The NHL’s Knight in Shining Armor: The Vegas Golden Knights are the Marketable Underdog, But at What Cost?

The Golden Misfits, AKA the Last Vegas Golden Knights are playing in the Stanley Cup in their first year as an NHL franchise.

Their team came from 30 other teams in last year’s NHL expansion draft –some of these players were proven (Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal), others hadn’t found the right fit with a team yet (William Karlsson and Erik Haula), but all of them felt like their former teams had given up on them. They had a coach in, Gerard Gallant, who had been unjustly fired by the Florida Panthers and looked like he has a chip on his shoulders at all times. Their owner was planning for success in four-to-five years, not this year. They just wanted to be competitive in their Inaugural Season at T-Mobile Arena.

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Photo: Getty Images

Now, they are in the Stanley Cup Final after a record-breaking season and post-season battling the Washington Capitals for hockey’s holy grail. They’ve broken every record imaginable for an expansion franchise in the NHL. The media can’t get enough of their Cinderella story and the Golden Knights bandwagon is on the verge of tipping over.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman sees the revenue this is generating for the league. After seeing past expansion franchises such as the Atlanta Thrashers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Arizona Coyotes struggle to achieve competitive success out the gate, Vegas is a knight in shining armor.

The league knew this all along, and it’s time for them to cash in.

I’ve never been one for wanting to believe sports are rigged. I wouldn’t root for the Islanders, Mets and Eagles if I believe that they were meant to be mediocre and depress their fan bases for the sake of their leagues. But there’s something about the Golden Knights’ ascent to hockey folklore that seems so…unnatural.

This is more than the fact they ripped their name from St. Rose, or stole their goal horn from the Colorado Avalanche. I saw this first hand while watching their pre-game introduction for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. It felt as if it were ‘Game of Thrones: NHL Edition’ as a Golden Knight and Capitals ‘adversaries’ did a LARP re-enactment that would make any traditionalist cringe.

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To add on to the theatrics, a drumline played off-time with flashing snares while Lil’ Jon revved up the siren to pump up the home crowd. How much star power do they need?! They already have the Blue Man Group perform during intermissions and Bryce Harper chilling in the stands. I’m trying to watch a hockey game, not a tourist attraction that’s trying to attract more fans to the sport by synthesizing the game experience.

I never thought I’d be rooting for the Washington Capitals to win so badly, but I am. It goes farther than just wanting to see Alex Ovechkin win the Stanley Cup so badly or the franchise finally break their playoff misery, but I want to see that the Golden Knights are human.

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If Vegas won the Stanley Cup in this fashion, so quickly in their first year of existence, it may gain the new fan but it will lose the traditional one.

Fans of the Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues, and the Washington Capitals especially, will be left fuming that this franchise won a cup before theirs did after being in the league several decades. The Canadian Hockey Market that hasn’t seen the Toronto Maple Leafs win a Cup in 50 years or the Montreal Canadiens win a Cup since I was born will feel even more jilted. They’ve had support and longevity long before the Golden Knights were even conceived , yet the new kid on the block gets all the plaudits on the first try. Yikes.

Vegas can still hold their heads high having the best expansion season in NHL history and making the finals in their first year, but winning it all would be overkill. Bandwagoners who are drinking the ‘underdog’ Kool-Aid will think that they deserved it all along, and the players and coaches do deserve credit for proving themselves worthy in a league that was burying them.

But what about Seattle when they join the NHL next season? Will they automatically expect to be able to hand-pick their squad from other franchises? Will their fans expect to win the Stanley Cup in their first season because Vegas did?

These are naive, lofty expectations that will become the norm if the Golden Knights win the Cup. Not only is it unfair to teams that have had to suffer decades with nothing to show for it, but it takes away the credit that players and staff on the Golden Knights truly deserve, because their achievement feels orchestrated rather than truly earned.



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