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Vegas Golden Knights Reemerge as Stanley Cup Contenders

nate schmidt vegas golden knights defence
The Vegas Golden Knights have been riding high since Nate Schmidt returned from his lengthy suspension. Photo by Michael Miller. (Wikimedia Commons) [CC License].
  • Once again, the Vegas Golden Knights are proving their naysayers wrong
  • Online sportsbooks now consider the Knights to be bona fide Stanley Cup favorites
  • Are the Knights worth a wager at average odds of +1400?

A constant in the brief history of the Vegas Golden Knights franchise is their seemingly unending legion of leering detractors. Regardless of whether these disparaging voices are in the media, amongst hockey’s old guard, or nestled within social media’s vast expanse, there’s no shortage of voices who take the opportunity to assert that Vegas’ play is both unsustainable and unrealistic.

The other constant has been the Vegas Golden Knights’ consistent defiance of their naysayer’s expectations. Many people, including oddsmakers, wrote Vegas off after their sluggish start to the season. However, the Golden Knights are proving – once again – that they’re an expansion franchise to be reckoned with.

As such, oddsmakers are taking the Knights very seriously, and at average odds of +1400 at online sportsbooks, Vegas is a legitimate contender in the 2019 Stanley Cup odds marketplace. Is there reason to believe that the Knights might still come crashing back to earth? Or is there recent run of play a better indicator of what lies ahead for them come the springtime? Read on to find out!

2019 Stanley Cup Odds

Team Odds to win the 2019 Stanley Cup at Bovada (01/09/2019)
Tampa Bay Lightning +280
Toronto Maple Leafs +550
San Jose Sharks +900
Calgary Flames +950
Winnipeg Jets +1000
Nashville Predators +1200
Vegas Golden Knights +1300

With Nate Schmidt Logging Big Minutes, the Knights Are Unstoppable

In my piece on the Golden Knights’ early-season outlook, I wasn’t especially sanguine about their chances without Nate Schmidt, and I’m happy to say that I was completely right! After returning from his hefty 20 game PED-related suspension, the Golden Knights have gone an eye-popping 19-4-3. The only team that’s been better in that stretch is the Tampa Bay Lightning, the de-facto midseason Stanley Cup Favorite. That’s pretty excellent company.

Schmidt is massively valuable for the Knights. He logs over 23 minutes a game, plays an integral role on both the penalty kill and powerplay, and he’s scoring at a 0.58 PPG clip which is all the more impressive given the quality of competition he faces night in and night out. Right before Schmidt’s return, Vegas average odds were hovering around +3700, and as mentioned above, they’re now +1400 at online sportsbooks.

As is often the case when any team is missing a key contributor, Schmidt’s absence meant that the rest of Vegas’ defense corps was being forced to do some heavy lifting minutes wise that they weren’t necessarily best suited for. For instance, Shea Theodore was getting exposed having to play 1st pairing minutes on his offside, and the 23-year-old struggled.

As immensely talented as he is, Theodore wasn’t ready to be trust into such a role, and both he and Vegas suffered as a result. With Schmidt back, he’s anchoring the second pairing and he’s once again able to best utilize his offensive talents in contexts that are conducive to his success.

Vegas’ Success is Still Predicated on their Team Cohesion

Vegas is currently tied for first in their division (and conference) with 58 points, and somewhat unsurprisingly, they’ve got the second-best home ice points percentage in the entire league (again, bested by arguably the best regular season team in the cap era in the Tampa Bay Lightning).

Vegas is tied for first in their division with 58 points, and they’ve got the second-best home ice points percentage in the entire league.

They’re a top 10 team in goals for, goals against, and goal differential. Yet again, they look legit by every single quantifiable metric you’d hope for in a contender. Repeatedly stammering “but-but, they’re an expansion team!!” is not a quantitative metric as of yet, anyway.

Last season’s frankly unbelievable success from the Smith-Karlsson-Marchessault trio hasn’t been replicated on quite the same scale this season, but they’re all proving that they’re top line players, albeit 60 point ones instead of 70 point ones. The legend of Wild Bill Karlsson’s absurdly high shooting percentage continues, but it’s likely he’ll end up closer to 30 goals than last season’s 43.

The legend of Wild Bill Karlsson’s absurdly high shooting percentage continues, but it’s likely he’ll end up closer to 30 goals than last season’s 43.

Vegas’ team success – especially their scoring – is based around diffuse scoring coming from all areas of their lineup. Vegas’ blockbuster acquisition in Max Pacioretty started off slow but has been great as of late, and Paul Stastny gives Vegas a consistent threat from the second line. Alex Tuch’s 33 points in 37 games show that he’s ready for a bigger offensive role, and hockey’s resident Cy Young winner Brandon Pirri has fit in seamlessly since his recall from the American League, scoring 7 goals and 10 points in 8 games.

Even career 4th liner Ryan Reaves has been a force this season, providing consistent energy and chipping in eight goals. Things are clicking in Vegas.

2018-19 Vegas Golden Knights Depth Chart

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Max Pacioretty William Karlsson Jonathan Marchessault
Brandon Pirri Paul Stastny Alex Tuch
Tomáš Nosek Cody Eakin Ryan Carpenter
Oscar Linberg Pierre-Edouard Bellemare Ryan Reaves
Left Defense Right Defense
Brayden McNabb Nate Schmidt
Shea Theodore Deryk Engelland
Nick Holden Jon Merrill

*Colin Miller, Erik Haula, William Carrier, and Reilly Smith all find themselves on the Injured Reserve, but with the exception of Erik Haula, no injuries are believed to be long term

The Knights’ Success Remains Tethered to Fleury

I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the obvious leader and backbone of the Golden Knights, Marc-Andre Fleury. Once again, Fleury has been brilliant in the black and gold, leading the NHL in wins with 25 (the next closer ‘tender is Frederik Anderson with 20), as well as shutouts with six.

Even at 34, Fleury has been an incredible workhorse for Vegas, starting 39 games and logging the most minutes in the NHL by a margin of nearly 400 minutes. Fleury’s play, demeanor, and well-rounded leadership imbue the Knights with tremendous confidence; he’s been the straw that stirs the drink from day one for the Knights.

Even at 34, Fleury has been an incredible workhorse for Vegas, starting 39 games and logging the most minutes in the NHL by a margin of nearly 400 minutes.

Fleury will likely be a Vezina Trophy finalist, and a great candidate to win the trophy for the first time in his (likely) Hall of Fame career.

Are the Knights Worth a Wager?

Given their recent dominance, we’d say yes, absolutely. Vegas’ forward depth is impressing once again, Marc-Andre Fleury looks elite, and Nate Schmidt has stabilized the defense corps.

It’s going to be hard for Vegas to beat either Nashville or Winnipeg and come out of the West, but this could just be my ingrained biases talking.  After all, Vegas did dispatch Winnipeg games in five games last spring. At average odds of +1400, Vegas is worth tossing a few bucks on.

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After coming aboard in 2017 Aaron has been SBD's betting industry expert and lead researcher. He can educate you on betting philosophy and strategy, with expertise spanning from how to avoid the gambler's fallacy to hitting the middle, and everything in between. Western B.A. '14, NYU M.A. '17.