Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

GOODMAN | Golden Knights Beating the Odds


Thanks to the newest franchise in major American professional sports, it will become common to inquire about the Vegas odds for — the Vegas game.

The Vegas Golden Knights, the National Hockey League expansion team, has splashed onto the scene in its first month of regular season play to astonishing success. The Golden Knights won eight of their first nine games, heading toward the top of the Western Conference standings, uplifting a city still reeling after tragedy while also confounding sports fans and pundits.

After all, expansion teams usually flop. How have the Golden Knights avoided this fate so far, and will their early success last?

It is important to survey the historically laughable expansion seasons of teams in all sports, including hockey. From the Tampa Buccaneers’ 0-14 record in 1976 to the New York Mets’ 40-120 in 1962, expansion teams initially play like boys among men, needing a few seasons to get their feet wet.

The reasons are various and apparent to anyone with an elementary understanding of economics. The competition of expansion teams yields the advantages of economies of scale; established franchises have a stadium to play in, well-developed player talent, organizational structure, licensing and advertisement partnerships, TV deals and, of course, loyal fan bases, whereas the expansion team has jack squat.

There has never been a professional sports franchise in Las Vegas, and like all other expansion teams, the Golden Knights started without any players. They acquired a roster through a standard “expansion draft,” through which Vegas selected one player from each current team after the teams were allowed to “protect” some of their best players from draft eligibility.

These expansion drafts often make expansion teams resemble islands of misfit toys. Team chemistry can be hard to come by.

These stacked odds make Vegas’ hot start all the more impressive. But several factors suggest that the Golden Knights are in danger of falling back to Earth.

First, seven games out of the first nine they played took place on home ice. Las Vegas’s T-Mobile Arena might have a long way to go before becoming the Lambeau Field of hockey, but nonetheless, the league dealt its new team quite a gentle slate to open the season.

Additionally, the Chicago Tribune reported that Las Vegas — despite its hot start — ranked nearly dead last in the league in a score of 45.9 in a metric called “Corsi For,” which measures the percent of 5-on-5 shots-on-goal taken by one team relative to its opponent.

This statistic implies that Las Vegas has achieved little puck control, which might in turn indicate the goals it has scored so far were lucky. Similarly lucky is the Golden Knights’ 3-0 overtime record. Overtime is played three-on-three, which hardly resembles general gameplay, so odds are teams’ overtime records even out as the year progresses.

Finally, of course, there’s the X-factor of the newness of the team. While we cannot quantify this factor, it is evident how inspiring the team’s run of success has been for its city, and when this exogenous excitement inevitably wears off, I do wonder if the Golden Knights and their fans will be able to muster the same passion during the dog days of the NHL winter.

Perhaps this skepticism has begun to prove warranted. After hitting a losing skid, Vegas still sits strongly at 9-4, but it is clear that its uncanny rate of success cannot last forever. More than anything, nine games is such a small sample size, and given the overwhelming historical precedent of expansion teams’ steep learning curve, we can comfortably predict that the Golden Knights will face more negative streaks than positive ones over their first season.

Nevertheless, this plucky expansion team should be proud of its early magic-carpet ride. With fan engagement higher than expected, the Golden Knights have done all that an expansion team needs to do: generate support and excitement and fill seats in the arena. With that momentum, they can build on this season, so that the 2017 new kids on the block can mature into the big bullies of the NHL playground by, say, 2022.

Or perhaps that year will yet be this one. I probably should not dismiss Sin City’s chances at success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season. As the saying goes, never bet against the house.

Ben Goodman is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. “WHAT’S THE CALL?” appears in print every other Friday.

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