At this point, we’ll take hockey back no matter how we can get it, but the latest pair of plans floating around might not be ideal for the Golden Knights competitively.
The Golden Knights are among the best teams in the NHL on paper and are expected to win the Pacific Division and compete for the President’s Trophy. At the very least, Vegas will be penciled in as a playoff team by anyone making prognostications.
That won’t change regardless of whichever plan the NHL lands on to bring the season back, but the current ones seem to lean towards helping middle of the road teams as opposed to elite ones.
You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. –Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner at Paley International Council Summit
That’s the more extreme of the options. The other idea is to have teams travel to each market, but play multiple games while there. In other words, each team would only take one trip to each location and essentially play a series to reduce travel.
So, why is this disadvantageous for the Golden Knights?
Because it’s incredibly difficult to sweep teams in the NHL.
In the most recent playoffs, there was only one sweep in the entire 23 series format. That was a three-game sweep by the Hurricanes over the 11-seed Rangers. Every other qualifying round and every seven-game playoff round saw both teams win at least once. Since 2015, there have been just 10 sweeps in 75 NHL playoff series.
Considering the expectation of the league is to limit cross country travel (and eliminate US/Canada travel), it’s likely the shortened season would see a more regional schedule. Thus, Vegas would be expected to play teams like Arizona, San Jose, Anaheim, and Los Angeles a lot, like maybe even upwards of six times. Each trip could conceivably knock out three or four games all played in succession.
Vegas is better than every team mentioned, but beating them three or four in a row, all in the same building, is a tall task even in matchups with the largest talent discrepancy. With the parity in the league, it will likely mean fewer winning streaks, which will harm the best teams in the league.
In their first three seasons, the Golden Knights have amassed four-game winning streaks 16 different times (including twice in the playoffs). They’ve lost four straight just five times (including once in the playoffs).
They’ve had 29 instances where they completed a season without a regulation loss to an opponent. 10 of those were teams they played at least three times and five were teams they played four times (VAN 2017, SJS 2017, VAN 2018, ANA 2018, SJS 2019).
If the Golden Knights are expected to play four games in a row against the same team, you can probably wipe out the idea of sweeping more than one of them. That means Vegas will likely amass a few extra losses than they are used to. Add in the fact that the season will be shortened, and each point becomes even more important.
The short-term hub idea isn’t as tough, but it’s basically like a 6+ game road trip, which is also nearly impossible to sweep.
Finally, the short-term hub plan will eliminate home-ice advantage. Vegas fared well in the bubble (until they didn’t), but they remain one of the teams with the best home record in the NHL since their inception. Vegas is an incredible 75-33-11 (.676 or a 110 point pace) at home.
In the end, none of it is good, but none of it is really that bad either. Maybe it costs Vegas a couple of points here and there and at the absolute worst it may cost them a seeding spot in the playoffs. If it costs a spot in the playoffs, we’ve got much bigger problems than that addressed in this article (even though they will not have helped).