Why the Bitterness Toward the Golden Knights?

by | Jun 19, 2023 | Soapbox | 13 comments

It’s been a week since the Vegas Golden Knights won their first-ever Stanley Cup.

They’re the seventh team since 2000 to win their first Cup, joining the Tampa Bay Lightning (2004), Carolina Hurricanes (2006), Anaheim Ducks (2007), Los Angeles Kings (2012), Washington Capitals (2018) and St. Louis Blues (2019).

The Golden Knights also became the fastest expansion team to win the Cup by doing so in their sixth season, breaking the record of seven seasons set by the 1973-74 Philadelphia Flyers.

Vegas Golden Knights – 2023 Stanley Cup Champions (NHL.com).

Their fans are deliriously happy over their franchise’s success, bouncing back from missing the playoffs last season to win hockey’s hold grail. It also comes five years after the club stunned the hockey world by reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural campaign.

Nevertheless, some fans of other teams took to social media to express their bitterness toward the Golden Knights following their Cup win.

Most spouted tired conspiracy theories claiming the Golden Knights benefited from an expansion draft supposedly rigged in their favor by league commissioner Gary Bettman.

Others claimed the Golden Knights cheated by keeping sidelined captain Mark Stone on long-term injury reserve until the playoffs when the salary cap no longer counted, enabling them to add Ivan Barbashev, Jonathan Quick and Teddy Blueger at the trade deadline.

All of this, of course, is sour grapes.

Some of it comes from so-called “traditionalists” who can’t stand to see Sun Belt franchises winning the Cup. Some of it emanates from supporters of teams in the midst of lengthy Stanley Cup droughts.

It’s true that the NHL changed the expansion draft rules for the Golden Knights. Those rules stayed in place for the Seattle Kraken’s draft in 2021.

The slim pickings in previous expansion drafts left the new teams struggling for years as league doormats before they could build into playoff contenders. It wasn’t a smart way to draw supporters in those new markets.

Building fan support and growing the game in non-traditional markets is the point of expansion. It boosts the league’s hockey-related revenue and improves its visibility in the ultra-competitive North American sports market.

Everyone knew that the rules for the 2017 expansion draft would force established teams to expose better players. Nevertheless, some of those clubs – the Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers and Minnesota Wild – made questionable trades with Vegas to protect other players.

That’s how Shea Theodore, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith and Alex Tuch wound up becoming invaluable players for Vegas in their early years. It’s how they got a franchise goalie during those years in Marc-Andre Fleury. They were among the players who helped the Golden Knights reach the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, forming the basis of a core that became a solid playoff contender for the following three seasons, including two more trips to the Western Conference Final.

When that draft was completed, however, no one at the time pointed to their roster and said, “This is a team that’s going to be a Stanley Cup Finalist in their first season.”

The Golden Knights were expected to be competitive in their NHL debut season but nobody predicted they would reach the playoffs, let alone march to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Postseason contention was projected to be three or four years away. Not even team owner Bill Foley, predicting his club would win the Cup by 2023, expected his team to have such impressive success in their first three campaigns.

Fortunately for the Golden Knights, they had an experienced, shrewd general manager during the expansion draft named George McPhee during the expansion draft. He’s now their president of hockey operations.

Of those original “Golden Misfits”, as they were self-dubbed, only six remain – Smith, Theodore, Karlsson, Brayden McNabb, William Carrier and playoff MVP Marchessault. The rest of their roster was built largely on trades by McPhee and his successor Kelly McCrimmon.

Drawing on existing talent, draft picks and their prospect pool, McPhee and McCrimmon acquired Mark Stone, Jack Eichel, Alec Martinez, Chandler Stephenson, Ivan Barbashev, and playoff hero Adin Hill.

Nobody gifted those players to the Golden Knights. They acquired them fair and square, just as they did with their original gang of misfits in the expansion draft. If anyone’s at fault, it’s the general managers of those rival clubs who got lured into bad trades.

As for the supposed “cheating” of having Stone on LTIR for the season, this goes back to Tampa Bay Lightning star Nikita Kucherov missing the entire COVID-shortened 2020-21 season recovering from offseason hip surgery only to return to action in the 2021 playoffs and help his club win the Stanley Cup.

This complaint goes back even further, to the 2014-15 season and Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane missing the final two months of the regular season with a broken collarbone, returning for the Blackhawks’ postseason march to the Cup.

In those cases, the Lightning and the Blackhawks garnered cap relief with their high-salaries stars on LTIR that was put toward loading up the roster for the playoffs. The Golden Knights drew on the precedent set by both clubs.

In each case, those teams had to prove to the league that those players could not be cleared medically to play until the postseason. It’s still a legal loophole in the collective bargaining agreement. General managers don’t like it unless, of course, it’s their teams that benefit from it. Don’t expect to see any change to that rule anytime soon.

If you’re a fan of a club that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in years or decades and you’re upset over the Golden Knights winning hockey’s holy grail, your frustration is aimed in the wrong direction.

Instead of dreaming up wild conspiracy theories or baseless accusations of cheating, perhaps you should be demanding more from the folks who are running your team.

Maybe the fault lies with years of mismanagement and incompetence that has kept your team out of the playoffs or hamstrung their ability to become more than a marginal contender or prevented them from winning more than a playoff round or two.

Let the Golden Knights and their fans enjoy their moment. In today’s salary cap world, they’ll face the same difficulties maintaining a Stanley Cup contender as most of their predecessors.

