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Your Vegas Golden Knights Narrative Is Bad

We’re supposed to appreciate good underdog stories. So, why can’t folks appreciate the Vegas Golden Knights?

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Winnipeg Jets v Vegas Golden Knights - Game Three
This was an excuse to post a James Neal photo.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

People are losing their minds over Vegas making the Stanley Cup Final.

“The NHL handed Vegas a stacked team.”

“They don’t deserve to be this good in the first year.”

“This is an embarrassment for the league.”

These are all hot takes sour grapes stemming from the still-fresh development that the expansion Vegas Golden Knights will play for the Stanley Cup in their first year of existence.

They also have one thing in common – they’re all rooted in emotion, and nothing else.

Emotions can make people say stupid things. That’s not a recent discovery. But boy, the Golden Knights have brought the ignorance out in full force.

Tin foil hats have been the head-wear of the month, apparently, as most sense conspiracy by the NHL to get Vegas off and running.

On the night of June 21, 2017, when the Golden Knights’ draft selections were announced, nobody expected this. The only ones who put Golden Knights and Stanley Cup Final in the same sentence were bettors looking for action on a super long-shot.

I mean, come on, did you really see this bunch going to the Stanley Cup Final. Not if you’re being honest.

The overall roster Vegas constructed in June didn’t exactly light the world on fire, judging from reactions from the night it was revealed last summer. Even those who were more bullish on their selectionsand I was among them in OTF’s preseason predictions – still didn’t think they’d dance in the postseason.

(By the way, we should have probably listened to David Poile, as he warned us from the get-go.)

Yet everybody and their mother has changed their tune – how convenient – since the Golden Knights set the entire sports world ablaze with their scorching-hot start, their consistent play throughout the regular season and the ease with which they’ve dispatched their three postseason opponents.

(You can simply go to good ole’ Twitter to see the narratives, as there’s no need to post that ridiculousness here – and as a rule, I do not give credence to those who simply do not deserve it.)

Now, it seems, the general consensus is that the league handed the Golden Knights a golden ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.

They had help, all right, but not from the National Hockey League. Here’s why your narrative is wrong:

The Pacific Division wasn’t good

This is arguably the biggest reason for the Golden Knights’ success this season. Their division provided little-to-no resistance in the regular season, let alone the playoffs. Vegas went 20-6-3 against the Pacific Division, and somehow, only San Jose had a better record within the division of any team in the NHL (21-5-3). Oh, and the Golden Knights won three of four over the Sharks during the regular season, too.

Arizona got off to an all-time bad start and while the Coyotes did get better during the year, it only went from embarrassing to simply bad, which Vancouver was all year in wasting the Sedin twins’ final season.

Edmonton was a shell of the Western Conference semifinalist of a year earlier, while Calgary couldn’t get away from arena drama long enough to ice a truly contending team. The only reason four teams from the Pacific made the postseason was that Dallas, St. Louis and especially Chicago suffered from hockey’s version of asphyxiation in the Central Division.

By rule, somebody had to win the Ducks-Sharks series, and the Kings only proved to serve as four days of practice for the Golden Knights in the first round. Vegas went six games with the Sharks, but San Jose won one of those in overtime and it took a lot out of them.

When their next opponent had emerged into the West final, it was the suddenly-too-cocky-for-their-own-good Winnipeg Jets, who used up most of their gas to beat Nashville and crash-landed short of the runway to the Cup final, as an entire country watched it all burn.

But, yeah, the league totally made the Pacific Division bad.

Vegas breeds bad decisions – by GMs

Vegas and bad decisions in the same sentence? That’s not uncommon. But those bad decisions – by NHL general managers – were rooted in what they thought were good ideas in order to navigate the salary cap (which, by the way, no other NHL team ever had to deal with – or benefit from – in an expansion draft). In reality, fans of other teams in the expansion era should be angrier for the more restrictive rules that led to less-than-competitive rosters for half a decade or more to begin with.

Some of those bad decisions came from the no-movement clauses that forced teams to protect certain players and not others. Some of those were by the GMs desperate to protect other players, so they made trades with George McPhee in order to ensure key pieces were left intact. We knew they’d get a few decent players from deeper teams, but get real – even McPhee thought they’d be building for a few years, as he talked up the entry draft moreso than the expansion draft.

But, yeah, the league totally made those trades happen.

A wave of emotions jumpstarted the season

After the terrible tragedy that happened just a short distance from T-Mobile Arena, days before the season opener, Vegas came together with a show of strength and emotion that the Golden Knights embraced – and utilized to their advantage.

The city wanted a place to go and get away for a bit, and the team returned the support in kind with an 8-1 start that bred all sorts of confidence. And only two of those games came against the putrid Pacific – both against the Coyotes – so they were definitely off and running.

Embracing opportunity, and coaching

William Karlsson becoming a 40-goal scorer? Wouldn’t have dreamed of it, but his shooting percentage – 23.4 percent! – helped out tremendously. Four goaltenders posted wins for Vegas, getting them through a rough stretch when both Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban were injured.

Maxime Lagace and Oscar Dansk added nine wins. If they don’t get those wins, the Golden Knights probably don’t make the playoffs. Erik Haula and Jonathan Marchessault have been revelations with their opportunities, and the way they’ve bought into Gerard Gallant’s system has ultimately been a big reason for their success.

But, yeah, the league totally gave those guys all those goals.

And, finally:

You’re just jealous

Jealousy makes you do and say stupid things. It’s true in relationships and it’s true here. Vegas is where you want your team to be and it’s understandable that you’re upset.

Golden Knights fans haven’t had to deal with the slow build like the Nashville Predators, or lots of years of failures like the Toronto Maple Leafs (the expansion era really hasn’t been kind to them).

Sure, the draft rules were designed to help Vegas get off the ground, but the league had no idea how teams would try to control their cap situations, or how GMs would make deals to protect other players, or how guys came out of nowhere to become dangerous scoring threats.

A bunch of unproven players came together with a few solid veterans to create one of the best underdog stories in sports, and you’re mad online about it.

But, yeah, it’s the league’s fault.