The NHL Blew It with the Vegas Knights Expansion Draft

Photo: Getty Images

 As most of you probably know, the newly anointed Knights of Vegas are amongst the best teams in the NHL so far this season, switching best-record honors with Tampa Bay this past week. In addition, as of right now, Vegas has the best expansion team record of all time, in any major sport. Not too shabby for an NHL expansion team, right? Wrong. The NHL did a poor job of planning for long-term league-health in their latest expansion endeavor, and here’s why.

The Burgeoning Bubble
For Vegas fans, they are living in the best of times, but the reality is, there’s nowhere to go but down from here. Vegas fans, new to hockey, or transplanted hockey fans from afar, have enjoyed a great first half of the season, but it won’t always be like that. The blistering success of the Knights in their inaugural season will eventually lead to unrealistic expectations and empty seats once adversity sets in. The fact of the matter is, the real judge of expansion success will come when the first .500 season lands in “Sin City”. Will we see a resemblance to Carolina? Florida? Arizona?….

Graphic: ESPN

The Message Conveyed
If the League is looking to include Stanley Cups with each $500 million expansion fee, the cost to the rest of the League will be more damaging. It’s not only an insult to existing franchise cities, fighting year-in and year-out to fill arenas and win hockey games, but it sends a poor message to NHL fans everywhere. “Money buys success” was supposed to be somewhat eradicated with the salary cap. I mean, what other business do you start out on top before even opening the doors for business?

The NHL’s “Must Win Now” Strategy
There is little question the NHL enabled the Vegas franchise to fill a roster with the best talent off all time, when it comes to other expansion drafts.

Graphic: FiveThirtyEight

It’s clear the league is primarily concerned about the start of a new franchise, and believes immediate winning is essential to long-term success. The fact is, that’s not an  accurate take.

Consider the paths of previous expansion teams. Most started out at or around a .400 winning percentage in their first season, but showed steady improvement over their first 15 seasons.

As the saying goes, “slow and steady wins the race”. Should the Knights go on to win the Stanley Cup, I’ll be the first to mandate an asterisk in the record books.

Westward Go
As I mentioned in the start, the real measure of the success of this specific expansion will be gauged when adversity strikes the Knights. Success needs to be measured over a longer term, with various peaks and valleys along the way. Will casual fans choose the casinos over a .500 team? There is a ton of entertainment options in Sin City.

It’s true that the “must win immediately ” philosophy sells tickets in year one, but it wont do much for building the hard-core fanbase, or ensure long-term value and success in Las Vegas. If the NHL continues to believe in this process, I’d take Seattle and the “over” in the next expansion season.

Bottom line, it should be an “earn your stripes” league, for the good of the league. The challenge of building a championship-caliber team through the management of draft picks, development of prospects and management of the salary cap is the essence of most major sports in today’s world. The NHL is going against that model with their current expansion philosophy.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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11 Responses to The NHL Blew It with the Vegas Knights Expansion Draft

  1. DayOne Caps Fanatic says:

    VGK and Gary B*ttman are the worst things that have ever happened to the Washington Capitals. I remember Year One, 1974-5, all eight victories, 67 losses, a pi**-poor TV contract (what, did they televise even 15 games?), and the Caps were awful for six years after that … and the WHA drove talent away from the NHL …. And my favorite guy of all, George “Martin Erat will fix everything” McPhee gets a cherry-picked team for half a billion dollars. Outstanding D-prospect Schmidt is gone forever, Caps play two VERY green and unproductive D rookies (somebody PLEASE debate me on this!) and 42-year starved Caps fans will get disappointed again as the Caps fail miserable in the 2018 playoffs, and completely WASTE the Ovechkin era. Ask Ivan Labre about skating a Trash Can around the ice in San Francisco after beating the Cal Golden Seals – the Caps’ only road victory of the whole bloody season. Bitter? Yes. [Great article Mr. Sorensen!]

  2. Anonymous says:

    The Caps are my all time favorite team but they are a no class organization. How is it that the 8 will get retired before the 12? I have been angry since Jeff Friesen wore the 12.. Holtby gets all the credit and hype but how about Godzilla going up next to the 12. Those 2 did way more for this organization than the guys who will be instantly retired. I’m 30 years old and remember crying as a little kid when we got swept but those guys deserve to be up there in Caps Glory and they have waited plenty long for their due time.

  3. Ian says:

    This article seems a bit jealous because of what Vegas has been able to accomplish. The caps have never hand management making good choices in handling of players in the organization. Seems like pretty uneccesary article, why isn’t Vegas allowed to be this good right now? Washington Capitals have had a ton of chances at trying to win a Cup. It’s just new competition in the league.

    • West Sievers says:

      It’s more of a issue with the league. If the VGK win the cup this year they’ll probably keep their fanbase for awhile but when things start to go south (which is the only way they can go after an initial year like this) fanship will go down. The article says sure it might be great to cash in all of your wins in the first year while creating a “fantasy team” (unlike any other expansion in the history of sports team in the US), what happens after that? It does seem to make it all about money for the league. I don’t really care whether they win or lose. I just hope they can stick around to actually make for good competition in the future.

    • Diane Doyle says:

      It’s not just jealousy on the part of Caps fans but to many other fan bases as well. Applies to the St Louis Blues and Vegas’s Western Conference Finals opponent, the Winnipeg Jets. Essentially, Bettman thumbing his nose as just about every fan base, outside of Pitt, Chicago, and LA, the teams that have traded Cups in the last decade.

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