Golden Knights continue to juggle competitiveness with long-term sustainability

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SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports NHL reporter Kevin Allen believes Las Vegas and its new hockey team have already formed a special bond and culture that could make it a flagship franchise.
USA TODAY Sports

In many ways, the NHL expansion team in Las Vegas is playing with house money. The Vegas Golden Knights are already big winners because they have done everything right under the most heart-wrenching circumstances.

The way they have reached out to help their community in a time of tragedy. A poignantly perfect opening night ceremony. Many comforting words. A 3-0-0 start.

No established NHL team could have navigated the Golden Knights’ situation any better than they did.

“I think the team is feeding off the city,” owner Bill Foley said. “I think the city is feeding off the team.”

More: The day the Nashville Predators came to my neighborhood for some street hockey

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But the true meaning of being an expansion team arrived Friday when the Detroit Red Wings defeated the Golden Knights 6-3 for their first loss. Just a gentle reminder that it’s difficult to ride a wave of momentum for any length of time.

The back-to-reality likely will continue this week as the Golden Knights become aggressive in dealing with their competitive issues.

First, they have too many veteran defensemen, blocking a path for young puck-moving defenseman Shea Theodore to be promoted from the American Hockey League.

It seems likely that general manager George McPhee will be talking to the Washington Capitals, who lost Matt Niskanen to the significant injury Friday night.

The Caps have called up 22-year-old Madison Bowey, but if he’s not ready they may have to consider a veteran option.

The Golden Knights also need to shuffle more bodies. They called up center Vadim Shipachyov and placed Erik Haula on the injured reserve, but they still need to find room for winger Alex Tuch. Both Shipachyov and Tuch were sent to the minors because Vegas had too many veterans. 

The Golden Knights could use more offense. The Golden Knights have 12 goals in four games, but James Neal has six of those goals.

Russian star Shipachoyov, 30, who had 76 points in 50 games in the Kontinential Hockey League last season, will provide a spark to the offense. Shipachoyov didn’t come to North America to play in the minors. He would have stayed in the KHL if he realized this was going to happen.  

Tuch, a 6-4 winger, has scored three goals in two games in the AHL.

McPhee admitted that Shipachyov, Tuch and Theodore were sent down only because they didn’t require waivers. The Golden Knights are fearful that other players would be claimed. McPhee wants to acquire assets for players he’d prefer to send down. But that requires patience, something that could eventually pay off with defensemen he has hung on to.

The Golden Knights’ objective is to have a competitive team within three seasons. That means McPhee wants to turn his expansion draft picks into prospects or more draft picks.

Although the NHL created rules that provided the Golden Knights with more desirable players than previous expansion teams have received, McPhee’s job isn’t any easier.

And it has been made more complicated by the quick connection the team has made with fans. 

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