Ever since their stunning inaugural season, Vegas has been a Cup contender but hasn’t managed to seal the deal yet. With a recent roster shake-up heading into this season, here are three reasons why Vegas will win the Stanley Cup, and three reasons they won’t.
Vegas Will Win #1: Goalie Depth
nice open net you’ve got there….. yeah sonk 🌸 pic.twitter.com/5VnU9266br— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) February 12, 2021
There’s an old hockey adage that says “if you have two goalies, you have none.” That is to say, if you don’t have a clear starter and a clear backup, you have neither. That kind of setup can lead to uncertainty within the lineup, indecision by the coaching staff, and can affect the whole roster.
Vegas could be the exception that proves the rule. Ever since he landed in Sin City, Marc-Andre Fleury has been a consummate professional, and everything you’d hope for from a starting goaltender. He’s given the Golden Knights solid starts, stolen games when the rest of the team wasn’t at their best, and became the face of a franchise when they needed one the most.
Enter last season, when the team traded for Robin Lehner. He was supposed to be the insurance policy should anything happen to Fleury. As the season went on, Lehner outplayed Fleury and started 16 of the team’s 20 playoff games. Things really got rocky when, during that playoff run, Fleury’s agent sent a rather incendiary tweet showing his client getting stabbed in the back.
It’s a brand new, and odd, season this year with a compressed schedule. Due to that schedule, added pressure will be put on goaltending depth. Being able to throw out a starting-caliber goaltender on any given night puts the Knights at a distinct advantage. If the team, and their agents, can avoid the bitterness and in-fighting, Fleury and Lehner are easily the best goalie tandem in the league and can backstop this team to a long playoff run.
Vegas Will Win #2: Pietrangelo is an Upgrade
Team defense has always been a question in the desert, and ever since they missed out on obtaining Erik Karlsson in 2018, it felt like the Knights have been looking to obtain that franchise defenseman. This past offseason, they were finally able to do so, signing Alex Pietrangelo. In order to make room, Vegas had to move former first-pairing defenseman Nate Schmidt.
On paper, is Pietrangelo an upgrade over Schmidt? Yes, obviously, in all phases. Will Petro fit into the lineup as seamlessly as Schmidt did? Not yet, but it’s a work in progress. If he can put up anywhere near the offensive numbers Schmidt did, while maintaining his high-end defensive play, the cost will be worth it, especially come playoff time.
Vegas Will Win #3: Pacioretty and Stone Stay Elite
While they don’t have the greatest depth at center (more on that later), Vegas might have the best collection of wingers in the league. Right at the top of the list are Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone, two very different players, but equally important to the Golden Knights’ success.
Pacioretty is an offensive specialist with a shoot-first mentality. He can be very streaky, but if he’s hot he can take over a game. Stone is a prototypical two-way player with significant offensive talent. He can shut down the opposition’s top player while also creating offense for himself.
If these two are on the top of their game, they can dominate play and make it a long night for the opposition. If they struggle, Vegas could be in for a long season, and even miss the playoffs altogether.
Vegas Won’t Win #1: Center depth
The Pittsburgh Penguins won back to back Stanley Cups with three lines anchored by strong center play. Crosby, Malkin and Bonino created matchup hell for opponents. For all the talent on this Vegas roster, center is not a position of strength. Part of the cost to make room for Pietrangelo’s contract was shipping Paul Stastny to Winnipeg.
On any given night, their top line center this season is Chandler Stephenson. No offense to Mr. Stephenson, but looking back at the last two decades of Stanley Cup winners, even he would agree that every other number one center would be more highly regarded than he is.
William Karlsson might just be a perfect second line center. He is dangerous as both a shooter and passer, and has been around 50% in the faceoff dot since coming to Vegas. Cody Glass is still 21 years old. He could very well be the team’s top center in the future, but there’s a lot of potential to be realized. As such, he currently locks down the third line.
If Stephenson doesn’t overachieve and Glass doesn’t play above his age, there’s a very real fear that the wingers can’t propel this team deep into the playoffs.
Vegas Won’t Win #2: No Depth Scoring
I can hear you all now. “But JB, you just said the Knight have the best collection of wingers. Now you’re saying they don’t have scoring depth. What gives?”
Patches and Stone on the top line is lethal. Riley Smith and Jonathan Marchessault on the second line is scary. Alex Tuch on the third line is a luxury. We’ve already been over the question mark that Stephenson is on the top line. Cody Glass could thrive on the third, but hasn’t shown a whole lot of consistency yet. No one is expecting much from the likes of Ryan Reaves, Will Carrier, Nic Roy and Keegan Kolesar.
Right now, Pacioretty and Stone account for the majority of their offense (combined 12 goals, 17 assists). If either one goes cold, someone else needs to step up.
Vegas Won’t Win #3: COVID Derails Momentum
This team looks like a well-oiled machine, and some say they haven’t even played their best hockey yet. If that’s true, then there’s really only one thing that could derail this momentum: time off.
After a scare with coaching staff and players postponed a week’s worth of games, the team picked right back up where they left off. If they were to encounter another, longer layoff later in the season, who knows if they could flip the switch again.
Momentum at the professional level is a finicky thing. If you have it, you certainly don’t want to mess with it. Losing it at the wrong time could be disastrous.
I think this team has all the makings of a Cup winner this year. Stone and Pacioretty will fight each other for league MVP. Fleury is already in the Vezina conversation. Pietrangelo will be the upgrade they needed on the back end. There’s going to be a parade in Vegas this year.