Recently the guys at The Hockey News basically called the Golden Knights the worst team in the NHL. We didn’t want to agree, but we also aren’t exactly ready to go out on a limb and disagree either. Many spoke out on Twitter/Facebook with a much more optimistic outlook. One such person is our guy Mike DeKalb, and he’s ready to make a prediction I (Ken) think is madness.
Here’s his Guest Post called “Nine Points In Nine Games.”
What can I say? I’m an optimist. I truly enjoy looking for the most positive aspects of my daily life, and working to enhance them as best I can. This outlook also applies to sports very well – I feel that there is no greater drama than what is found in the sports world, and the best storylines usually make for the best games – so bringing forward hope and confidence will only amplify the experience of the sports fan.
By finally having a team of their own, the hockey fans in Las Vegas should feel a similar sense of good fortune. I know it’s easy to focus on the negative stories surrounding the Golden Knights – the ongoing drama involving the TV deal, the avoidance of the local market during the team’s “road trip” through the Rockies, the doomed history of virtually every other NHL expansion season in the modern era – but for one month, I’d like to see this fanbase instead turn their attention to the blissful joy of anticipation.
We’ve heard The Creator’s credo – “Playoffs in 3, Cup in 6” – and we know that we’re in for some heartache in Years 1 and 2 before we can possibly experience that playoff run in Year 3. Here at SinBin.vegas, our fearless leaders have done a wonderful job of informing the fans of all the moving-and-shaking going on, but that has a tendency to highlight the misery in order to prepare everyone for the worst possible outcome. Well, this is my chance to come along and ask: why not find a ray of sunshine to accompany the genesis of the Knights as they make their first strides toward history?
What started out as a friendly wager between Ken and myself has brought us to this point now: in the midst of a discussion about how poorly the Knights will begin this season, I suggested the possibility that the team could have a decent showing in October, due to a lengthy homestand and certain extenuating circumstances involving their respective opponents. Ever the realist, Ken is convinced that this will not be the case, but I’m afraid I’d prefer to believe the opposite, because it’s so much more fun that way. As a result, I’ve made the following wager which Ken gladly accepted:
I believe that the Vegas Golden Knights will finish the first NINE games of the season with at least NINE points in the standings.
A .500 record, that’s all. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? Just go 4-4-1, or 3-3-3, or even 2-2-5, whatever it takes. I really think it can be done, because sports is unexpected and the Vegas schedule is set up to surprise – after two games on the road to start the season, the Golden Knights come home for seven straight contests over three weeks, and I think they’ll be in the best position for some early-season success (the other 73 games are a COMPLETELY different story).
Now with the instruments in tune and the musicians in place, let’s take a look at the “dance card”:
OCTOBER 6: at Dallas
History will be made as the Knights take the ice for their first regular-season contest. The Dallas Stars made a lot of improvements over the summer and look to be one of the early contenders for the Central Division title, but maybe they’re still trying to find chemistry with all of those new players in the lineup? And what if they can’t handle the lofty expectations coming out of the gate? We never know, but it sure would be nice if Vegas can steal a point out of this game.
OCTOBER 7: at Arizona
Like the Stars, the Arizona Coyotes also made some significant roster changes over the summer, and have increased confidence going into this season. But they’re also coming off a miserable 2016-17 campaign and perhaps haven’t had enough time to gel as a unit, especially as they are expected to have a few more rookies in the lineup (such as Dylan Strome and Clayton Keller), while having to deal with a devastating injury to defenseman Jakob Chychrun. “Home Opener Jitters” could get to them too, and perhaps the Knights could sneak out of town with a W.
OCTOBER 10: vs. Arizona
A rematch with the Coyotes could lead to some feistiness if there is any bad blood spilling over from three nights earlier. I know that the excitement level will be high as the Knights play in front of their home fans for the first time, and here’s hoping they can ride that wave of emotions to a hard-fought victory.
OCTOBER 13: vs. Detroit
The Red Wings are coming off a season in which they finished near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, and then followed that up with no major moves over the summer, except adding a 34-year-old Trevor Daley to their already-aging roster. They’ll be expecting a lot out of their younger players, and GM Ken Holland wants to make the playoffs during the team’s inaugural season at the new Little Caesars Arena, but it looks to be another dismal year in Detroit. They also play at Arizona the night before, and this will be their third game in four nights, wrapping up a week-long road trip. There’s no reason the Knights can’t get AT LEAST a point out of this game.
