The plan for the Vegas Golden Knights was simple to the point of being fool-proof — draft a team of valuable, moveable assets that can be traded at some point this season.
In more complicated terms, a team designed to accumulate the maximum number of picks and prospects possible to add to those which had essentially been extorted from the NHL’s other 30 teams in exchange for passing over their more valuable assets during the expansion draft process.
You know, the whole playoffs in three. Cup in six mantra.
The Hockey Gods seemed to smile on the plan when, as though written by the pen of destiny itself, it became evident that the presumptive top pick in the 2018 draft would be the kind of talent so rare, so singular, that the words “can’t-miss” seemed as if they were imagined with them in mind. A franchise-making defenseman.
You can count the true No. 1 defensemen on your hands and feet with some toes left over. I got to 12 before I found myself listing guys who play as their team’s No. 1 but are more suited to the role of No. 2.
The 6-foot Swedish-born defender is the kind of player on the back end that general managers hope desperately to find. He’s an immensely skilled, smooth-skating, two-way defenseman who can play physical, has the size to do so, can rush the puck up the ice and be trusted in his own end.
He has already drawn comparisons to Erik Karlsson.
What a year to be the league’s worst team and, as a result of such futility, have the best odds of winning the draft lottery and selecting this kind of player. The Erik Brannstrom-Dahlin pairing was salivating.
Now, of course the worst team is no longer guaranteed such fruitful endeavors. The Colorado Avalanche, who were shockingly bad to the level of perhaps deserving to be relegated from the league, wound up with the fourth overall selection as they were leapfrogged by Philadelphia, New Jersey, and the Dallas Stars. But, surely that couldn’t happen again ... could it?
Well, I mean, the Edmonton Oilers are bad this year and they simply do not lose draft lotteries. That said, they traded Taylor Hall.
Officially adding "NHL lottery ball specialist" to my hockey resume.— Taylor Hall (@hallsy09) April 30, 2017
Dahlin would become a Golden Knight. Everybody knew it. There was no chance the team would not finish at the bottom of the league standings and, one way or another, end up with the top pick. It was, as I’ve said, destiny.
The plan continued to unfold after the expansion draft. The Golden Knights traded Marc Methot, Trevor van Riemsdyk, and David Schlemko, acquired some picks in the process, and thoughts of what players like James Neal and David Perron would garner in return danced around the heads of the Golden Knight fans.
Then, the inconceivable happened.
The season started. Hockey was played and the Golden Knights didn’t lose. Then more games were played and the sweet Golden Knights still didn’t lose. Before anyone knew it, what had started as a fun little hot streak to start the season quickly became the trend of the season as Vegas defeated team after team.
And not just the bad ones. Not simply the Arizonas and Buffalos of the League, but the bubble teams, and the contenders, and the Cup favourites. From Chicago to St. Louis, Nashville to Tampa Bay, all who faced the Vegas Golden Knights, fell, especially at T-Mobile Arena.
As of Jan. 7, the Golden Knights are 14-5-1 against teams projected to make the playoffs. They are 17-2-1 at home and 29-10-2 overall. They sit atop the Pacific Division, the Western Conference and are three points back of Tampa for the NHL’s top spot, with a game in hand.
This team, despite intentions, despite the analysis and doubts surrounding the roster when it was assembled, despite my dreams of a Dahlin-Brannstrom pairing in Vegas, is a good team. A great team, even.
The Vegas Golden Knights are simply too good to get the No. 1 pick. The dream of what was once lovely has now died, and that seems to be fine.
Destiny, it seems, has bigger plans in store for the Golden Knights (or far more cruel plans depending on how things play out...) and so we here at Knights On Ice say goodbye to the dream of Rasmus Dahlin.
But, also hello to the window that has opened before the Golden Knights to compete right away and, barring some incredibly mismanagement, for long into the future.
Godspeed, Dahlin ... and please end up in the Eastern Conference.