The Vegas Golden Knights are starting to look a lot different than the team that emerged as the Sharks' biggest rival over the last three seasons.
That's bad news for San Jose.
Vegas officially signed former St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, arguably the top player available in free agency, to a seven-year deal worth $61.6 million on Monday.
The Golden Knights traded defenseman Nate Schmidt in a salary dump to the Vancouver Canucks in order to clear enough cap space to sign Pietrangelo, continuing a rather remarkable revamp of the expansion franchise.
Vegas eliminated San Jose during an unprecedented run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final with Marc-Andre Fleury as the No. 1 goaltender, Schmidt leading the Golden Knights in ice time and Gerard Gallant behind the bench. Just over two years later, Fleury is backing up recently re-signed netminder Robin Lehner, Pietrangelo is Vegas' best blueliner and former Sharks coach Peter DeBoer is the Golden Knights' bench boss.
Only the Tampa Bay Lightning, the reigning Stanley Cup champions, have more playoff wins during the Golden Knights' first three seasons of existence. Yet arguably no team has been more agrressive than Vegas -- which, again, is entering its fourth season of existence -- in upgrading its roster.
Since that Cup Final run, the Golden Knights have acquired wingers Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone, Lehner and now Pietrangelo. Like each of his predecessors, Pietrangelo makes the Golden Knights a heck of a lot better.
When the NHL regular season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 12, the Sharks were 23 points behind the Golden Knights in the Pacific Division. Even before Pietrangelo signed in Vegas, the gap between the two rivals didn't appear to be that much closer.
The Sharks will have Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson healthy when next season starts, and general manager Doug Wilson acquired goaltender Devan Dubnyk and winger Ryan Donato to bolster the Sharks' goaltending and scoring depth, respectively. That might not be enough with Pietrangelo patrolling the blue line in Sin City.
Dubnyk is something of a question mark after a down 2019-20, and Wilson said the Sharks are going to rely on young players to assume roles. San Jose wasn't quite ready for such a shift at the start of last season, and even if it is, there's still so much ground left to cover.
The Sharks went 1-3-0 against the Golden Knights last season, with Vegas outscoring San Jose 13-5 in those games. That was before the Knights acquired Lehner, hired DeBoer and, now, signed Pietrangelo. The season series could be much closer this time around just because of hockey's inherent randomness, of course, but Vegas is even better on paper than it was at the start of last season.
Prognosticating how the Sharks and Golden Knights will match up next season is a fool's errand because of that randomness, and especially so due to next to nothing being set in stone about what the season will look like. But right now, Vegas is better than at any other point in its nascent rivaly with San Jose, and the Sharks have a long way to go to knock the reigning Pacific Division champions off their perch.