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Golden Knights off to best expansion start ever -- how did other expansion teams fare early?

Jared Clinton
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Golden Knights off to best expansion start ever -- how did other expansion teams fare early?

Vegas Golden Knights Author: David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images

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Golden Knights off to best expansion start ever -- how did other expansion teams fare early?

Jared Clinton
By:

The Golden Knights' three-straight wins make for the best start for an expansion team in league history. Look back at how other expansion teams start off their inaugural seasons and what it meant for their campaigns.

There wasn’t much reason to be hopeful about the Vegas Golden Knights chances heading into the season. This was a patchwork team, assembled through the expansion draft with nary a big-name free agent signing. It was a rag-tag group that was expected to form almost instant chemistry if they wanted any success. So, in THN’s Season Preview issue, we picked the Golden Knights to finish last in the league.

Turns out they’re working pretty hard to make us — and everyone else who underestimated them — eat crow.

Right out of the gate, Vegas has been led by James Neal (five goals), Nate Schmidt (one goal, three points) and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who has turned in a .963 save percentage and 1.32 goals-against average. He’s only been beaten four times on 107 shots thus far. And the results have been impressive.

Though we’re only one week into the season, Vegas has been one of the season’s most surprising stories, jumping out to a 3-0-0 record with an opening-night victory over the Dallas Stars and back-to-back wins over the Arizona Coyotes, including an emotionally charged win in the home-opener that saw the Golden Knights score four times in the opening frame. The three-straight wins put Vegas, for the time being, at the top of the Pacific Division and, though they’ve played on three games, they remain the lone unbeaten team in the Western Conference.

But the Golden Knights’ start has us wondering how other expansion teams, dating all the way back to the first round of expansion in 1967, fared in the opening week and month of their respective seasons and what, if anything, it told us about the team as a whole. So, here’s a look at other expansion team starts and how those results correlated with their future success or lack thereof:

Philadelphia Flyers — 1967-68
Opening week: 1-2-0
Opening month: 3-3-1
Mid-season: 18-13-6
Final record: 31-32-11

Back-to-back losses by scores of 5-1 and 4-2 aren’t exactly the best way to break into the league, but the Flyers got things back on track better than any team from the initial expansion. Philadelphia rattled off three-straight wins in the middle of their first month and, by mid-season, were five games above .500. They came back down to earth in the back half of the campaign thanks to three three-game losing streaks, however. Leading the way for the Flyers was captain Lou Angotti and an upstart goaltender by the name of Bernie Parent. Philadelphia made the post-season — four teams from the expansion West Division did — but bowed out in the first round to the St. Louis Blues.

Los Angeles Kings — 1967-68
Opening week: 2-0-2
Opening month: 4-2-2
Mid-season: 16-18-3
Final record: 31-33-10

The Kings started strong and made it almost to the midway point of the campaign before they fell below the .500 mark for the first time in franchise history. But when Los Angeles started to crash, they crashed hard. Holding a 16-13-3 record after 32 games, the Kings went on an eight-game losing streak in which they lost three games by six or more goals. They recovered thanks to a few three-game winning streaks afterwards and made the post-season, however, with Eddie Joyal leading the team in scoring and Wayne Rutledge and legendary netminder Terry Sawchuk tending goal. The Kings, like the Flyers, didn’t make it past the first round of the post-season, though.

St. Louis Blues — 1967-68
Opening week: 1-2-1
Opening month: 1-5-2
Mid-season: 14-20-3
Final record: 27-31-16

Talk about a rough start and one that wasn’t at all indicative of what was to come. The Blues won their third game of the season, but it took until the first day of November for St. Louis to earn another victory. Add another 10 losses in 11 games through mid-November into early-December and you had a Blues team that looked among the league’s worst groups. Looks can be deceiving, though, and St. Louis battled back to earn a playoff spot before going on a run. The Glenn Hall-led Blues downed Philadelphia in the first round, Minnesota in the second and set up a date with the Montreal Canadiens in the final. Four games later, though, the Habs were hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Minnesota North Stars — 1967-68
Opening week: 0-2-2
Opening month: 2-3-2
Mid-season: 14-15-8
Final record: 27-32-15

Much like the rest of the expansion squads, Minnesota struggled to piece it together in the early going and had to have some extended headaches in their opening year. For instance, the five-game losing streak that came to end November, which also happened to strike just after the North Stars were above .500 for the first time. Two four-game runs helped Minnesota level out, though, and earn a spot alongside three other expansion squads in the post-season. Wayne Connelly, Ray Cullen and Andre Boudrias led the North Stars into the playoffs and past the Kings, but Minnesota fell a goal short to the Blues — in double-overtime, no less — and exited in the West final.

