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NHL Awards

Golden Knights cap 'crazy year' with four wins at NHL Awards

Expansion team honored after reaching Final, uniting city following shooting

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

LAS VEGAS -- It was the epilogue to the fairy tale of the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights.

Three hundred sixty-four days after assembling their first roster at the 2017 NHL Awards and NHL Expansion Draft at T-Mobile Arena, they took center stage at the 2018 NHL Awards presented by Hulu at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas on Wednesday.


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Four first responders and four survivors of the mass shooting on the Strip on Oct. 1 stood at one point with four members of the Golden Knights who won awards: general manager George McPhee, coach Gerard Gallant, center William Karlsson and defenseman Deryk Engelland.

The Golden Knights became Las Vegas' first major league sports team, united the city in the aftermath of Oct. 1, shattered records for first-year teams in the regular season and made the Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Washington Capitals in five games.

Video: Gerard Gallant is presented the Jack Adams Award

"It was a dream season right till Game 5," Gallant said. "It was an unbelievable year. Obviously nobody expected us to come out of the gate like we did. Nobody expected us to be in the playoffs. We had a great team. We had a great season. Fell a little bit short, but I'll go home this summer very proud of our group and the organization."

McPhee won the NHL General Manager of the Year Award a little more than four years after the Capitals fired him as their GM. Though the Golden Knights had more favorable rules than previous expansion teams did, McPhee and his staff took advantage of them and exceeded expectations. They did a masterful job of collecting assets for the long term while building a team for the short term, finding players with upside, speed and character.

"It was really hard for me to believe, to be honest with you," McPhee said. "Every month, I was like, 'Boy, is this really happening?' As I've said a number of times, I had my fingers crossed all year hoping it wouldn't turn to dust. And each week, we kept winning. And then we won a round, and then won another round, and then won another round. And I was like, 'This is too good to be true. We might win the Stanley Cup.' And then we didn't. And then you come back down to earth. But it was just an extraordinary year in all of our lives."

Video: George McPhee wins NHL General Manager of the Year

Gallant won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year after getting fired as coach of the Florida Panthers in 2016-17, after being a finalist for the award with Florida in 2015-16. He brought together players discarded by other teams by keeping an open mind, putting them in positions to succeed and boosting their confidence. Nick Robone, the UNLV assistant who was shot Oct. 1, was visited by Vegas players in the hospital and got to break down video with Gallant and his staff as he recovered, made the announcement.

"I had no plans of being here tonight," Gallant said. "I think our goal when the season started was to compete and battle hard every night, but obviously they did an exceptional job. We went out. We got first-class hockey players. They played hard for us every night, and they won. And that's the reason why I'm standing here tonight."

Karlsson won the Lady Byng Trophy, which recognizes sportsmanship, gentlemanly conduct and a high standard of playing ability, a year after he was training in Sweden wondering if he would be picked in the expansion draft. He scored six goals for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2016-17. He scored 43 goals for Vegas in 2017-18, third in the NHL, and had 12 penalty minutes, the fewest among the League's top 40 scorers. He led the NHL with a plus-49 rating, the highest since 2009-10.

Video: William Karlsson is awarded the Lady Byng Trophy

"It's very special," Karlsson said. "I mean, just looking back a year ago, who would have thought I would sit here just nominated for an award? But to win it, it's been a crazy year."

Engelland won the Mark Messier Leadership Award, even though he wasn't a captain. The Golden Knights didn't have one, and the lack of hierarchy was one of the reasons for their success. He said several of his teammates could have won the award instead of him. But Engelland had played for Las Vegas of the ECHL in 2003-05 and lived in the city in the offseason, and it was he who took the lead after Oct. 1. He and his wife, Melissa, brought groceries to a firefighters' union hall the next morning. He gave a speech during an emotional pregame ceremony honoring victims, families and first responders at the home opener Oct. 10, telling the crowd, "We are Vegas Strong."

"It meant a lot," Engelland said. "Looking back, no matter what I do in my career, that's probably going to be one of the biggest moments of my hockey career, that night."

Engelland and his wife ran a program to honor victims, families and first responders at each home game during the regular season and stayed in contact with them as friends behind the scenes. When the Golden Knights eliminated the Winnipeg Jets with a 2-1 road win in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on May 20, they chose Engelland to receive the Clarence Campbell Bowl.

Video: Deryk Engelland wins Mark Messier Leadership Award

"What they did in the aftermath of Oct 1, what they've done in so many ways in this community, really made a big difference in this community, I believe, in uplifting the community and trying to help this community heal and persevere," McPhee said. "We're very, very fortunate to have these young men. We're all trying to win championships, but we all know it's a lot more than that."

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