The NHL’s announcement of a Seattle expansion team joining as the league’s 32nd franchise in 2021-22 surely gave Sharks fans some deja vu.
The league’s newest team is once again coming to the Pacific Division, and they’ll pick one player from 30 other clubs to build out their inaugural roster.
The expansion draft rules are exactly the same as the ones the Golden Knights drafted under in the summer of 2017. 30 teams -- excluding Vegas -- can protect either seven forwards, three defenseman, and a goaltender or eight skaters and a goalie. The Kraken/Sasquatch/Grunge/Not-Sonics will then pick 14 forwards, nine defenders, and three netiminders.
You don’t need me to tell you that worked out pretty well for Vegas, but in case you forgot: The Golden Knights made the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, knocking out the Sharks in a six-game, second-round series.
But if you think Seattle is destined for the same immediate success, don’t hold your breath. Setting aside the fact the Unnamed Seattle Franchise won’t play a game for two-and-a-half years, the Golden Knights' blueprint is going to be almost impossible to duplicate.
For one, much of Vegas’ unprecedented season was owed not just to the picks the Golden Knights made in the expansion draft, but the side deals general manager George McPhee made.
Vegas selected 43-goal scorer William Karlsson because they acquired injured winger David Clarkson’s contract, and the Columbus Blue Jackets preferred to lose Karlsson to others. The Golden Knights picked center Erik Haula and acquired winger Alex Tuch so they wouldn’t draft defenseman Matt Dumba from the Minnesota Wild, and did the same with defensemen Clayton Stoner and Shea Theodore so they wouldn’t take defensemen Josh Manson or Sami Vatanen from the Anaheim Ducks.
Oh, and they picked up winger Reilly Smith for a fourth-round pick. They also selected Jonathan Marchessault from the Florida Panthers. In layman’s terms, two-thirds of their top line came from one team.
Aside from Marchessault, the players mentioned include four of Vegas’ seven highest-scoring forwards last year, and a 22-year-old defender who was second on the team in ice time.
Do you think GMs are going to be eager to cut similar deals with Seattle? And if they are, can Seattle replicate that kind of haul? The new club will have two years to prepare for the new expansion draft, but so will the rest of the NHL.
Seattle can’t reasonably expect so many players to have career years, either. Some of those were surely a byproduct of most players getting more ice time, but having over a dozen players to set career highs in points, and both main goaltenders to exceed their career-best save percentages?
That doesn’t scream “Repeatable.”
Vegas proved it was legit the longer its inaugural season lasted, but don’t let that obfuscate the role good fortune played in its success. Keep in mind the Golden Knights went 16-8-1 when starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury missed 25 of the first 29 games. Their goalies posted an .896 save percentage in all situations during that time.
For reference, the last time the NHL’s average save percentage was lower than Vegas’ mark during that stretch was the 1993-94 season (.895). The Golden Knights didn’t just tread water in the midst of their most significant injury, they lapped the rest of the pool.
The timing of their Cup Final appearance was unprecedented, but so was the appearance in general. None of the three expansion teams that immediately preceded Vegas (Columbus, Minnesota, and the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets) have made a Cup Final. Of the six before them, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Anaheim Ducks are the only teams to appear in multiple, and have the only titles among that group.
Those nine teams played 195 total seasons entering this campaign. To recap, that’s eight Cup Final appearances and two championships in 195 seasons.
So if you’re worried about Seattle being Vegas 2.0, don’t stress just yet. It’s far away, and a lot will have to go right in the Pacific Northwest.
In other words, you’ll have better luck predicting Seattle’s name and color scheme than a 2022 Western Conference Champions banner at KeyArena.