The Vegas Golden Knights advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, shocking the hockey world and coming within three victories of claiming hockey's top prize against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in 2018. Five years later, and the 2022-23 iteration of the Knights finally got the job done, dominating in the postseason en route to a well-deserved first title.
The Knights were undoubtably the best team when it mattered the most. They walked over the Winnipeg Jets, defeated a very difficult Connor McDavid-led Edmonton Oilers team in the second round, and jumped out to a 3-0 lead over the Dallas Stars, eventually winning the Western Conference Final in six games.
In the Stanley Cup Final, the cinderella Florida Panthers ran out of gas (and were ravaged by injuries), and Las Vegas only took five games to bring a championship to the Strip. They headlined a scintillating playoff run by dismantling the Panthers, 9-3, in the clinching contest.
It's easy to imagine what kind of summer it's been for the Cup champions. But despite the celebrations, the team will be hungry heading into training camp as they look to be the first squad to go back-to-back since the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020 and 2021. But are the 2023-24 Golden Knights up to the challenge?
Short summer for the champions
It goes without saying that the Golden Knights had the shortest offseason of any NHL team besides the battered Panthers. Vegas won the Stanley Cup on Jun. 14, and opened training camp just over three months after. Some teams have had upwards of five months to prepare for the 2023-24 season, and the potential for a Stanley Cup hangover is very possible.
Despite that, the Knights entered training camp in great shape, according to general manager Kelly McCrimmon. “There's tremendous energy and excitement around our team right now. I've always felt that if you play until the end and you win, you don't mind that short summer. If you play to the end and you lose in the final, then the summer does seem short,” he told the Associated Press on Thursday.
It's a question that must always be asked — will the Cup hangover affect the team in the early part of the season? Only time will tell, but it looks like preparations are well underway to prevent it in Las Vegas.
Roster is largely unchanged
One of the reasons the Golden Knights have a legitimate chance to win again next June is due to the very small amount of roster turnover. Most Stanley Cup winning teams lose a few key pieces during the summer, but that simply wasn't the case in Las Vegas. The team opened training camp on Thursday with nearly the same roster that won the title just over three months ago.
The only notable name who is missing is Reilly Smith, an original ‘Golden Misfit' who was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins to free up cap space earlier in the summer. He is the only player who played in the Stanley Cup Final that is not back with the team. McCrimmon chose Adin Hill and Ivan Barbashev instead, extending two key pieces of the championship team. Hill will spend at least the next two years manning the crease, while Barbashev was given a well-deserved five-year, $25 million deal after winning his second ring.
Magic in a bottle?
Despite heading into a new season with a formidable NHL roster, the bookmakers are well aware that catching lightning in a bottle is hard to do twice. Yes, the Lightning were able to do it a few seasons ago, but they boasted an arguably deeper roster with a much better goaltender. And they are still a perennial powerhouse.
Vegas is listed as the sixth-most likely team to win it all in 2024, tied with the Dallas Stars at 13-1. The Colorado Avalanche, who won in 2022, are the favorites at 8-1. But this isn't anything new; the Knights weren't the top pick going into last season's playoffs, as they were overshadowed by the Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers.
The fact remains, there are some excellent teams in the Western Conference. The parity in the NHL is so high these days, even the Avalanche couldn't overcome it, following up a Cup by losing in Round 1 to the Seattle Kraken. The Vegas Golden Knights could win again, or they could lose to one of the West's very good squads. The way this roster is constructed, the former would not be shocking next June.
Final projected roster
Forwards: Jonathan Marchessault, Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, William Karlsson, Ivan Barbashev, Mike Amadio, Chandler Stephenson, William Carrier, Keegan Kolesar, Brett Howden, Paul Cotter, Nicolas Roy
Defensemen: Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore, Alec Martinez, Brayden McNabb, Zach Whitecloud, Nic Hague
Goalies: Adin Hill, Logan Thompson (Robin Lehner on LTIR)