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Back on Feb. 1, the Vegas Golden Knights won a wild overtime thriller against the Winnipeg Jets. That gave the Knights their 34th win of the season, setting a new record for wins by an expansion team in its inaugural season.
Before this year, a pair of teams shared the record of 33 wins: the 1993-94 Anaheim Mighty Ducks and the 1993-94 Florida Panthers. Even more impressive, Vegas set the new record in an astonishing 50 games, while it took both Anaheim and Florida 84 contests to record their 33 wins.
Since that win over the Jets, the Golden Knights have added three more victories, bringing their total to 37 in 56 games. They currently stand atop both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference, and have the second most points in the league with 78 – just one point behind the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
As of now, only two teams have finished at the top of their division at the end of their first season — and one was the 1926-27 New York Rangers, back when the NHL had just 10 teams. Outside of the Original Six, no team has ever won their conference in their first year of existence; Vegas currently holds a one-point lead in the Western Conference over second-place Nashville.
Today, the Golden Knights are on pace for 54 wins and 114 points, which would not only pulverize Florida’s previous record of 83 points in an expansion’s inaugural season, but would also be the best mark for any team playing in their first year in the NHL. The 1995-96 Colorado Avalanche were in their first year of existence when they totaled 47 wins and 104 points – the most of any new team – but they were not considered an expansion team as they had relocated from Quebec.
As of now, only four teams have tallied more wins in their first seasons than Vegas, all of which were relocated squads. That number may shrink quickly, too, as the Golden Knights need just three more wins to jump over the 1996-97 Phoenix Coyotes and the 1980-81 Calgary Flames.
Arguably the most impressive piece of the Golden Knights' stellar first season is the fact that they are the lone team in the league playing in their inaugural year.
The National Hockey League has expanded 12 times since it began adding teams to the Original Six in 1967, including its most recent venture to Las Vegas. Eight of those 12 expansions featured the addition of multiple teams, meaning that the majority of teams in their first season had the luxury of playing other squads who were also brand new.
Following the 1993-94 Ducks and Panthers, the next best expansion teams – from a wins perspective – were the 1967-68 Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings, who finished first and second, respectively, in the West Division. Of the Flyers' 31 wins, 23 of them came against the five other expansion teams that were in their first years; Los Angeles had 21 of their 31 wins over fellow first-year squads.
Only four teams after the NHL’s initial expansion played in their first season without another brand-new team, one of them being Vegas. So the closest comparison to this year’s Golden Knights are the 1998-99 Nashville Predators, who went 28-47-7 and were the fourth-worst team in the entire league.
The other squads are the 1991-92 San Jose Sharks and the 1999-2000 Atlanta Thrashers – both of whom finished dead last in the NHL – and this year’s Vegas team. The Golden Knights currently have almost double the amount of points that last-place Arizona has (40).
Barring an epic collapse in the final two months of the season, Vegas will be in the playoffs and will own a high seed. Only six expansion squads have made the playoffs in their first year of existence, and none of them had a higher seed than fifth. Of those teams, four lost in the first round, and one lost in the second round (the 1967-68 Minnesota North Stars), while the 1967-68 St. Louis Blues fell in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Relocated teams have not fared too much better, with just four teams qualifying for the postseason on their first attempts. Only two of those squads made it past the second round of the playoffs — the 1995-96 Avalanche, who won the Stanley Cup, and the 1980-81 Flames, who lost in the Western Conference Finals.
What the Golden Knights have done this season has been nothing short of historic. And we should all take the time to appreciate this run by the NHL’s newest team — especially with news breaking Tuesday afternoon that Seattle has officially filed an application for an expansion team.
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