal one for a Vegas-based team — but playing deep into the summer means the off-season was shorter than expected. That might impact Vegas. They also haven’t improved quite as much as others in the division, though the Pacioretty addition significantly closes the gap.
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