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How the Golden Knights became one of hockey's most hated franchises

·7 min read
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While it may be hard to believe, it wasn’t all that long ago that the majority of the hockey world found itself pulling for the Vegas Golden Knights.

Sure, there was a small group of fans who believed the NHL gave them an unfair advantage from the get-go by altering the expansion draft rules, but there were plenty more who were simply focused on their underdog story. That story saw a team of castoffs not only make the postseason, but advance all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. Since then, however, support for Vegas has dwindled in a big way.

For a variety of reasons, the Vegas Golden Knights seem to be rubbing many non-Vegas hockey fans the wrong way these days. (Getty)
For a variety of reasons, the Vegas Golden Knights seem to be rubbing many non-Vegas hockey fans the wrong way these days. (Getty)

In just four seasons since that magnificent run, only six players from that roster remain with the Golden Knights today; seven if you include Zach Whitecloud, who appeared in just one game that season. That isn’t a result of players choosing to leave, as many have been vocal about how great of a city Vegas is to play for. Instead, it is decisions by management who are continually trying to buy their way to a Stanley Cup while showing zero regard for loyalty to their players.

In one sense, this mentality is understandable, as they have put together several fantastic rosters in recent seasons. However, players want to feel valued by their team, and the Golden Knights organization hasn’t shown much, if any, loyalty in its five seasons. The most recent case in point came earlier this week in a since-vetoed trade involving Evgenii Dadonov, but is far from the only questionable decision their management group has made.

One of the first examples came when they chose to trade Nate Schmidt to the Vancouver Canucks prior to the 2020-21 season. The 30-year-old was one of many who went from being a fringe NHLer to a very legitimate player after joining the Golden Knights, and quickly became a fan favourite due to his exuberant personality. He also voiced on several occasions just how much he loved playing for the organization. Despite this, he was shipped off to make room for superstar defenceman Alex Pietrangelo.

After the Schmidt deal, whispers began as to whether or not management was doing a disservice by seeming to look past locker-room chemistry in order to try and build a powerhouse. Those whispers became much louder the following offseason when Marc-Andre Fleury was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for almost no return, in what was an obvious cap dump to make room for many other players they had brought in. This move came less than a month after he won his first-ever Vezina Trophy.

While the trade irked many, it became an even worse look for the organization when fans learned that Fleury found out about the trade on Twitter. It was an extremely disrespectful way to treat a player who is one of the main reasons the hockey market in Vegas has been so successful.

Heading into the 2021-22 season, this team was not even close to the feel-good story they had been back in 2017-18. They came into the year with several superstar players such as Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Pietrangelo, while also having Robin Lehner as their new undisputed number one netminder. Their support from many was already gone, and that got even worse when they continued their super team-like mentality this past November, acquiring Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres.

By all means, this move had, and still has, potential to work out for the Golden Knights. Once again, however, it continued their track record of having no loyalty, as one of the pieces going the other way was Alex Tuch, who was one of few remaining on the roster from their 2017-18 season.

As of right now, the Eichel acquisition has caused plenty of headaches for management, as Vegas is struggling to make things work cap wise. The team tried to fix this in its worst debacle yet, attempting to move Dadonov — whom Vegas had just acquired this past offseason — to the Anaheim Ducks on deadline day. The trade went on to be vetoed by the NHL, however, as the Ducks were one of the teams on Dadonov’s 10-team no trade list.

It became extremely evident from social media just how much fans have turned on this team, as many weren’t afraid to express how thrilled they were that this move, which was supposed to help the team create cap space, wasn’t allowed to go through. On top of that, it was another example of the Golden Knights' poor treatment towards one of their players, as it was clear they didn’t do their due diligence into Dadonov’s contract situation before moving him, and have since had to welcome him back in extremely awkward fashion.

While the highly volatile approach has certainly lost it a ton of support, it is far from the only reason many NHL fans have turned on this franchise. Many believe that, after their success right out of the gate, Golden Knights fans have grown a sense of entitlement, failing to realize that the league put them in a great position to succeed right from the get-go. This is evident from plenty of fans' social media, and can even be said for the team's official Twitter account.

Some may find it fun and harmless, but plenty have become irritated by Vegas's Twitter account, which isn’t shy when it comes to boasting after wins. The account has become yet another thing that has quickly turned them from a league favourite to quite possibly the most despised team in the entire NHL, one whom many are now openly rooting for to lose on a nightly basis.

The good news for the many fans who have grown sick of them is that their all in, all the time approach may finally be coming back to bite them. Since activating Eichel from the injured reserve, the Golden Knights have found themselves in some serious cap trouble — which is the reason they attempted to move Dadonov to the Ducks in the first place. With Dadonov remaining on the team, however, they do not have enough room to activate three of their top players in Mark Stone, Reilly Smith and Alec Martinez, all of whom are currently on the long-term injured reserve (LTIR).

As we saw last year with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nikita Kucherov, stashing players on LTIR can be a smart strategy to cheat the cap system. That isn’t what the Golden Knights are meaning to do right now, however, as they are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture. If they are to miss, it will be a huge failure by the organization as they were considered one of the league's Cup contenders entering the 2021-22 season.

To many fans, however, it would be considered karma.

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