Another NHL season is in the books, and the Vegas Golden Knights are the 2022-23 Stanley Cup champions.
The Golden Knights were a dominant team this season, winning the Western Conference with 111 points despite injuries to key players, and then rolling through the playoffs, defeating the Winnipeg Jets in five games, the Edmonton Oilers in six, the Dallas Stars in six, and the Florida Panthers in five.
So, what made the Golden Knights such a formidable opponent? Here are three takeaways:
Size on the Blue Line
The Golden Knights played a suffocating brand of hockey, with an aggressive forecheck and backcheck, but maybe the most noticeable tenet to their game was the stifling defensive play. Per the team's official website, the shortest of their eight listed defensemen is 6'1" (Alec Martinez) and their lightest was Shea Theodore (197 lbs). Nic Hague (6'6", 230), Brayden McNabb (6'4", 215), and Alex Pietrangelo 6'3", 215) played a huge role in shutting down their oppositions. It seemed like their opponents had no room to operate, and the length of the Golden Knights was on full display.
The NHL has more skill than ever, and the winner of the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP went to Jonathan Marchessault, listed at 5'9", 183 lbs. But if this playoff season taught us anything, it's that his play is more the exception than the rule. As the Blue Jackets look to rebuild their blue line, the trend towards big, mobile defensemen that can defend and protect the house seems to be back in business. Where does that leave players like Adam Boqvist and Nick Blankenburg? Time will tell.
Goalies Are Voodoo, Part 1000
The Golden Knights got exceptional play from Adin Hill, a career backup goalie who started a career-high 27 games this season. The 27-year-old is about to get paid, likely not by Vegas, as their analytically-driven franchise is too sharp to know to overpay for, well, a career-backup goalie who got hot.
The lesson here is that paying goalies is dangerous and that finding the right goalie at the right time is all that matters. The Blue Jackets have hamstrung themselves to Elvis Merzlikins, and that sure feels like a misstep today. But the reality is that there's a decent chance that Merzlikins rebounds because even two-time Vezina Trophy winners (cough cough Sergei Bobrovsky) are unpredictable from season to season. It sure feels like we're squarely in the era where paying for goalies feels like paying for running backs in the NFL; smart teams avoid it.
Balancing Draft-And-Develop With Immediate Help Trades
The Golden Knights are a bit of an anomaly with the expansion draft, but only six players remain from the inaugural season. What sets them apart is their commitment to identifying talent and making bold and aggressive transactions to better their team.
A quick glance at their CapFriendly page shows that virtually every player was either acquired via trade or free agency. Yes, there are the six original expansion players, and Hague was a draft pick, but the rest of their roster was acquired, not drafted. Jack Eichel and Mark Stone? Trades. Ivan Barbashev? Trade. Pietrangelo and Martinez? Free agency.
Is Vegas going to be a terrible team in a handful of seasons? Almost certainly. They'll have no draft capital and be an aging team. But who cares? Flags fly forever. The Golden Knights have built the roster by parlaying draft picks and prospects for current assets, and have reaped the rewards of being bold.
The Blue Jackets have a surplus of NHL roster players and a consensus top-five prospect pool. Sure feels like that wouldn't happen in Vegas.