Pittsburgh Penguins — 1967-68
Opening week: 1-2-1
Opening month: 3-5-1
Mid-season: 14-17-6
Final record: 27-34-13

There wasn’t much early promise in Pittsburgh, nor did things look all that rosy at mid-season, and the Penguins’ failure to win some tight games early in the year came back to haunt them. Pittsburgh fell two points short of earning a post-season berth in their inaugural campaign, finishing with 67 points to the Minnesota’s 69, and a pair of late-season games against the North Stars really hurt the Penguins. Pittsburgh lost and then tied Minnesota before, losing three points in the standings, and a four-game win streak to end the year wasn’t enough to get the Penguins to the dance.

Oakland Seals — 1967-68
Opening week: 2-0-1
Opening month: 2-5-2
Mid-season: 7-24-6
Final record: 15-42-17

Team on the West Coast? Check. Hot start? Check. White equipment? Check. Non-traditional market? You bet. The Seals were basically the Golden Knights of another era. Here’s hoping things don’t turn out the same, though. Oakland started with big wins — 5-1 and then 6-0 — but things quickly fell apart due to two five-game losing streaks and the Seals record was laughable by year’s end. Oakland finished a whopping 19 points back of the next-worst club and lasted all of nine seasons in the Bay Area.

Vancouver Canucks — 1970-71
Opening week: 1-4-0
Opening month: 3-6-2
Mid-season: 14-22-3
Final record: 24-46-8

All things considered, which is to say going up against 12 other established teams, the Canucks fared fairly well in the early going. The start was rocky and the first month wasn’t great, but at least Vancouver hadn’t gone oh-fer in a division loaded with longstanding franchises. By mid-season, things weren’t even that bad. Shortly thereafter, though, the wheels fell off. Losing streaks of three, four and six games saw the Canucks plummet down the standings as they ended with the third-worst record in the league.

Buffalo Sabres — 1970-71
Opening week: 1-3-0
Opening month: 2-7-1
Mid-season: 8-24-7
Final record: 24-39-15

Buffalo was surely glad to have the Sabres in town, but one would suspect Buffalonians were a touch disappointed with the team’s performance early on, even if it was an expansion franchise. The Sabres were downright awful early on, going on a seven-game losing streak that stretched from late-October into the beginning of November. It took until mid-January for the team to hit the double-digit win total, and, were it not for ties, Buffalo would have finished far lower in the standings. The singles helped the Sabres finish tied for the sixth-worst record and, if nothing else, Buffalo faithful had leading scorer Gilbert Perreault to be excited about.

Atlanta Flames — 1972-73
Opening week: 1-3-1
Opening month: 4-6-1
Mid-season: 15-18-6
Final record: 25-38-15

It’s rare for an expansion team to come in and hang with the league’s best for very long, yet somehow the Flames managed to do just that. The opening week and month weren’t much to celebrate, but started to find their form in November and December leading to a nearly .500 record at the mid-point of the campaign. Boy, did that end quick, though. Atlanta started to fall apart at the seams in the second half and went on four separate losing streaks of three games or more. Worst of all, the team finished up the season with a 2-10-2 record. Oof.

New York Islanders — 1972-73
Opening week: 1-2-0
Opening month: 1-6-1
Mid-season: 4-31-4
Final record: 12-60-6

All right, let’s just skip over everything here and get right to the point. This was a bad team. A very, very bad team. New York finished with 170 goals for and 347 against. Not great! They lost 13 of their first 21 games by three or more goals. Also not great! And here’s a fun fact about the inaugural Islanders club: it took until Game 73 in a 78-game schedule for the Islanders to win their 10th game.

Kansas City Scouts — 1974-75
Opening week: 0-3-0
Opening month: 0-7-0
Mid-season: 8-28-4
Final record: 15-54-11

One team had to have the winless opening week, but that same franchise also happened to have the first winless opening month. None of the outings were all that close, either. Back-to-back 6-2 defeats kicked off the year and there was an 8-2 loss mixed in near the end of October. The first win came in early November and Kansas City actually managed to piece together some wins before mid-season.

Washington Capitals — 1974-75
Opening week: 0-2-1
Opening month: 1-8-1
Mid-season: 3-33-4
Final record: 8-67-5

The Capitals won sooner than the Scouts, but that wasn’t at all indicative of how poor Washington was. The inaugural Capitals team is arguably the worst expansion team in league history and pieced together an absolutely ugly record. Just consider this for a second: Washington went on five streaks of seven losses or more. That included one nine-game losing streak, one 10-game losing streak and, kid you not, a 17-game losing streak. So, a win in their fourth game didn’t really amount to a whole lot.

San Jose Sharks — 1991-92
Opening week: 1-3-0
Opening month: 1-12-0
Mid-season: 9-28-3
Final record: 17-58-7

Three games into the season, the Sharks had picked up their first win, but it took another month — exactly — for San Jose to get back into the win column. In fact, from Game 4 to Game 16, the Sharks didn’t manage a single point. Yes, that’s 13-straight losses. That’s one way to really kick off an inaugural campaign. San Jose did manage a couple of two-game winning “streaks,” but it wasn’t enough to keep them competitive. The Sharks’ 39 points were 13 less than the next-worst club.

