Welcome aboard, Vegas. Now, let’s all figure out how to handle being part of the first of the four major North American sports to put a team in Las Vegas. Surely, a road trip to Vegas is different than going to Columbus, right?
With no bedtime in Vegas, teams will have to figure out how to get their players to bed after the charter lands the night before the game. And the charters will arrive late, we can guarantee that. Will the points come easily? Again, who knows? That answer will fall somewhere between “How good will the Golden Knights be?” and, “How many of my players are playing guilty?”
Really, Vegas is all a bit of a blur. As it should be.[sidebar]
UP-AND-COMING PLAYER TO WATCH
Of the Golden Knights’ probable roster, the only player still on an entry-level contract is defenceman Shea Theodore.
Here’s what we know about the new NHL: Collecting the puck in the defensive zone, then quickly and safely getting it moving in the other direction with an accurate pass has become the key to having a chance. Theodore was never fully trusted in Anaheim, and the Ducks sacrificed he and Clayton Stoner to the Golden Knights so they could keep Josh Manson.
So Theodore has something to prove, and he should get the ice time to prove it. He can skate, pass and shoot. Anaheim didn’t like the physical end of his game. Let’s see how he pans out in Vegas.
WHAT A SUCCESSFUL 2017-18 WOULD LOOK LIKE
Just be competitive.
This season is about selling the game in the desert, and as long as this expansion team is playing meaningful hockey, fans will get a taste of what ownership wants them to see. If Vegas is virtually eliminated by Christmas, the sales job — inside the dressing room and outside — gets a lot tougher.
There is enough compete on this roster — Cody Eakin, Erik Haula, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — and a few goals here too, with players like James Neal, Mikhail Grabovski, David Perron and Jonathan Marchessault. Marc-Andre Fleury gives them goaltending, but this roster basically features two second lines and two third lines, and three second-pairings on the blue line.
The Golden Knights are OK, but they’re not real good. So that means Vegas will have to take its points from the bottom half of the NHL, because the top half is going to beat them on most nights. That makes games against the Vancouvers, Arizonas and Colorados of premium importance.
BIGGEST REMAINING QUESTION
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
The goal crease is the only place where Vegas can enter some games better equipped than their opponent. Fleury can historically be a Top 15 NHL goalie, but he made that reputation behind a Stanley Cup calibre team in Pittsburgh, and wasn’t always the picture of consistency at that.
A very strong year by Fleury, with a save percentage of at least .918, is critical for a goalie with a career save percentage of .912. He’ll see plenty of rubber (which can help his numbers), but if the other teams gets to three goals the Goldens will be beaten, most Knights.
Fleury is The Great Legitimizer in the desert. Here’s hoping he plays like one.