The Vegas Golden Knights find themselves in the thick of the NHL playoffs race after a rough few months. For the first time in franchise history, missing out on the postseason is a very real possibility.
After sitting near the top of the Pacific Division for most of the season, an up-and-down few months has left the Golden Knights fighting for one of the two wild-card spots in the Western Conference . They currently trail both the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars in points percentage and will need to go on a run to catch one of them.
For a franchise that has made the playoffs in each of its first four seasons, often doing so comfortably, the concept of golfing in May is quite scary. They’ve never been in this situation before and if this is the end of their consecutive playoff appearances, it would be a massive failure for the franchise.
Over the past few years, the Golden Knights made moves that pushed them closer to their ultimate goal of lifting the Stanley Cup. From handing defenseman Alex Pietrangelo a massive contract, even though he was already nearing 30, to trading key future assets — like star prospect Peyton Krebs — for Jack Eichel. Las Vegas sacrificed the future for the present.
- Peyton Krebs stats (2021-22 AHL): 20 GP, 4 G, 16 ASTs, 20 PTS
With all these big names on the roster, the Golden Knights should be much higher in the NHL standings. There have been some factors out of their control that impacted their current position, namely injuries. However, sitting on the playoff bubble after sacrificing multiple prospects and high draft picks is not acceptable.
The Golden Knights also now find themselves in a tough salary cap situation. While they may be able to find a way to keep the current roster together for this year’s playoff run using the long-term injury reserve, they will need to discard salary before the start of next season. They have a group of aging players inked to long-term deals and there isn’t much help coming through the prospect pipeline. The window is quickly closing.
Identifying areas to improve
The Golden Knights haven’t been successful enough in any one area this season to be considered true contenders. One of their biggest issues has been an anemic power play, a strange problem considering the amount of high-end talent on the team. The addition of Jack Eichel mid-season gives them one of the top snipers in the league to deploy and when he gets a chance to play significant minutes with captain Mark Stone, the hope is that the two can connect and elevate the unit. However, to this point the power play has struggled, scoring on only 18.4% of opportunities, good for 25th in the NHL.
While the power play has been a big issue, the Golden Knights have also been the victims of some poor finishing and overall bad luck. When trailing at 5-on-5 this season, the Golden Knights are controlling 55.06% of the scoring chances and 55.59% of the expected goals. Despite that, they’re only scoring 48.19% of the goals during that time period, good for 23rd in the league. That’s because their shooting percentage of 6.28% during this time is the worst in the league by a considerable margin, almost a full 0.5% worse than the 31st place New York Islanders.
The consequences of the ruthless pursuit of success
If there’s one thing that the Golden Knights have made clear over their time in the NHL it’s that they will not settle for mediocrity. They’ve consistently shown a willingness to make big splashes in the trade and free agency markets if they feel like it will improve their team. They also have no issue getting rid of large contributors or fan favorites if they deem it necessary. Just look at the departure of beloved goalie Marc-Andre Fleury last offseason.
If the team fails to make the playoffs this season, it’s not hard to envision a situation where massive changes go down during the summer. That could mean the removal of head coach Peter DeBoer or trading one of the big names.
The Golden Knights have won five straight games and still have a chance at making the playoffs. If they do so, they’ll be able to ice their full lineup for the first time and that could change things completely. A deep playoff run makes everyone forget about regular season struggles in an instant.