At some point, the Golden Knights’ core players will age and management will have to replace them. Cap constraints will one day see them lose talent to free agency or cost-cutting trades. The ongoing pillaging of their shrinking prospect pool for short-term gains could prove costly over the long term.

By that stage, maybe your team will finally get their act together and end their long Stanley Cup drought.


  1. The funny thing is most fans teams rosters are at a better/stronger starting point to make a cup run in six years than any expansion team would be, right?
    Like you wrote, you only need to look at your own team’s GM and ask them why can’t you do the same?

    Vegas simply had nothing to lose and bet big and won most of their gambles. No GM will risk doing that to an established team or even a bubble team. Can you image a GM on a regular team trade away all those assets. All teams go through a large turnover of players during their rebuild but in Vegas’ case they really thought about the here and now rather than playing it safe or conservative. A well deserved championship.

  2. “Maybe the fault lies with years of mismanagement and incompetence that has kept your team out of the playoffs or hamstrung their ability to become more than a marginal contender or prevented them from winning more than a playoff round or two.”

    This cuts so deep as a Rangers fan and really sums up what I’m feeling about this team.

  3. Fastest expansion team to win a cup was the Edmonton Oilers. They did it in five tears.

  4. … I mean …. in five years …

    • The WHA teams were not considered expansion teams in the true sense. They were existing pro clubs from a rival league.

      “The 1979 NHL Expansion Draft was held on June 13, 1979. The draft took place to fill the rosters of the National Hockey League’s new teams for the 1979–80 season: the Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets. These four teams had joined the NHL after a merger agreement was reached with the World Hockey Association (WHA).

      As many WHA players also had their rights held by NHL teams, those NHL teams were allowed to reclaim their players. In order to keep the NHL teams from plundering all the talent from the WHA-turned-NHL teams, each incoming franchise was allowed to protect up to two goaltenders and two skaters. These were designated as “priority selections” in the Expansion Draft.”

      See the following link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1979_NHL_Expansion_Draft

      • The Winnipeg Jets probably could have won a Stanley Cup in their first season in the NHL, but the NHL absolutely decimated their championship quality roster during the “merger”.

    • Other General Managers might look at Vegas success and follow their lead.Most GM s Don t have the intestinal fortitude to step out of the box and do this.These G M s spout loyalty to the group and are afraid to make a significant trade or they sign guys and include no trade clauses or no movement clauses in their contracts!Loyalty to your players or not trading them ends up getting coaches fired!The best example of unbridled loyalty goes to Boston and Pittsburgh!Both teams still hold on to hope with ancient rosters.ln Pittsburgh s case they at least won 3 cups with that group.Why is Boston waiting around 12 years after winning this groups cup with the same top 6 centers at 37 and 38 years old?

      • im thinking a record setting season and a 3-1 lead meade tgem think they did it right. obviously not the outcome they had hoped for but thats the game

  5. Let’s not forget another club that was, in effect, an expansion team and won the Stanley Cup even faster than the Golden Knights.

    In 1979, as us oldtimers recall, the NHL absorbed the WHA and admitted four WHA clubs to the league. Those four clubs were stripped of nearly all their players, who were reassigned to whichever team held their NHL rights. Each team was allowed to protect only two skaters and two goaltenders. The NHL then held an expansion draft to restock those teams. In their own official words, then, those were expansion teams.

    It was sheer luck that the Oilers got to protect the best player in the game and build around him. After all, Gretzky only became an Oiler in the first place because the Indianapolis Racers folded partway through the previous season and sold his contract to Peter Pocklington.

    I find it amusing that the person I know who hates the Golden Knights most, and is most upset about the ‘unfair’ expansion rules that gave them a good team from the start, is a lifelong Oiler fan. He should try looking in the mirror.

  6. First of all congrats to VGK, they playe their hearts out and were rewarded.

    I don’t see the hoopla about the construction of the team, with only 6 players left they recognised glaring weaknesses despite getting to the final.

    Let’s face it, a third string goaie played over his head in the playoffs,
    Sometimes that translates to a new level that can be maintained, usually not.

    Jaje Oettinger was brutal in these playoffs, if he plays up to par VGK are knocked out by an ageing team.

    I’m not knocking VGK by any means and I recognize that the goalie is part of the team, hello Carey Price, but they aren’t a blueprint for success.

    Eg, Habs made it to the finals but the truth is it was on the back of Carey Price’s last hurrah….and TBL stoned them by Vasilevskiy who bt is no longer god-like.

  7. The ‘loophole’ allowing teams to go over the cap by returning is hugely significant – 3 of the Stanley Cup winners in the past 10 years have won by using this strategy. When Tampa was $18 million over the $80m Cap – they were 25% better than everyone else. I feel sorry for the cap compliant teams that had to face them. Imagine you have a fully capped playoff team and add say Ovechkin AND Mathews to your lineup for your playoff run – your likely going to win.

    So as far as good management, the best strategy to win a cup – Have a star player get ‘injured’ before the playoffs and recover ‘just in time’ for the playoffs.

    This could easily be remedied by outlawing the ‘fielding’ of a roster for a playoff game over the cap. At least the teams over the cap wont have the steep advantage during actual game play.

  8. My short answer is Because.
    I have enough to deal with in Cbus. Mike Babcock and the fact that we have been crying about a number 1 center and it’s iffy if we pick the stud that will be sitting at 3 when we pick. Plus we still have no goaltending,
    So my short answer to the Knight winning is Because

  9. I for one dislike the Knights simply because of how they have treated players like disposable parts. Hard to argue with results, but the lack of respect they’ve shown for players and coaches makes them impossible for me to cheer for.