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The Tri-State area hockey teams could learn a lot from Vegas

The Vegas Golden Knights have become the belle of this hockey season’s ball, and are only three games from winning a Stanley Cup.  They’re the first expansion team since the 1968 St. Louis Blues to make a championship in their inaugural season, and have been proving doubters wrong all season.  The Islanders, Rangers, Devils, and Flyers are all formidable teams but could learn a lot from the process in which Vegas constructed their roster.  Let’s take a look.

Islanders – Building a team from the net out

The New York Islanders took a step in the right direction when they hired Lou Lamoriello to run hockey operations for the team.  He is a legendary hockey executive and constructed the championship Devils teams of the 90’s and ’00’s and the current perennial playoff contender Toronto Maple Leafs.  As Vegas does, Lamoriello has always built his teams from the net out.  He had Martin Brodeur, traded for Cory Schneider at the NHL draft to shore up the later Devils’ teams and stole Frederik Anderson from the Ducks at a later NHL draft.

Vegas is in the Stanley Cup Finals for many reasons, but the main one is Marc-Andre Fleury.  Fleury has been a standout goaltender for many years with the Penguins, and when he was left vulnerable by the Penguins the Golden Knights made him their first overall pick in the expansion draft.  He has been the face of the franchise and the stalwart that keeps this engine going.  The Islanders need a goaltender like that to steal games and come up with clutch saves when their defense fails them.

Rangers – Wheel and deal draft picks

The New York Rangers come into this season with a new coach (David Quinn) and a renewed commitment to the youth movement.  With that youth movement comes lots of holes, but the Rangers have a ton of draft picks after dealing Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash, Michael Grabner and J.T. Miller.  The New York Rangers have three first round picks and could use at least two of them to re-stock their defense or grab a goal scorer.

The Vegas Golden Knights not only set themselves up for the present, but also set themselves up for the future.  They wheeled and dealed at the expansion draft to gain a ton of picks, mostly so that they wouldn’t take certain players from teams left vulnerable.  They took expiring contracts (hello Mikhail Grabovski) and players they had no intention of keeping in exchange for first and second round draft picks.  The Rangers could learn from Vegas and hunt for cap-strapped teams to deal with.  There’s not much money on the books and there’s plenty of room to grow for this young team.

Devils – Stay relentless on the puck

The Devils already play this way, but they can watch tape on Vegas in regards to just how committed they are in all three zones.  One of the other main reasons why Vegas is so good is because they are fully committed to forechecking, backchecking, playing hard every shift and never giving up on a play.  The Devils are extremely young, and can play a similar style that frustrated opposing teams and causes turnovers.

The Knights are committed partially because they love the coach they play for.  Gerard Gallant is first and foremost a player’s coach, and Vegas plays for him.  John Hynes is also a player’s coach and if he can get the same commitment to defense and the same pride that Vegas shows, the Devils can become a real contender with a little more scoring.

Flyers – Depth scoring

The final reason why Vegas is only three wins away from their first Stanley Cup (duh) is that they roll all four lines all game.  Whether it be Thomas Nosek or James Neal, the Golden Knights find themselves getting scoring from everywhere and anywhere they can.  They are pretty much unstoppable because they’re not top heavy, and regardless of who is on the ice there’s always a chance that they can score.

The Flyers’ main issue is that they can’t roll all four lines.  Brandon Manning isn’t exactly a world beater, and the Flyers seem to go as their top two lines go.  Sure, a lineup full of stars like Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek sounds great, but if those guys get shut down where is the offense coming from?  The Flyers didn’t go anywhere in the Stanley Cup playoffs this year because they couldn’t find offense from anywhere other than their top two lines.  If they’re going to succeed, they need to be less top heavy.

All four of these Tri-State area teams are talented, but they have a lot to improve on.  If each team takes just a little bit from Vegas’ game plan in constructing their team, they can be just as successful.  It’s obviously easier said than done, but Vegas has set up a blueprint for many other teams to follow.  If other teams are paying attention, they could be Vegas one day.

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