Photo credit:© Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports
What the Canucks can learn from the Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup win
8 months ago
It happened. The day has finally arrived that hockey fans have been waiting for since 2016.
That’s right, Ben Hutton is a Stanley Cup Champion.
The Vegas Golden Knights won their first-ever Stanley Cup yesterday with one of the most convincing playoff runs we’ve ever seen. The Knights practically waltzed through their playoff opponents, winning the final game over the Florida Panthers 9-3, avoiding any major injury scares along the way, and getting contributions from every single player in the lineup. And even some of the ones that weren’t!
But this is a championship that’s been in the making since the franchise began.
“Playoffs in three, Cup in six.” That’s what Knights owner Bill Foley said about his expectations for the team way back in the summer of 2017, months before one of the most magical seasons in sports history.
They actually ended up getting to the playoffs — and their first Stanley Cup Final — in Year One. But team president George McPhee and general manager Kelly McCrimmon never rested on the laurels of their ‘Golden Misfits’ team that came only three wins from hoisting a Stanley Cup in their inaugural season.
Now in 2023, they’ve reached the NHL mountaintop in an absolutely prophetic fashion.
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Meanwhile, Canucks fans can’t help but look on in horror as a team with only six seasons under their belts, like so many expansion clubs before them, beat Vancouver to hockey’s ultimate prize. Out of all 32 NHL franchises, only nine are left searching for championship #1, and the Canucks share the longest of those active waits in the league.
So how did a team that began playing 47 years after the Canucks beat them to a Stanley Cup?
Through patience, well-timed gambles, and masterful roster management. The Knights quickly assembled the best roster money could buy, and did so with careful planning and by using every loophole in the Collective Bargaining Agreement to their advantage.
Vegas didn’t hesitate to roll the dice by selling high on original fan favourites like Nate Schmidt, Max Pacioretty and Marc-Andre Fleury. They found creative ways to squeeze big-name free agents like Alex Pietrangelo onto an already stacked roster. And they paid hefty prices to bring in high-risk, high-reward pieces like Mark Stone and Jack Eichel.
After losing to the Capitals in 2017, the Knights quickly figured out which players were crucial to their long-term success and utilized their well-stocked cupboard of picks and prospects to surround the core with one of the strongest depth charts in the NHL. Two of the Knights’ key contributors in these playoffs were Reilly Smith and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Marchessault, who both arrived from Florida in that 2017 expansion draft. Then-Panthers GM Dale Tallon handed them both to Vegas for free so he could protect defender Alex Petrovic.
Fast forward to today, and Marchessault is a Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Smith is a Stanley Cup champion, Petrovic was gone from Florida after one season, and Tallon is now employed as a scout by… the Vancouver Canucks.
The Knights never grew content with the roster they’d assembled, but they also knew how to distinguish bad luck from real issue. When Vegas narrowly missed the playoffs for the first time last season, they made a crucial coaching change by replacing Pete DeBoer with Bruce Cassidy, but ran it back with the main group that had made the dance in the previous four. It worked.
So what’s the lesson here?
It sure isn’t “the NHL unfairly handed Vegas a contender from the beginning”. Even with hindsight, that original 2017-18 roster looks atrocious on paper compared to the team that won yesterday. (Remember Vadim Shipachyov? Neither does Vegas.)
The actual lesson is that no one lucks their way into a championship. It takes a real commitment to building a winning culture, the willingness to move key players in the short term to fix a long-term need, and the ability to find diamonds in the rough to fill out whatever gaps you have left.
If the Canucks want to compete with championship-caliber rosters like the Knights, they can’t get there with shortcuts. Promising to make the playoffs and “anything is possible'” before every season since 2017 is not a real roadmap to success. “Playoffs in three, Cup in six” is, and that’s why the Golden Knights are Stanley Cup champions, while the Canucks have missed the postseason in more recent years than Vegas has even existed.
In other words, “trust the process” and you’ll be amazed at the heights it can take you. Just ask the new champs.
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