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We need to talk about the Golden Knights’ rise to Stanley Cup contenders

Admit it. You didn’t think this team would be this good.

If so, did you play the lottery? Are you in the running for the $20 million? Please send some our way if you did, because we don’t believe Nostradamus is not in our midst. Surely, we’ll accept the fact that the peanut gallery had the Vegas Golden Knights eclipsing the mark of most wins by an expansion team in NHL history. We’ll even concede if the playoffs were a thought when the season started.

Yet, here we are, 50 games into the Golden Knights being a thing in the world of sports and it’s still mind-boggling to believe where Vegas is at right now. They’re sitting at the top of the Pacific Division by 12 points and lead the Western Conference by three points with two games in hand.

We have yet to have the talk on this site, but it’s time to do so. Are the Vegas Golden Knights Stanley Cup contenders? Are they even the favorites at this point?

Let’s talk about it.

The best expansion team of all time

Well, that was fun. The Golden Knights, by some divine intervention and with assistance from Marc-Andre Fleury’s good friend Mr. Post, defeated the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 in overtime Thursday in a battle of the two best teams in the Western Conference.

Vegas won their 34th game of the season, passing the 1993-94 Florida Panthers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for most wins by a team in its inaugural season, marking Vegas the best expansion team in the history of life.

The more the Golden Knights win, the more impossible it is to put this into words. This team is good, and they’ve exceeded all imaginable expectations. The Panthers didn’t win their 33rd game until the final game of the 1994 season on April 14. The Mighty Ducks, meanwhile, won their 33rd game on April 9, 1994. Vegas can catch Florida’s 83 points by the end of February with six home games to close out the month.

What’s happening right now is absurd. Las Vegas sportsbooks set the Golden Knights’ win total at 26.5 before the puck dropped Oct. 6 in Dallas. Vegas has won games against teams it shouldn’t beat, it’s dominated games it has no business dominating, and they’ve consistently done it with hardly any alarming stretches of losing. You’d have to go back to that six-game road trip after the 8-1-0 start to find the first time Vegas found itself face-to-face with adversity.

What the Golden Knights are doing right now can’t be explained.

Enough with this talk about the “beneficial” expansion draft

Social media has this weird ability to make us fall down the proverbial rabbit hole and experience what kind of tomfoolery people are spewing. Don’t visit the Golden Knights’ Twitter account if you want to find out why.

There’s a constant barrage of complaining from some who don’t appreciate good things, saying the Golden Knights should have been this good all along because of the expansion draft process. Part of that may be true. No team should be able to snag a guy like Marc-Andre Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup champion and a bonafide hall-of-fame goaltender. No team should get someone like James Neal for free, a guy who has scored 20 goals in 10 straight seasons.

But then there’s Jonathan Marchessault, a one-year wonder after a 30-goal season in Florida but has earned himself a six-year extension to be a vital piece of Vegas’ future core. Reilly Smith, who was given to Vegas on a silver platter to take Marchessault, is on pace for a career year with 39 points in 50 games. David Perron has 44 points and leads Vegas with 31 assists. Hopefully he’s found a home in Vegas.

William Karlsson, who was a fourth-line center in Columbus last season and should have been an All-Star this season, leads the Golden Knights with 27 goals. That’s not supposed to happen. Blaming the Golden Knights for how they assembled this team — by picking the best available players and having Don Corleone himself, George McPhee, strike deals with clubs to keep certain players — is incomprehensible. It’s not management’s fault the Blues gave up on Perron, the Panthers did not believe in Marchessault and Columbus had no purpose for Karlsson.

The Golden Knights selected the best players available, and some of them turned into gems. Thinking they benefited from the expansion draft means the thought was Vegas would be leading the Western Conference 50 games in. Not a single soul believed this would be possible. If you did, again, play the lottery and send me some money.

The #CupIn1 movement is real

Stick tap to our friends at SinBin for starting this, and damn it all to hell if this movement isn’t gaining traction. This team is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, and it’s a world that we should all just accept to live in.

As of Friday, the Golden Knights are 8-1 favorites to win Lord Stanley, right behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. That’s a long way from being 100-1 before they had a team. Given how the Golden Knights have played, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to assume Vegas can make a deep playoff run. There are four teams who can challenge Vegas come playoff time — Winnipeg, St. Louis, Dallas and Nashville: the four teams in contention who can lay claim to a solid win against the Golden Knights.

There has not been enough substantial evidence, however, that says a team can go into T-Mobile Arena and win at least one road game in the playoffs. That’s why it’s important for Vegas to go into the playoffs with the top spot in the Western Conference. I trust Fleury in a Game 7 with that crowd than any other environment, no matter who he’s playing.

This team is a Stanley Cup contender, and might be a proverbial favorite when the playoff field is announced. Not bad for the best expansion team of all time. What a time to be alive.