As a lifelong fan of the Washington Capitals, I’ve been personally angered by the way new expansion teams have been added to the league in recent years. Gone are the days of lying your dues and earning your stripes, as expansion teams are given every opportunity to contend for the Stanley Cup right out of the chute, thanks in large part to a gratuitous expansion draft.
We can debate if that’s the best way to integrate a new franchise, by making them a winning team right away. It’s probably a matter of personal perspective and best business practices. Regardless, new teams can still fumble the opportunity away. (see Seattle Kraken).
The Vegas Knights were eliminated from the postseason for the first time in franchise history on Wednesday night. And while that’s the reality that all NHL teams must face at some point, missing the playoffs has been just the latest blow to hockey fans in the Silver State.
Ken Campbell recently penned a worthy piece on the decay of hockey in Sin City. The first noticeable mis-step was the way they dealt fan-favorite Marc-Andre Fleury, allowing him to initially find out he was on the blocks via social media. The team also recently botched a trade of Evgenii Dadonov by trying to trade him to a team on his no-trade list. And this week the Knights found themselves in a dispute with goalie Robin Lehner over his season-ending surgery.
Once media darlings and the feel-good story of the league, the Vegas Golden Knights have hit their first serious rough patch in the road. As a result, (I contend) this will be the first real test of how well hockey has been truly accepted in Sin City, as the initial buzz and luster have now dimmed.
It’s easy to support a winner, but there are a lot of entertainment options in Vegas and competition for entertainment dollars is stiff along the strip. Will fans support a .500 team or go see The Blue Man Group? The test is underway.
Again, this is coming from a (likely jaded) fan that had to deal with decades of losing prior to the first real taste of anything that resembled success. Honestly, I was equal parts jealous and pissed seeing the Knights make the Stanley Cup final in their inaugural campaign. That just isn’t right. Luckily the vitriol quickly subsided on June 7, 2018.
As a fan of the NHL, first and foremost, I wish no permanent harm for hockey in Sin City. I want all teams to succeed in their current markets, including Las Vegas. But as a fan growing up watching the Capitals lose, learning to deal with losses and still love the team and the game, I would be lying if I said I didn’t gain a little contentment from finally seeing the Knights struggle. Enduring the tough times is a requirement for any sports fan. Just ask a Capitals fan.
By Jon Sorensen