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The Vegas success story is all about money
And the Golden Knights are close to delivering on Bill Foley's mandate of a cup in six years.
When Bill Foley brought the Vegas Golden Knights into existence he made the bold claim that he wanted to make the playoffs in three years and win the Stanley Cup in six.
Vegas over shot the playoff prediction, famously reaching the final in year 1, and with two more wins against the Florida Panthers they’ll fulfill the owner’s prophecy of winning the whole thing in six.
The Golden Knights are proof that an aggressive approach, both on and off the ice, work in a sport where teams are overly conservative.
As I wrote for EP Rinkside today, Vegas looks at first-round prospects as capital to be traded rather than long-term lottery tickets they must hold onto. The one they haven’t traded, Brendan Brisson, happens to be the son of one of hockey’s most powerful agents, Pat, so I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Vegas is also willing to live with short-term problems for long-term gains when it comes to cap space. The Golden Knights have aggressively manipulated and found every possible loophole in the NHL’s salary structure to build a deep team, and have in the past frequently played regular season games with less players because of roster emergency.
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It’s easy for fans to get angry at Vegas or Tampa Bay for using all the salary cap tools available to them. It’s easy to get mad at someone else then at your own team or GM for not doing it themselves — everyone manipulates the cap, some are better than others.
The thing that flies under the radar in the public discourse, though is how Vegas spends on places where there isn’t a salary cap. While player salary expenditure is limited and controlled, the rest of the operation is a free market and Bill Foley treats it that way.
Vegas went out of its way to bring its AHL affiliate to town, buying the San Antonio Rampage and building one of the best buildings in the league in Henderson for the Silver Knights.
In NHL circles we often hear about the Toronto Marlies being operated like a 33rd NHL team, but there’s a similar approach in Henderson. In addition to the dedicated game rink, Henderson has it’s own full-time practice rink that Vegas built, support staff and personnel in Henderson are typically paid above league standard according to many people I’ve spoken to in both the AHL and Vegas.
When an owner bends over backwards and opens up the checkbook for the AHL team, it’s a telling sign of the long-term vision and dedication to a great goal. The Silver Knights at this point have only played a small role in the Golden Knights success story, the NHL club has been largely built by outside acquisitions, but at some point soon the AHL system will need to fill in the gaps.
On an NHL level, Ivan Barbashev at Stanley Cup Final media day told me how much he’s already fell in love with Vegas and how the team operates. At the services provided by the team, how easy life is for a Vegas players on a day-to-day basis. For a pending unrestricted free agent, that’s going to loom large in his mind when he makes a decision on his future after the Stanley Cup.
It’s easy to say the Vegas success story is all about money, because it is.
The Golden Knights paid big to get into the NHL, they are willing to pay well across the board for the organization, and aside from the cap-mandated spending, Foley has effectively given his team a blank check for each endeavor.
That’s why Vegas won’t be a flash in the pan and the Golden Knights will likely be a cup contender for a long, long time.
I’ve always hated the line that an NHL owner is a good owner, “because they spend to the cap.” Every owner that’s not actively tanking (Arizona and Chicago for example) spends to the cap. It’s what they spend in the areas where it’s not publicly tracked that make a difference to the players and in effect can alter what happens on the ice.