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Photo Credit: © Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Pacific Review: The Golden Knights are here to stay

Welcome to OilersNation’s Pacific Review in which we take a team-by-team look at the other seven teams in the Pacific Division. Today, we have the Vegas Golden Knights

Last season: 43-32-7 (93 points) – 3rd in Pacific Division 

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Notable Additions: Garret Sparks, Nicolas Roy

Notable Subtractions: ERIK HAULA, Colin Miller, Ryan Carpenter, Nikita Gusev, David Clarkson

Just like this time last year, we’re waiting for the Vegas Golden Knights to regress. But this time, we’re expecting them to regress in a different direction.

After their insane inaugural season in which they rode a never-ending hot streak all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, everyone assumed Vegas would be in for a major hangover. They did suffer a major sophomore slump, but the Golden Knights were still good enough to slide into the playoffs.

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Now heading into their third NHL season, the Golden Knights are bound to regress back to the mean, which would indicate a much better result than last year. A full-strength Golden Knights squad, with full seasons from Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny, and Nate Schmidt, will see a major improvement from last year’s group that had a bit of a tough time scoring goals.

After their fly-by-night first season, the Golden Knights simply dove right in, acquiring an entire top line over the course of a year. They added Paul Stastny in free agency, they traded for Max Pacioretty before the season, and then they traded for the criminally-underrated Mark Stone, the best of the bench, at the trade deadline.

In doing so, the Golden Knights William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault, a trio that overachieved in that inaugural season as a top-line who scored a whopping 92 goals, to get bumped down and become a very good second line. It also allowed them to bump Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin down to anchor a very good third line. There aren’t many, if any, teams who boast the quality and depth that the Golden Knights do on their top-three lines.

Vegas finished 13th in the league last season in goals, which is far from terrible. But if this group is riding at full-strength, they’ll score a lot more than that. They missed their top offensive defenceman Nat Schmidt for the first 20 games of the season due to suspension, Max Pacioretty missed 16 games, Paul Stastny missed 32, and Stone wasn’t acquired until late-February.

So if the Golden Knights were as good as they were last season scoring on 8.7 percent of their shots (24th in the league) and converting on 16.8 percent of their power plays (25th), imagine how good they’ll be with an entire season of a top line.

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Of course, the acquisition of this veteran trio didn’t come without casualties. The Golden Knights backed themselves into a tight corner financially as they’re now pushed right up to the top of the salary cap. Their off-season consisted of making subtractions to get under the salary cap rather than finding additions to make to their roster.

They had to basically give away solid depth players in Erik Haula and Colin Miller and they weren’t able to find room for top KHL export Nikita Gusev. There wasn’t really a notable free-agent addition, instead, just housekeeping work like getting William Karlsson inked to a reasonable long-term contract and bringing back depth players like Brandon Pirri, Deryk Engelland, and Tomas Nosek to cheap deals.

This is the group Vegas is riding with and it’s Stanley Cup or bust now. A fully-healthy Golden Knights squad is the best team in the Pacific Division. They have a good veteran goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury, a battle-tested blueline that can get the job done, and a top-nine forward group that nobody can match. So long as everyone stays on the ice, the Golden Knights could put up their best season in franchise history, which is certainly saying something.

Previously in this series…