Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023 | 2 a.m.
It seems like just yesterday that the Vegas Golden Knights were spraying each other with alcoholic beverages to celebrate the season of a lifetime.
Few have seen the Golden Knights’ locker room at T-Mobile Arena since it was covered entirely in plastic June 13—the night they won the Stanley Cup in Game 5 over the Florida Panthers. It has presumably been cleaned since then, but maybe not if it were up to the players.
Teams want to remember that championship feeling forever. The Golden Knights’ climb to the Cup last season will go down as a milestone moment for Las Vegas, if not one of the most dominant postseason runs in NHL history.
• September 24 at San Jose Sharks, 5 p.m.
• September 25 at Colorado Avalanche, 6 p.m.
• September 27 vs. Los Angeles Kings, 7 p.m.
• September 29 vs. Arizona Coyotes, 7 p.m.
• October 3 vs. San Jose Sharks, 7 p.m.
• October 5 vs. Colorado Avalanche, 7 p.m.
• October 7 at Los Angeles Kings, 1 p.m.
• All home games at T-Mobile Arena.
• Tickets $37-$120 at axs.com.
But the time for partying and remembrance is over. The Golden Knights are back and getting ready for next season, with the official training camp report date set for September 21.
“Everyone’s in good spirits, a good mood,” defenseman Ben Hutton said. “We just want to come in, do what we did last year, and repeat.”
It’s been a wild three months for the whole organization. Think of the timeline: The Golden Knights won the Cup, enjoyed the championship parade and went through the NHL Draft and free agency in the span of about three weeks. Then they got some time to rest, and everyone got to spend their customary day with the Cup.
Vegas will be trying to break out of celebratory mode during training camp, but there will be unavoidable, constant reminders of what they team achieved last year. Two championship murals are plastered near the entrance of City National Arena, the Golden Knights’ headquarters in Summerlin.
There’s a picture of William Karlsson and Adin Hill hoisting the Cup, and one of Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Marchessault holding his hardware.
On the second floor above the stairs are shrines of Mark Stone, Alex Pietrangelo and Jack Eichel each holding the Cup high, with the Strip serving as the background.
“You’re coming off that high of winning,” forward Keegan Kolesar said. “But with that high of winning, you carry it in the summer, saying, ‘I want to do it again so badly.’ Build the foundation of what you need and get ready for next year.”
Dynasties aren’t made by one title. Now that the first Cup has been scratched off the list, the Golden Knights want to elevate to a pinnacle franchise.
Their perennial success since joining the league—five playoff appearances, four trips to the Western Conference Final and two Stanley Cup Final appearances in six seasons—shows they are well on their way. And Vegas will have the majority of last year’s group back to make it happen after re-signing two of their most notable free agents.
The Golden Knights agreed to terms with forward Ivan Barbashev on a five-year, $25 million deal, then brought back Hill—after a memorable Cup run in the crease—on a two-year, $9.8 million contract.
There will be one massive void in the locker room, however. Forward Reilly Smith, the second player to lift the Stanley Cup after the captain Stone, was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins over the summer. Moving on from Smith and his $5 million cap hit allowed the Golden Knights to keep Barbashev.
“Usually if you win a Stanley Cup, you’re going to lose a few players,” Hill said. “It sucks we lost Reilly, but we only lost one [player]. It’s good we have our core back and most of our guys back. We just need to keep it rolling.”
One way to keep that momentum going is through goaltending. The Golden Knights are betting on Hill to prove that his 11-4 run in the playoffs was no fluke. He posted a .932 save percentage and allowed just 2.17 goals in his 16 postseason appearances.
But Hill’s health will be a question mark. He made a career-high 25 starts last regular season before missing the final month and a half with a lower-body injury.
His partner in net, Logan Thompson, is now fully healthy coming off a lower-body injury that kept him out of the second half of last season and the entire playoff run.
The Golden Knights found success defensively no matter who was behind them, thanks to the coaching style of Bruce Cassidy. He’ll have a new staff, with assistants Joel Ward—from the Henderson Silver Knights—and former Montreal Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme. Longtime Vegas assistant Ryan Craig is now head coach of the Silver Knights.
But any chance of a repeat to become the third team since 2000 to go back-to-back starts with the three stars on the upstairs mural. The 31-year-old Stone is still a huge difference-maker when healthy, and he’s coming off a 24-point (11 goals, 13 assists) playoff performance that included a hat trick in the Cup-clinching victory.
Eichel took his place among the best players in the world with a team-best 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in the playoffs. And at 26 years old, it’s a reasonable expectation that his best days are still ahead of him.
The 33-year-old Pietrangelo remains one of the best overall defensemen in the world, reliable in the defensive zone while remaining a threat offensively. He’s coming off a 54-point season that tied his career high.
The Golden Knights are also as deep as any team in recent memory. They roll four forward lines and three defense pairings that are effective no matter who’s on the ice.
Cassidy started a “back-to-back” chant at the parade as he closed his speech. There hasn’t been an argument yet to say they can’t do it.
“I’m excited to get things going,” Hill said. “Our expectations are high. We’re looking to keep the ball rolling. We’re excited to get that first game.”
This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.