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NHL: Are Vegas Golden Knights ready for Stanley Cup glory?

Ever since entering the NHL in 2017/18 the Vegas Golden Knights and General Manager Kelly McCrimmon have been on a ruthless pursuit to win the Stanley Cup.

Their inaugural season saw them come close, losing in the Stanley Cup Final to the Washington Capitals, and since they have rolled the dice on several high-profile player moves and changed coaches in attempt to win the ultimate prize.

With Bruce Cassidy now in charge and McCrimmon believing the team to be the best the Golden Knights have had, are they ready to meet their +600 odds and lift the cup this season?

Third hire lucky

Gerard Gallant (now of New York Rangers) and Peter DeBoer (now of Dallas Stars), weren't able to deliver the grand prize to Vegas, and despite each going on deep runs with the team in the playoffs, both ended up being fired following just a couple of years in charge.

Hoping for third time lucky, McCrimmon moved quickly to snap up Cassidy after he was surprisingly let go by the Boston Bruins in the off-season and he has made an instant impression going 15-4-1 with a .775 points per-game percentage which beats Gallants .601 and DeBoer's.650.

Cassidy, 57, had a 245-108-46 record with the Bruins and led them to six straight playoff appearances, including a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2019.

Major moves

In the tradition of Vegas, the Golden Knights have never been scared to gamble and make high stake moves in attempt to win the ultimate jackpot, the Stanley Cup.

It's taken longer than they would have hoped after the run to the Final in their first season, but GM McCrimmon has been public in his belief that the franchise is getting closer and the team which he has assembled now is the best that they have ever had.

Several of the key pieces from the hugely successful inaugural team remain including high-scoring forwards Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson plus defencemen Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb and Zach Whitecloud.

But they are now supported by a superstar cast which includes Captain Mark Stone (acquired from Ottawa Senators), prime defenceman Alex Pietrangelo (signed to a seven-year $61.6-million contract via free agency) and current top point and goal scorer Jack Eichel.

Eichel impact

The Golden Knights move for 26-year-old Eichel was one of the most high-profile trades in recent years and appears to be paying off in dividends.

Eichel, a second overall draft pick in 2015, was acquired in November 2021 following a fall out with his former team Buffalo Sabres over the course of action for a severe neck injury. Eichel was pushing for surgery never been carried out on an NHL player before, but the Sabres were not willing to take the risk.

The row came to a head in November 2021 with the Golden Knights acquiring the want away Eichel for Peyton Krebs, Alex Tuch and a couple of draft picks.

Vegas immediately gave permission for Eichel to have the disk replacement surgery and he returned last season with 25 points (14 goals, 11 assists) in 34 games. 

Now back to full strength, the centreman has taken his game to another level scoring 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 20 games and is on course to beat his career best season of 2019/20 when he scored 78 points (36 goals, 42 assists) in 68 games.

The question mark on Eichel is what he can do in the playoffs as despite eight years in the league, he is yet to play a post-season game.

Given the torment of the past two seasons and the recovery process which he has had to go through, it'd be just reward to see the brave American get that chance with Vegas, and lead them to the cup as he certainly has the talent to do so.

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Thompson form eases concerns

Another bold move by Vegas, with salary cap consideration in place, was opting for Robin Lehner, 31, over three-time Stanley Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury, 37, as the number one goalie in 2021.

Fleury, a popular figure in Vegas was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, for very little in return ahead of 2021/22, essentially to get his significant contract off their books and give the team much needed cap flexibility to add the likes of Eichel. 

Lehner played 44 games last season with a 23-17-0 record, .907 save percentage and 2.83 goals-against-average (GAA) before he was injured giving Logan Thompson, 25, opportunity to break into the NHL playing 19 games (17 starts) with a 10-5-3 record, .914 save percentage and 2.68 GAA.

After Lehner was forced to undergo hip surgery and was ruled out for the entirety of the current campaign, many were left concerned whether Thompson would be good enough to lead Vegas to a Stanley Cup championship.

Vegas added support by acquiring Adin Hill, 26, from the San Jose Sharks and while it's a little early to say positively that the pair can get Vegas to where they want to be, the signs are certainly positive.

In 13 starts, Thompson has a 10-3-0 record, .920 save percentage and 2.40 GAA while Hill is 5-1-1 in seven starts with a .909 save percentage and 2.55 GAA.

Time will tell

Only time will tell if the Golden Knights have enough to topple the likes of reigning champions Colorado Avalanche (+700) and the red-hot Boston Bruins (+150) who are current favourites.

But, assuming similar numbers from their goalie tandem over a season and into the playoffs and with Eichel and their other superstars like Mark Stone who missed significant time last season back to full health, the Golden Knights are certainly well primed to make a deep run and bring a first cup to the city of Vegas.

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