Tampa Bay Lightning — 1992-93
Opening week: 2-1-1
Opening month: 4-7-1
Mid-season: 15-25-2
Final record: 23-54-7

In their debut, the Lightning came out and absolutely skunked the Chicago Blackhawks, who had been to the Stanley Cup final the year prior, by a score of 7-3 and managed to put up two wins in their first four games. And while that wasn’t a sign of a club destined for the post-season, as far as expansion went in that era, the Lightning actually weren’t half bad. Brian Bradley was a standout for the club, putting up 42 goals and 86 points that season, and Tampa Bay finished ahead of two teams in the standings.

Ottawa Senators — 1992-93
Opening week: 1-3-0
Opening month: 1-9-1
Mid-season: 3-36-3
Final record: 10-70-4

Like the Lightning, the Senators started the season with some hope. They came out on opening night and downed the Montreal Canadiens 5-3 in front of their home fans. Sure, it took another month and a half for another victory, but that opening night win has to count for something, right? Ottawa is up there as one of the worst expansion teams of all-time. Not even a pretty solid season from defenseman Norm Maciver, who scored 17 goals and 63 points, was enough to really give fans much to cheer about.

Mighty Ducks of Anaheim — 1993-94
Opening week: 1-2-1
Opening month: 2-8-2
Mid-season: 16-24-2
Final record: 33-46-5

The opening week of the campaign, along with the first month, may not have given Mighty Ducks fans much to be hopeful about, but Anaheim actually pieced together a half decent year given what other expansion teams had done recently. Goaltender Guy Hebert was one of the early stars, while Terry Yake and Bob Corkum led the offense en route to a 71-point year. The Ducks were the best non-playoff team in the West, finishing with 71 points.

Florida Panthers — 1993-94
Opening week: 1-2-1
Opening month: 4-5-3
Mid-season: 17-17-8
Final record: 33-34-17

Take a look at the expansion teams from this era. It’s not a pretty picture. Yet the Panthers bucked the trend and did so early on. The opening week showed promise, the record after one month let people know this team might be for real and when the midway point of the campaign rolled around, the Cats were actually in the mix. Florida finished a single point out of a playoff spot when all was said and done, and the opening month was absolutely indicative of what the Panthers could achieve.

Nashville Predators — 1998-99
Opening week: 1-2-0
Opening month: 3-5-1
Mid-season: 14-23-4
Final record: 28-47-7

The Predators have come a long way in a short amount of time and there was something to be said for this team in the early going. The opening week record was fine, as was the team’s record through one month. Things started to get away from Nashville in the late season as they finished with the league’s fourth-worst record, but the pieces, like Cliff Ronning and Mike Dunham, were there of a team that looked as though it could start to put some wins on the board.

Atlanta Thrashers — 1999-00
Opening week: 0-2-1-0
Opening month: 2-5-2-1
Mid-season: 10-24-4-3
Final record: 14-57-7-4

We weren’t in an era of full-fledged parity at this point in time, but the league was certainly attempting to make every team a bit more competitive. Unfortunately for the Thrashers, that didn’t really work out, though. Despite the fact the Predators had managed to piece together a decent roster via expansion the year prior, the Thrashers group was downright awful. The team actually won a couple games early but the wheels fell off when they 22 out of 23 outings around the midpoint of the season.

Columbus Blue Jackets — 2000-01
Opening week: 1-3-0-0
Opening month: 3-8-0-1
Mid-season: 13-22-4-2
Final record: 28-39-9-6

In Columbus’ inaugural season, their first two games at home. Over that time, Blue Jackets fans watched the club lose 5-3 before getting blasted 7-1. Not exactly two fun nights out at the rink. Columbus would finally win one on the road and get two wins at home by the time the month was out. Really, the Blue Jackets weren’t all that bad. Matter of fact, despite the early woes, Columbus finished ahead of seven teams in the standings.

Minnesota Wild — 2000-01
Opening week: 0-3-1-0
Opening month: 2-7-3-0
Mid-season: 13-18-8-2
Final record: 25-39-13-5

Minnesota went winless through its first five games, scoring just eight goals over that stretch, before finally winning in an old-school shootout against the Tampa Bay Lightning. There was never really any consistency to the campaign, though. The Wild would win one or two, then lose or draw a handful. Rinse and repeat. No expansion team from the millennium era had as quick a rise as the Wild, though. Within three seasons, Minnesota had become a playoff team and the Wild made it to the dance three times in their first seven seasons.

 

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Golden Knights off to best expansion start ever -- how did other expansion teams fare early?