4 takeaways from the Vegas Golden Knights Stanley Cup win
They were aggressive, they were good, they were a little lucky,
First thing’s first: The rest of the “Better Luck Next Year” series is still on the way (and much more) but first we have to talk about the Stanley Cup Champion Vegas Golden Knights because, I have to be honest, I am not sure I saw this coming this season.
Not after the way they fell apart last year and missed the playoffs entirely. Or the constant upheaval from their front office in constantly shuffling through coaches, angering players for their cutthroat approach to team building, and just the roster in general with what seemed to be some pretty significant flaws at important position (like goalie) with some serious injury-related question marks (like Jack Eichel and Mark Stone).
But here we are, with Vegas lifting the Cup in just its sixth season in the league.
When the Golden Knights entered the NHL I figured it would take them at least five or six years to even become a contender, let alone win it all, but that happened almost immediately from day one with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in their first season. In my defense, the five-to-six year timeframe to contention was what it used to take expansion teams back in the 1990s and 2000s under the old expansion draft rules.
Nobody really took into account how favorable the new process was, or the way so many teams would lose their minds and hand over multiple assets and top-line players in the expansion draft process to help immediately build a contender.
We also did not take into account the randomness that can come with hockey, because while there were obvious expansion draft blunders (Florida, Anaheim, Minnesota at the top of the list) nobody could have seriously expected somebody like William Karlsson to immediately become an impact player.
Sometimes this sport is wild.
Now that Vegas has its Stanley Cup, let’s dig into somethings.
1. The $10 million player narrative can finally go away
Thankfully so, I might add. Because it was always stupid.
This entire Stanley Cup Final was an all-out narrative-gasm of storylines, from Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith burning the team that gave them away in the expansion draft, to Bruce Cassidy winning the Cup with Vegas just one year after being fired by Boston (while Boston lost in the First Round) to Jack Eichel (the No. 2 overall pick in 2015) winning a Stanley Cup before Connor McDavid (the No. 1 overall pick in 2015 and consensus best player in the sport).
Speaking of Eichel, his opportunity to lift the Cup put an end to one of my least favorite team-building narratives in the NHL — the idea that you can not win a championship with a player making more than $10 million per year.
Eichel is in the fifth-year of an eight-year, $80 million contract that carries a $10 million per year salary cap hit.
Maybe it wasn’t that a team COULDN’T do it, but the fact no team had ever done so definitely got talked up quite a bit every time a player signed one of those contracts or every time a team with one of those players fell short of a championship.
The maddening thing about it was always the fact the $10 million number was always completely arbitrary and had no significant relevance to anything in putting together a roster.
If you want to argue about salary cap structures and team-building and the belief that you shouldn’t spend too much money in one place, percentage of the cap was always the thing to look at it. Not the round number.
A $10 million salary cap hit in 2022-23 accounts for about 12 percent of the salary cap ceiling.
Just for laughs, let’s see where that ranks among highest cap percentages for a Stanley Cup winning player in the salary cap era. All numbers via CapFriendly.
It does not even crack the top-10.
The “you can’t win with a $10 million player” was always a weird, lazy argument because teams have been winning with the equivalent of that for years. The raw, round number is meaningless. The percentage is what matters. And even then if you are paying for the right player it still does not truly matter.
Hell, look at those 2006-07 and 2007-08 Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings teams. They both had just TWO players accounting for nearly 30 percent of the cap!
The 2015-16 and 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins also had two players pulling in more than 25 percent.
This is a narrative that I have personally been banging for years, where just about every Stanley Cup winning team commits around 40-50 percent of its allotted salary cap space to a small core group of four or five players. That obviously does not mean you can just throw big money at second-tier players and expect it turn into a championship. You need to be investing in the right players. Impact players.
Stars matter, and stars cost money. Do not be afraid of paying them if they are in their primes and can meaningfully impact games.
Speaking of which….
2. Hopefully this year sparks more blockbuster trades among the NHL’s general managers
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