OCTOBER 15: vs. Boston
I think this will be the Knights’ toughest game during the first two weeks of the season. The Bruins made a strong run after new head coach Bruce Cassidy took over late in the year, only to lose in the first round of the playoffs – but rookies like Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and the outstanding Charlie McAvoy (who dazzled in the playoffs) should keep the Bruins from missing a beat this season. However, Boston will ALSO be coming to Vegas after having played in Arizona the night before, and this will be a 4pm puck drop. The Knights will have slept in their own beds, while the Bruins will be on their way back home after the game is over – I’d even bet that the Boston backup goalie will get the start as well. Here’s hoping Vegas can startle the sleeping giant (or the hibernating bear) and snatch a victory.
OCTOBER 17: vs. Buffalo
This is a real question mark. Yes, the Sabres were a middling team last year, but they should be much-improved under new coach Phil Housley, and the additions of Marco Scandella and Nathan Beaulieu will only help to solidify their previous weakness at defense. Jack Eichel is ready to become a superstar and I predict he’ll have a remarkable season, but they still have some uncertainty in net, as Robin Lehner has yet to prove that he’s capable of being a #1 goaltender. The schedule has worked in favor of the Knights once again, as they will have been at home for more than a week, while the Sabres will be playing the final game of a lengthy 4-game West Coast road trip. I think Gallant will have the boys ready, and I think they can be triumphant on this night.
OCTOBER 21: vs. St. Louis
To me, this is the toughest game of the 9-game stretch: the Blues should be in the running as one of the best teams of the Western Conference, and only improved their chances with their shrewd off-season moves. They started by dumping Jori Lehtera for Brayden Schenn, then added solid depth forwards in Beau Bennett and Chris Thorburn to replace the departed Ryan Reaves. Rookie Jordan Schmaltz and 18-year-old Russian phenom Klim Kostin could also add to what is already a dynamic lineup. The Blues don’t play the night before, and have three days off after the game, so I expect they’ll go all out to nab what should be an easy two points for them. If the Knights manage to keep this game tied after 60 minutes, I will be ecstatic.
OCTOBER 24: vs. Chicago
On paper, this seems like an obvious loss – but not so fast! The Blackhawks still strike me as a team in flux: they’ve yet to win a playoff series since their 2015 Stanley Cup win, and they made some questionable trades to stay salary cap-compliant, which may decimate both their depth and team chemistry. Yes, they have superstars…but the role players seem to be of the average variety. The Hawks WILL have the advantage of a crowd which will likely be half-filled with Chicago supporters, and the schedule is in their favor (they have two days off before this game and two days off after). But for Vegas, this could be their chance to shock the hockey world and make their mark – and I want to believe!
OCTOBER 27: vs. Colorado
A Friday afternoon affair against a team that was historically bad last season. Like the Hawks, they have some star power up top with Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon (I’m assuming Matt Duchene will have been traded by then), but they are miserable beyond that, with a defense that I would consider to be especially mediocre. I think most Vegas fans will be disappointed if they don’t manage a win in this game, but it’s the NHL and anything can happen – you know, like a new expansion team getting nine points in their first nine games! Personally, I hope it doesn’t come down to this game for me to win this bet, but if that were the case, I think it would be the most highly anticipated Friday-afternoon-in-October hockey game anyone has ever experienced.
So there it is. I won’t pretend that it isn’t going to be difficult, but I’ve laid out the reasons why I think the Knights have a chance. We’re all expecting this to be a VERY long year, loaded with the gloom and despair that accompanies most expansion franchises during their initial seasons, but for these nine games – this three week run – why not start small by planting the seed of hope and carrying that optimism onward and upward? It’s a great way to live!
I hereby invite you all to follow along with me in christening the team with positivity in a season that might otherwise be filled with anguish and hardship – use the hashtag “#VGK9in9” to keep track of the wager AND chart the team’s progress during this initial run. The odds are not in our favor, but let’s turn this first month into a fun ride!
PS. But what about the wager, you say? Well, I’ve suggested to Ken that if the team DOES get 9 points in the first 9 games, then he has to have me as a guest on the SinBin podcast at some point in the near future. But what if I lose? That’s up to you – I’m open to any and all suggestions (within reason, of course) that you may have for me to pay up on the bet itself. Make it fun – bonus points for optimism and creativity – and let both me and the SinBin guys know via Twitter, Facebook or in the Comments section below. Whatever you do – have fun with this!
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