The Vegas Golden Knights are Stanley Cup champions in their sixth year of existence and the party will rage on throughout the summer.
The city of Las Vegas is in love with this team and has been since its first season in 2017-18, and there’s a certain level of gratitude that will always be there. The Golden Knights will always be the first major sports franchise to call Las Vegas home.
The NHL’s decision to put a franchise in Las Vegas was groundbreaking at the time, and it has been nothing but a raging success. The NFL followed suit with the Raiders calling Las Vegas home, and apparently the Oakland A’s will do the same in the foreseeable future.
The NHL gave the expansion Knights a great chance to succeed early on by making their expansion draft a more bountiful garden to select players than previous iterations of expansion teams. The initial season was nearly as successful as the current one because the team made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in the first season.
That team had rolled through the Western Conference playoffs before meeting the Washington Capitals in the title round. The Golden Knights lost that series in five games to Alex Ovechkin and his crew, but the tone was set. This was not the typical expansion franchise. Vegas owner/chairman Bill Foley and president of hockey operations George McPhee hit the ground running with Gerard Gallant as head coach.
Gallant had a certain magic with the Knights but it did not last, and he was gone by 2020. His replacement was Peter DeBoer and he is widely considered one of the sharpest coaches in the sport. But when the Knights did not even make the playoffs last season he was dismissed.
The team was about to start its sixth season and needed to find its third head coach. The team’s early glory was starting to fade, and Foley and McPhee needed to deliver the right leader.
Thankfully, the Boston Bruins made their job quite a bit easier by firing Bruce Cassidy, who had been one of the top coaches in the NHL. The Bruins were a playoff team in every season of Cassidy’s tenure, and he had gotten his team to the 7th game of the Stanley Cup Final in 2019.
They fell short in that game to the St. Louis Blues, and that game had hardened Cassidy. His team had come so close to winning the vaunted trophy, but that victory slipped through his team’s grasp.
“Expected to celebrate,” he said. “We all did. That’s why you play, it’s Game 7. But it didn’t happen.”
After that loss, Cassidy’s demeanor seemed to change. He had started his tenure with the Bruins in 2017 as a player’s coach, but he became more of a demanding boss in each of his seasons in Boston. The Bruins were winning games (51-26-5 for 107 points in 2021-22), but their playoff success diminished after that loss in the Stanley Cup Final.
Still, even though Boston lost its first-round series to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games last year, it was a shock when the Bruins fired Cassidy shortly thereafter. The reasons were twofold, as his message had gotten stale and he had been too tough on his players. The example most often given was forward Jake DeBrusk, who had asked to be traded because Cassidy was apparently too demanding.
The firing shocked the hockey world, but the Golden Knights were quick to hire Cassidy. He was unemployed for 8 days before he was introduced at the team’s third head coach.
Cassidy brought defense and intensity to the Golden Knights that had been missing. They started the season in excellent fashion and jumped to the top of the Pacific Division. There were ups and downs in as they worked stud Jack Eichel into the lineup, dealt with a key injury to Mark Stone and searched for goaltending.
But they won the division, and then hit their stride during the playoffs. Cassidy’s discipline, defense and demanding ways worked out brilliantly for the Knights and they capped it off with their 5-game triumph over the upstart Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup Final.
The resounding 9-3 triumph in the final game was the most dominating Stanley Cup-clinching performance since Mario Lemieux led the Pittsburgh Penguins to an 8-0 triumph over the Minnesota North Stars in 1991.
The triumph represents redemption and tears for the head coach. In the weeks to come, he will be able to realize a lifelong dream.
“I told you guys a long time ago, in ’19, I just want my name on the damn Cup,” Cassidy said. “It’s going on the damn Cup. It’s that simple.”
And it will remain on the Stanley Cup for a lifetime.
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