There are some stories in sports that you just can’t replicate, that exist in their own pocket of historic glory, the characters involved having just one chance to get it right.
With the first half of the 2017-18 campaign in the books, the Vegas Golden Knights are marching towards one such story, currently sitting atop the Western Conference with 61 points to their name. Vegas has already trampled on the inaugural season records of every other NHL club — that’s old news at this point.
Now the expansion franchise has the hockey community turning to an even more astounding reality — that Vegas might just be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
General manager George McPhee and head coach Gerard Gallant sat down with Sportsnet’s David Amber to discuss their club’s whirlwind season. While the league’s other 30 general managers have been waiting for McPhee to pull the trigger on the trade deadline strategy many originally predicted Vegas would take — acquire assets, build up their value, and then sell them off — the long-time NHL executive said he’s in no rush to make moves given his team’s success.
“Our plan coming into the season was real simple,” McPhee said. “If we’re in the hunt, we’re going to stay in the hunt. If we’re not in the hunt then we’ll do what teams do when they’re not in the hunt. We’re going to do everything we can to stay in the hunt, and we’ll see where we are in a couple of months.”
The Golden Knights have run rampant through the league since Game 1 of the season, thriving due to their win-by-committee attitude. Though they have the second-best record in the league, they have only one player ranking among the game’s top 30 scorers.
“This feels like a team,” McPhee said. “It’s kind of unique in that everyone is treated the same. We have a coach who’s not afraid of his players. It’s, you know, four lines and six ‘D’ that you roll — and five goalies. But it’s been fun working like this because it does indeed feel like a team.”
It’s undoubtedly a different setup than McPhee experienced during his previous tenure with the Washington Capitals, a club whose payroll is led by marquee names in Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
“I think managers have always wanted that,” McPhee said of building a balanced team versus one constructed around superstars. “It’s just sometimes hard when you have some elite players that command the big dollars.”
Now into the latter half of their first go-round in the big leagues, the Golden Knights’ balanced approach is wearing thin, the patience of those waiting for them to fall back to Earth. Instead, they keep rising, boasting the best home record in the league and a legitimate shot at a championship in their very first season.
A chance to play out one of the most impressive stories in the history of sports. And the two men guiding the ship are, apparently, not thinking about it at all.
“It would be a dream season, obviously, but it’s never crossed my mind,” Gallant told Amber. “I don’t think about winning the Stanley Cup.”
“We’re just trying to survive,” McPhee added. “That’s how this business is. Too many people are patting us on the back right now — it doesn’t mean anything. We’ve got a long way to go here.”