After a dominant postseason performance, the Vegas Golden Knights have been crowned as the 2023 Stanley Cup Champions! The team never trailed in a series after losing their very first game of the playoffs, going 16-6 over two months of gruelling hockey. In the last fifteen years, only the 2012 Kings and 2022 Avalanche have suffered fewer losses on the way to winning Lord Stanley. So, how did they do it? Let’s look back at the historic season in Vegas.
After missing the playoffs last season with a very depleted roster, the Golden Knights made a coaching change, replacing Pete Deboer with former Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. Despite leading Boston to the playoffs every year he was there, Cassidy had reportedly fallen out of favour with the team, giving Vegas the opportunity to grab a coach with a track record of sustained success in the league. While Cassidy may not have been the easiest coach to play for, Mark Stone praised his impact, saying, “he brought an intensity to our locker room that maybe we needed” after last night’s Cup-clinching win.
To start the regular season, the Golden Knights came out flying, immediately proving that they were a threat to go deep. After fifteen games, they sat at the top of the conference with a record of 13-2-0. From that point on, the season became about keeping their spot atop the Western Conference.
In January, the team faced its first significant challenge, going 4-6-2 and losing captain Mark Stone to the injury reserve. However, after the All-Star break, the Golden Knights were out to prove just how good they still were. With a key acquisition of Ivan Barbashev helping an already deep team at forward, Vegas went 16-3-3 in March and April to end the season on top of the Pacific Division and Western Conference.
Playing your best hockey at the right time is crucial in the NHL, and the Knights kept this momentum up throughout their Stanley Cup run.
Jack Eichel led the way offensively in both the regular season and postseason, but it was a collective effort all year. Over the first 82 games of the year, no player on Vegas had more than Eichel’s team-leading 66, but nine guys ended the season averaging more than half a point per game. Besides Boston, Vegas was arguably the deepest team in the league, and that depth played a vital role in the playoffs.
They weren’t just deep up front, though, as the roster was also stacked with big, tough defensemen and a committee of goaltenders that could all get the job done. In March, Vegas became the first team ever to win four consecutive games with four different starting goaltenders. Obviously, Adin Hill ended up being the guy in the playoffs, but he was arguably the fourth-stringer on this team at one point too. What a story he ended up being, though.
Every league at the highest level is a copycat league to some degree. When one team wins, every other team starts evaluating their rosters to determine how they can replicate that success. After watching the run by Vegas this season, depth and size should once again be at the front of every general manager’s mind during the offseason. Having the biggest and toughest guys isn’t as important as it used to be, but the Knights proved how much of a difference it can still make, particularly on the back end. A smaller, more skilled guy might produce a few more points in the regular season, but the importance of having that size come playoff time cannot be underestimated.
This year’s Stanley Cup Final may not have been the most thrilling, but it showcased a true masterclass in playoff hockey. Although Vegas may not have the same star power as teams like Colorado or Tampa Bay, they proved to be one heck of a hockey team when it mattered most. With five playoff appearances, two trips to the Finals, and one Stanley Cup victory in just six years, the future remains bright for the Vegas Golden Knights. For now, though, they’ll be enjoying the best Stanley Cup party imaginable right at home in Las Vegas.