9 takeaways from the Golden Knights championship for the Canucks (and every other team) to learn from

Photo credit:© Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 year ago
It’s official. The Vegas Golden Knights are the Doogie Howser of hockey, having just achieved hockey’s ultimate glory at the tender age of five years old.
Yes, the Golden Knights have won a Stanley Cup in less than one-tenth the time that it has taken the Vancouver Canucks to…not win one. And that’s not the most pleasant feeling in the world for Canucks fans.
But even unpleasant experiences can be good ones if lessons are learned from it, and there’s plenty to be learned by this Vegas championship.
Here are X takeaways that the Canucks, and every other NHL team, can employ from the Golden Knights moving forward.

A dominant two-way center is essential

We’ll start with the good news, which is that one particular roster piece has once again been proven absolutely essential to winning a Stanley Cup, and that’s the presence of a dominant two-way top-line center. Not a Norris-winning defender, not an all-star goaltender, not a Matthew Tkachuk-esque power forward. A dominant, two-way top-line center.
In the Golden Knights’ case, it’s Jack Eichel, who led the postseason in scoring while also putting forth excellent defensive play and strong analytic results at even-strength in the face of difficult matchups.
Clearly, the Canucks’ equivalent center is Elias Pettersson. If anything, there’s comfort in knowing that Vancouver already has the one piece in place they truly cannot do without.

Size matters (on the blueline)

Tradition holds that size matters in the playoffs, and that as the refs put their whistles away and ease up on calling penalties, larger players are more able to put their frames to nefarious use. The Vegas championship isn’t going to do much to change that notion, especially when it comes to their blueline.
The Golden Knights had one of the beefiest D corps in the postseason, with each of their defenders standing at least 6’1” and Shea Theodore the only one to not crack 200 pounds.
Compare that to the Canucks’ current blueline, in which the only two regular defenders to finish the season on the roster and be over 6’0” tall were…Tyler Myers and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Clearly, this is one area in which the Canucks need a lot of (we’re sorry) growth.

Small forwards can still thrive in the playoffs

The Conn Smythe Trophy went to Jonathan Marchessault with his 13 goals and 25 points, and with his apparent 5’9”, 183lb frame that is quite obviously a fair bit smaller than that in actual reality.
So, as we say that size matters on the blueline in the playoffs, we also have to say that there’s clearly still room for small players to thrive in the postseason, and small forwards in particular.
This is great news for those who still hold out hope of Nils Höglander making a long-term impact on the Vancouver roster. He’s someone with a similar size and set of feisty skills as Marchessault, and it’s definitely possible to imagine him also finding his groove under the heavier checking of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Marchessault’s success through four rounds could also be seen as a positive indicator of the likelihood that Quinn Hughes, himself approximately 5’9”, could rely on his skill and slipperiness to survive deep into the playoffs and continue to deliver his ultra-talented level of play.

Sometimes, big ticket UFAs actually work out

Three summers ago, the Golden Knights signed 30-year-old UFA Alex Pietrangelo to a massive seven-year, $61.6 million contract, easily the biggest they’d handed out in their short franchise history and one of the largest UFA deals leaguewide in general.
And no one played more minutes for the 2023 Cup Champs than Pietrangelo did.
For a Canucks franchise around which “UFA” has almost become a dirty word, it’s nice to know that, sometimes, big-ticket signings actually work out, even when the signee in question is on the wrong side of 30.
In other words, it’s comforting that, the next time the Canucks swing big during the Free Agent Frenzy, they can now know that it’s not a guarantee that the player signed will turn into the next Loui Eriksson or Tyler Myers.
It’s also, to those who choose to see it as such, a reason for optimism about the remainder of JT Miller’s contract, which looks pretty similar to what Pietrangelo signed.

