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Photo Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

At Random: What Happens in Vegas

Having had the fan squeezed out of me way back in journalism school in the typewriter and carbon paper era of the early 1980s, it’s been a long time since I cheered for a team – that would be back in 1982 when my Vancouver Canucks had their Cinderella story go pumpkin city in a big way when they got waxed by the New York Islanders in the Stanley cup final. I still do, however, cheer for the best story.

When it comes to the NHL, the best story by a $5 cab ride from where I sit is the Vegas Golden Knights, the expansion outfit that advanced to the Western Conference final Sunday with a 3-0 win over the San Jose Sharks. While getting wrapped up in the feel-good story of the year might be a bit muted here given how the season unfolded and collapsed for the Edmonton Oilers, there’s no getting around how compelling the Knights have been.

If anybody out there in the MSM or the blogging world had the Knights making the playoffs this season, I can’t find it. As for me, I thought the Knights might be better than the Canucks or the Arizona Coyotes, but better than the Oilers? No chance. A playoff team? Get a grip. Pacific Division winners with 51 wins and 109 points? Sure. Now, they’re in the conference final and I’m pulling for them. How can you not?

Nobody saw this coming because it flies in the face of common sense that any hockey ops department could take a bunch of cast-offs and turn that group into Stanley Cup contenders in their first spin around the block. That’s exactly what GM George McPhee and coach Gerard Gallant have done. The Knights compiled 26 more points and 18 more wins than any expansion team in the history of the NHL. They’re Cup contenders. Eight wins away.

STORYBOOK STUFF

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign on South Las Vegas Boulevard.

“I think we’ve made ourselves a good team,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said after the Knights disposed of the Sharks in six games. “We had great chemistry right from the start. We kept improving throughout the season. I feel like we’re using everybody in the lineup to get wins. That’s what made us successful all season, and that’s why we’re still having success.”

“We have belief in our room that we can win,” James Neal told NHL.com. “[It started with] training camp and our first game and continued on, and built something special throughout the year and built the confidence in each other and the belief that we could win. We continue to prove people wrong, I guess you can say. It’s an exciting time for us, and we’re grabbing ahold of it. Everyone’s grabbing ahold of it and enjoying it and playing hard for each other.”

The underdog angle, revenge of the cast-offs angle, is the most obvious when it comes to the Knights. It remains the best hook, of course – a bunch of players, like Neal and Fleury, being this successful after essentially being deemed spare parts by their former teams. For me, the backdrop to that — the horrific events of Oct. 1 when a gunman opened fire at an outdoor concert and killed 58 people – is just as compelling. Las Vegas is a place where you’re supposed to have too much fun. You’ve done that. I’ve done that. “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” That changed forever Oct. 1.

That’s real life, the important stuff, and we’re just talking hockey here, but the juxtaposition of the two has made the story scripted by the Knights something truly special. If your team – around here that’s the Oilers in the vast majority of cases – is out of Cup contention or never even made it to the post-season, how do you not cheer for the Knights and the city of Las Vegas right now?

LET’S PLAY

I’d like to a say a personal thank-you to the fans, people and business community of Edmonton for the response we’ve had to Hockey Helps the Homeless, which will played at the Terwillegar Rec Centre this Friday, May 11. The same goes for the alumni of the Edmonton Oilers, who’ve helped in a big way to make this event a success before the first puck drops.

That goes for citizens of Oilersnation, who stepped up by providing HHTH funds from the 10th anniversary of the website. Former equipment man Barrie Stafford and the alumni have been wonderful despite some very challenging times. Chris Joseph, who lost his son Jaxon in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, has told us he will play in the game as he’d originally planned. We are all happy Chris is feeling well enough to take part.

Stafford, former head coach Ron Low and his wife Linda, as well as the alumni, have been dealing with the passing of former video coach and friend Brian Ross. All of them have continued hustling tirelessly behind the scenes to help make the event the success we want and need it to be. We are lucky to have them.

If any of you want to come by the rink Friday and say hello, please do. We’ll have a full complement of TSN 1260’s shows — Dustin Nielson, Allan Mitchell, Dave Jamieson and Jason Gregor – doing their broadcasts live at the rink. This event is going to be a lot of fun and it’s going to make a real difference in improving the lives of the homeless in Edmonton.

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  • Braindead

    Anyone who didn’t think LVGK weren’t going to make playoffs doesn’t have much hockey sense. The Draft was totally in their favour. LVGK drafted a lot of good veteran players and good goalie.
    But let’s talk about Jets. What a good team.
    They kept the same Coach and were able to draft and develop their prospects. Prospects that include their Goalie , Defence and Fowards. Also they where able to keep key veteran leadership like Buff, Wheeler and Little. Weird they never drafted first and don’t have Connor McDavid but they win games.

  • ubermiguel

    A team full of 2nd and 3rd line players who all have a ship on their shoulder? And they’re coached well and play as a team? I won’t bet against them to win the Cup. How much trouble does Bettman get in if that happens though? If I’m an owner I’m thinking “I just wanted a cut of those sweet expansion fees, I didn’t want them to be better than MY team!”

    • BringitbacklikeSlats

      I highly doubt Bettman was the architect of the expansion drafting system for Vegas and the league to adhere to… but no matter. Gary should be given credit for signing off on it.Surely they endeavoured to give the team a much better shot at competitiveness early on and mission accomplished. I think the rest of the credit then had to go first to McPhee and Gallant for utilizing the tools given them to the best possible outcome, and last but not least that collection of players that appeared to first victims of the Numbers only to rally and shock the sporting world. INCREDIBLE is the word

  • TKB2677

    Vegas is a nice story this season. If you want to build a fan base quick, winning is the best way to do it. I do expect them to take a step back though next season.

