Will the Vegas Golden Knights win the Presidents’ Trophy — and, on a scale of 1-10, how incredible is it that we’re asking that question in February?
Greg Wyshynski, senior writer: Yes, the Vegas Golden Knights will win the Presidents’ Trophy.
Let’s start with the schedule: The Knights have 13 of their final 24 games at home, where they’re 22-4-3. Only eight of those 24 games are against teams that are currently in playoff positions — although the Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings, whom they play twice, are right on the bubble.
Vegas has 13 games left against Pacific Division teams. The Golden Knights are 14-1-1 within their own division thus far.
Am I worried about that five-game road trip at the beginning of March, which starts with the New Jersey Devils and ends with the Philadelphia Flyers? Sure. But the Golden Knights follow that with eight of 10 games back in Sin City, which would be the cure for any slight bump in the road they might suffer on the road.
But another aspect of the Golden Knights has me believing they can pull this off: their balance. They roll four lines, they roll three defensive pairings. They have a “next-man-up” mentality that has allowed them to overcome a multitude of hiccups during the season. They keep coming at you in wave after relentless wave. While the Tampa Bay Lightning are resting their big-name players for a run at the Cup, the Golden Knights will still be surging forward.
On a scale of 1-10, how incredible would it be to see the Golden Knights win the Presidents’ Trophy? Before the season, it would have been about a 35,000. Now, after watching the Knights for 58 games and seeing the team GM George McPhee put together? Well … it’s still a 35,000 on that scale, because it’s still an expansion team, and this is still unfathomable.
Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: Greg hit on several of the reasons the Golden Knights have been so successful: equal-share time in lines, a balanced roster, an us-against-the-world mentality that has let various players become heroes at certain times in the season. They’ve been terrific at home, with a 22-4-2 record at T-Mobile Arena, leading many to consider the legitimacy of the Vegas Flu. I’d also throw in strong goaltending — an overlap to “next-man-up” — seeing as the Golden Knights have had five goalies suit up this season. Even 24-year-old backup Malcolm Subban, an early-season waiver pick up, has been awesome, with 11 wins in 15 starts, a .912 save percentage and 2.59 GAA. Greg also noted Vegas’ dominance in the Pacific Division, and that 14-1-1 record against the Vancouver Canucks, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Flames, Kings, Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks cannot be overstated.
While the Oilers, a trendy preseason Stanley Cup pick, have floundered, and the Ducks and Sharks have been hampered by injuries, the Golden Knights have seized the moment. Even the Lightning, facing a similarly uneven field in the Atlantic, haven’t been as successful, going 10-5-1 against Divisional teams (including some clunkers against the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators).
All of this is to say, with 13 games left against the Pacific Division, and 13 of their final 24 games at home, I feel strong about the Golden Knights’ chances to finish the season out strong. I don’t know if they’ll win the Presidents’ Trophy, but I’ll say this: Right now, they’re my odds-on favorite to win it. As for the surprise factor? I’ll echo Greg in that before the season, if we’re rating on a 1-10 scale, I’d give you a number astronomically bigger than 10. Now? While still unfathomable, I’ve finally become adjusted to the fact that this is simply a good hockey team. I’ll just give it an eight.
Chris Peters, NHL Insider: The Golden Knights’ biggest threat remains the Tampa Bay Lightning, but I think Vegas is going to pull it out. Just writing that now seems unbelievable. Should Vegas win the Presidents’ Trophy, I agree with Greg that it shatters any scale of craziness we could put on it.
Coming into the season, oddsmakers at Bovada gave Vegas the worst odds of any team just to make the playoffs, at 8-to-1. The early over-under was set at 68 points. The Golden Knights soared past that bar before the end of January. Now they’re in position to break everyone’s brains by potentially winning the league’s regular-season title while destroying any preseason expectation in sight.
As Greg noted, the 13 home games and 13 games against divisional foes are going to give this team a big boost. One of the things that I’ve found most impressive about this team’s second half is that it has lost consecutive games only once since the beginning of December. Assuming its roster remains unchanged, Vegas is probably going to keep rolling right into the playoffs. If the Golden Knights end up winning the Presidents’ Trophy, they will have set a new and impossibly high bar for expansion teams in the NHL.
When George McPhee was building this team, it wasn’t entirely clear what he was trying to do. It was heavy on defenseman and light on stars up front. McPhee is probably going to win GM of the Year now. Even though the Presidents’ Trophy isn’t necessarily the hardware that teams dream of ending the season with, the Golden Knights probably deserve a parade down the strip if they do win in their first season.