Building through the draft isn’t an absolute requirement

The night the Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup, they had just one Vegas draftee in the lineup: defender Nicolas Hague.
Everyone else was acquired via the expansion process, free agency, trade, or the waiver wire.
So, as much as it remains true that drafting is the best and cheapest way to build a team, it’s definitely not the only way.
For a Canucks team that was severely shortchanged on picks and prospects by the eight-year reign of Jim Benning, there’s at least reason to think that the situation is recoverable from, without necessarily having to commit to a tear-down rebuild.
All they have to do is trade and sign with the same efficiency as the Golden Knights, which is admittedly a tall order, but clearly not impossible.  

Cheating the cap is almost a requirement these days

The Vegas Golden Knights finished the season some $15 million over the salary cap, made possible only by the placement of players like Mark Stone on LTIR. This continues the tradition started by the Tampa Bay Lightning of the most expensive roster winning the Stanley Cup, and it makes it harder and harder to believe that championships are even possible in the modern era without out a little bit of cap cheatery.
If anything, it’s reason for the Canucks and all other teams to pay even closer attention to this side of roster building, and to know that the contracts they acquire are just as important as the players attached to them.
If everyone is cheating and you’re not, you’re probably not going to win much.

Defensive structure>A star goaltender

Adin Hill is a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender. Who? Exactly.
Prior to this playoff season, only the most hardcore of hockey fans had much of a grip on who Hill was and what he brought to the table. He was arguably the fifth goalie on Vegas’ depth chart, all told, but he was the one who got hot at the right time, grabbed the reins, and didn’t let them go.
Now a UFA, Hill is presumably about to be rewarded with a sizeable contract. And the team that gives it to him is almost certainly going to regret it, unless they somehow have a defensive structure that is equal to Vegas’.
Because, come on. Nobody really believes that Hill suddenly became a world-beater.
As good as his performance was — and he did make several five-alarm saves along the way — it should be clear to everyone that he was and is an average goaltender heavily benefitting from Vegas’ team-wide commitment to defence, to say nothing of their towering and talented set of dedicated defenders.
This more-or-less proves what is becoming an accepted truth: great goaltending is not a requirement to win the Stanley Cup. Defensive structure seems to be far more important, and able to lift up an average goaltender, whereas a stellar goaltender typically can’t do much if their team’s defensive structure sucks.
Does this mean the Canucks should look to cash in on Thatcher Demko and replace him with someone cheaper? We’ll leave that debate for another day.

Staying healthy is everything

The Golden Knights ended their Cup run with only two notable players out of the lineup with injury: Robin Lehner and Nolan Patrick.
That doesn’t mean they were totally healthy, exactly. Captain Mark Stone is still cripplingly injured, and may never play a full season of hockey again. But they were at least healthy enough to field the majority of the players they wanted to, and that proved a crucial difference when Florida’s lynchpin Matthew Tkachuk exited the lineup with a broken sternum.
Just staying healthy isn’t enough to win the Stanley Cup. But key injuries are enough to stop a team from winning the Stanley Cup.
If anything, this strikes hard against the “get in and anything can happen” crowd. Injuries can come up at any time. They stopped Florida’s Cinderella run dead in its tracks.
Injuries also got in the way of previous Vegas runs. But because Vegas was built for long-term contention, they were able to keep taking cracks at it until they hit a run of good health…and subsequently won the Cup.
Florida, meanwhile, can’t really count on making it back here anytime soon, injuries or no.

Patience isn’t always a virtue

Canucks fans have been begging their franchise to start taking a more patient approach to roster building, and to stop sacrificing the long-term for short-term gains.
But if the Vegas championship proves anything, it’s that patience isn’t always a virtue.
The Golden Knights are five years old. If they were a person, they would have just completed kindergarten…and they somehow managed to graduate summa cum laude at the exact same time. They were not a patient franchise, and they have now been rewarded for their lack of patience.
Which is not, of course, to say that the Canucks’ recent short-term thinking has been a positive. Far from it.
It is, however, to say that there does come a point at which it’s probably better to just “go for it.” For the Canucks, that time is fast approaching, as the Pettersson/Hughes core is about to enter its definitive prime years. Right now, they should still be planning things in the long-term, but eventually they’ll want to switch over to Vegas’ patented all-in motif…and when they do, they shouldn’t feel too bad about it.
Patience is only a virtue…until it’s not.

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