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Vegas & # 39; wild playoff run, which consists of the expansion bonanza



After Bill Foley agreed to pay $ 500 million for the right to set a hockey team right in the middle of the Mojave Desert, the NHL decided that its Vegas Golden Knights deserved a quick return on that investment.

If the other NHL owners had known how big Foley's reward would be – and how incredibly fast he would get it – they probably would not have been so nice to the new guy.

It is too late now. After reaping a goldmine from one of the most generous expansion moves in sports history, the Golden Knights are two wins ahead of an incredible Stanley Cup final.

A brand new team in a league that has existed for 1

01 years, has a Pacific Division title, two playoff victories and a 2-1 lead the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference.

"I do not think anyone has seen us here," Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "It was a lot of fun to be there, really proud of this team and the way these guys worked, we deserve to be here."

Designate Fleury and the other players who perform this feat themselves as the "Golden Misfits", but some of Vegas's expansion designs were really undesirable in the clubs they lost 11 months ago.

Instead, General Manager George McPhee took advantage of his ability to put together an unusually talented lineup, and coach Gerard Gallant shockingly transformed that team into a brilliant team. But it all started with the design that allowed McPhee to build this monster in less than a year.

"It had a big impact," McPhee admitted. "The (expansion draft) rules were favorable, gave us something we could work with and gave this team the opportunity to be a good team."

The NHL allowed their teams only seven strikers, three defenders and one Goalkeeper or eight skaters and a goalkeeper to protect. For comparison, when the NHL was expanded in 2000, the teams were allowed to protect no fewer than nine strikers, five defenders and one goalkeeper or seven strikers, three defenders and two goalkeepers.

The league also needed teams to uncover the players With significant NHL experience under contract next season, loopholes closed and Vegas even more helped. Third-tier strikers and four-backs were available from almost every team.

The easiest purchase, of course, was Fleury. The Knights got a three-time Stanley Cup winner with 375 winning careers for nothing, and he remained largely healthy while playing at an impressive level.

The Knights also landed James Neal, a proven veteran talent with nine consecutive 20-goal seasons. He scored 25 goals and ensured a steady leadership role of veterans.

They picked William Karlsson, a clearly talented striker who had not exhausted his full potential with two NHL teams. The Swede quickly became one of the NHL's best players, scoring 43 goals – an NHL record for the first season of an expansion team – and 35 assists plus a rating of plus 49.

And the expansion of contract terms allowed McPhee to to get creative in trades with teams that want to keep players who do not fit under the shield. For example, the rally ended in a deal with Reilly Smith because Florida wanted them to design Jonathan Marchessault – and the two ex-Panthers became two of the Knights' top scorers.

The draft bounty is not the only reason these aspiring knights have immediately begun their golden years.

All this talent would not have won so many games without Gallant. He built a well-balanced, disciplined team that rolled four lines and played relentless two-way hockey, winning unused talents like Karlsson and Eric Haula, who scored 29 goals after never scoring more than 15 goals in Minnesota.

"Gerard has done a great job of making this a team," said McPhee. "He has brought a lot of players and they played better than they played anywhere else."

Foley bought this opportunity with his $ 500 million extension fee, but no one in the sports world expected the Golden Knights to put it together so quickly. This includes 73-year-old Foley, who made a point throughout the league as he set himself the goal of bringing the Stanley Cup to Las Vegas in six years – a goal he later revised to perhaps eight years.

Instead, there's an ever-increasing chance that the Golden Knights will pull the Stanley Cup down the strip in a month. There are 12 other NHL teams that have never won a championship, along with seven franchises that have not raised the cup in at least 23 years.

Potential NHL expansion owners in Seattle and Houston are likely to think that $ 500 million is a bargain. as the expansion fee is likely to rise as the league finally awards its 32nd franchise. It also seems unlikely that the NHL would ever make it so easy to form a team again.

But nothing will erase the remarkable embrace of this unusual moment in hockey history by the Golden Knights.

"It was important for the league and to Las Vegas and Bill Foley that this franchise had a chance to work," said McPhee. "The people who came to the games could enjoy the product and become real fans, and we were able to take some deep roots in this market, so I did not like the rules."

AP freelance author WG Ramirez in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

More AP Hockey: www.apnews.com/tags/NHLhockey

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