    What bothers me a bit about Vegas and this has nothing to do with them is their success just shows what a team can do if they have all their guys buying into a coaches system and showing up every night. Yes they are getting lights out goaltending but their team skates HARD the whole game, they are relentless on the puck and you don’t see very many guys ever not trying.

    The Oilers management has made some dumb mistakes but how many of those “mistakes” are magnified because they weren’t getting enough of an effort from a lot of guys this season. The same goes for just about every team. What would the hockey be like if more teams had ALL their guys playing hard every night?

    • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

      Agreed. One of the biggest reasons the 2016-2017 campaign was so successful was because the whole team bought into McLellan’s system. There weren’t too many passengers and everyone worked hard in both ends of the rink. Sure, having superb goaltending from Talbot p, and having minimal injuries helped, but the Oilers worked hard and were rewarded for it. This past season, they were lazy most nights, unprepared for others, and it reflected poorly on them. Remeber the 4 game winning streak at Christmas? I wonder why that happened?

  • McRaj

    Anybody on here saying they expected Vegas to make the playoffs are just straight up liars. No one expected this. Do they have veteran leadership and a true #1 goalie. Yes they do. But if that alone makes you a playoff team than maybe all teams need to drop their stars and build a team of role players with a couple true top line players. No one saw this coming. As for who won’t cheer for them. Our biases, bitter fan base won’t. Truth hurts.

    • LAKID

      I did and said all along that they would be in the playoffs and finish ahead of the lames and nuk’s. I however projected the Oiler’s to make the playoffs. Fire Chia!

      • You said all along? You say a lot of things here, but nowhere in your list of comments — it’s easy to check — do I find one where you say Vegas will make the playoffs. You did write:
        “Edm,Ana,SJ,LA and highly possible Arizona will finish ahead of calgary,” so you mention four and possibly five teams finishing ahead of Calgary, but no mention of Las Vegas. How does that put them in the playoffs? Do tell.

    • JimmyV1965

      Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth to this. Get a good goalie and a good coach and you win in the NHL. Who needs stars? Deryk Engelland had more pts than any Oiler dman but one.

    • McRaj

      Unsustainable high shooting percentage combined with a career high in average ice time and career high in shots attempted and on goal. The real Karlsson is probably a 20-25 goal, 45-50 point player.

      • BringitbacklikeSlats

        So sure of that are you? I mean I get the percentages… but your response provides no hockey value at all other than to say the law of averages says he isn’t that good a player.

        A hockey analysis might point to systems play, personal growth (it does happen contrary to your math), linemates, Special Teams play, etc

        • McRaj

          Where in my response did I say he is not a good player? Since when is a 25 goal, 50 point player not good. I also mentioned more ice time which shows that when given an opportunity hes taken advantage of it. Alex Ovechkin (the greatest goal scorer OF ALL TIME) is a career 12.4% shooter. Surely WK is not twice the shooter Ovi is. He will regree back down to maybe even as high a shooting percentage as 15%. Which will undoubtedly bring his goal totals down unless he throws more rubber on the net while maintaining his shot quality (high danger vs low danger shots). How’s that for an analysis?

        • BringitbacklikeSlats

          Ok I’ll buy that…if I were to bet money I’d say you’ve definitely got the odds. Point taken, and I’d like to redact. I guess with the overabundance (just my opinion) of analytics based viewpoints, I get tired of the one and done statements based solely on numbers. Yours is clearly a well made point however.

          But confidence does factor in and though not measurable, can surely turn a player that’s historically average into something better.
          I’d love to read an article on different players that have bucked trends in their careers to turn into something higher than the prognostications ever had them pegged for.
          Blake Wheeler comes to mind. Zetterburg maybe.

  • Mr.Snrub

    I knew the Knights weren’t going to be your typical sub 50 point expansion team once McPhee & Gallant signed up, but even then i thought their ceiling was fake .500/82 points.

    Truly amazing run and both those men should win their respective GM/Coach of the year awards in a landslide.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    Hand them the damn cup why don’t you NHL. Absolute joke of a league that an expansion team can come in and dominate like this. Reminder “Golden Fairies”, we won 3/4 games against you! Look forward to beating you again next season. And trust me, if we meet in the playoffs, good luck shutting down Connor, Leon, or Nuge.

    • BobbyCanuck

      Do not worry, they will not win the Cup, the NHL BoG will make sure of that!
      Winnipeg will not win either, guarantee they will lose this series…and if they somehow over come the biased referring tonight, they certainly lose in the next round, or LVG, NHL BoG is salivating over the thought of Nashville making back to back Finals appearance

  • geoilersgist

    Im cheering for VGK. We have a second home down there and the fever is real for all of our friends. I actually hope the story continues and they some how manage to win it all. The Oilers will always be #1 to me, but the VGK are a great story to continue to follow and I will gladly cheer them on. Besides their twitter account is a must follow.

  • Glencontrolurstik

    Come-on Robin, think about it? Anyone of us could put a playoff team together if you had free pick of 2nd and 3rd line depth players at your disposal. It’s actually quite predictable. Each contending team needs only 5 or 6 depth guys to be great. This team had to pick a team of 22, from a raft of great, solid, proven, depth players. Every team should have that luxury?