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Stanley Cup Final

Golden Knights' run to Final seen as positive for NHL by GMs, executives

First-year franchise praised for selfless play on ice, bonding with city

by Mike Zeisberger @zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Hurt as it might, Kevin Cheveldayoff can't help himself.

Whenever the puck is dropped for a Stanley Cup Final game between the expansion Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals, he finds himself glued to the TV.

 

[RELATED: Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

It's a painful exercise for the general manager of the Winnipeg Jets, whose team lost the Western Conference Final to the Golden Knights in five games. As a result, every time he sees Vegas play, he thinks to himself, "That could have been us."

Except it wasn't.

Yet with heartache comes respect, and Cheveldayoff has plenty of it for the Golden Knights, who trail the best-of-7 Final 2-1 heading into Game 4 at Capital One Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

"It's tough to watch. Very tough," Cheveldayoff said. "But that's where the hockey fan comes out in you. As much as you want to stay away, you're drawn to it because you're a hockey fan.

"Their success has been great for the League, even if some of it has come at our expense."

Many of his colleagues couldn't agree more.

In an informal poll of general managers and team executives conducted by NHL.com at the 2018 Scouting Combine in Buffalo last week, sentiment was unanimous that the success of the Golden Knights is good for the NHL.

Video: Kurt Busch on the Golden Knights, growing up in Vegas

Keep in mind that the Cinderella story of the Golden Knights in their inaugural season would seem to put some heat and raise expectations on the other 30 GMs who are in charge of already established teams.

Or does it?

"As far as being a GM that's been around a little bit longer, I don't look at it that way," St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong said. "I think it's great for the League, and we always want what's best for the League in our business.

"I think it's going to open up some avenues that we can talk to our players about. A team that had no egos, a coach that didn't have to work around players' expectations of ice time, they were able to roll four lines and nobody slammed the door coming off because they didn't get what they needed or break a stick because they're not on the power play or break a stick when they're not on the PK or those things experienced players take for granted. And you're seeing the rewards of a selfless team."

When Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin watches Vegas, he sees players who are seeking team success, not headlines for their individual play.

"[GM] George McPhee and [coach] Gerard Gallant, they brought in players who are buying into what they are trying to do," Bergevin said. "They play like they have something to prove, and they play like a team. So, for me, it's not only how to build a team but how to get your players to buy in.

"It seems like they all checked their ego at the door. And that's where they are today."

No one agrees with this philosophy more than Lou Lamoriello, recently named president of hockey operations for the New York Islanders.

While the Toronto Maple Leafs GM the past three seasons, Lamoriello would not allow posters of players such as Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to be splattered in the corridors outside Air Canada Centre. His reasoning: The individual should never be more important or seek more attention than the team.

In his mind, Vegas underscores his point.

"I think it's fantastic. Because it goes to show you how important a team is," Lamoriello said. "It just goes to show you how important giving up personal identity for the sake of the team is. That's what team's all about."

Video: Survivors of the tragedy in Vegas drop puck

Lamoriello pointed to how the Golden Knights have helped heal the heavy hearts of the Vegas community.

Before their final home game, they honored the victims of the Harvest Music Festival shooting on Oct. 1. The Golden Knights raised a banner to the rafters with the names of each victim and 58 stars to represent the lives lost.

They also announced that no Golden Knights player will wear No. 58. It is officially retired in honor of the victims.

Though he usually keeps his emotions close to the vest, Lamoriello said he's moved by the bond that has formed between the Golden Knights and their city in the wake of the tragedy.

"I'm getting chills right now just thinking about it," Lamoriello said. "The team, and how it brought everyone together in an example of how important sports are to the world."

As for the product on the ice, Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning credits McPhee for some imaginative team-building tactics.

Video: Toronto Sun writer Steve Simmons on Vegas' success

"They did an outstanding job with the [NHL] Expansion Draft," Benning said. "I guess when you get to start out with a zero [NHL salary] cap situation and you've got to get to $80 million, you can do some creative things. There's maybe 10, 12, 15 teams last year that had maybe salary cap issues that Vegas helped alleviate. There was a price to pay for that, maybe giving up another player they really didn't want to give up. For them to take David Clarkson's contract from [the] Columbus [Blue Jackets], for example, they got William Karlsson.

"I also think they did an excellent job of adding players that play the way the game is played today, with speed and skill. And they added 23 players that showed up with a bit of a chip on their shoulders because the other teams made them available.

"They've had a chance to compete for the Cup, which is exciting."

Even for other GMs, whose fans want to know why their favorite teams couldn't do what the Golden Knights are?

"Does it put more pressure on us? No. I think it's helped us re-evaluate some things, look at different situations," Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill said.

"It's the perfect scenario, where [Vegas] doesn't have to pay any high-end guys yet. Does that make us make different decisions on high-end players? Maybe it does."

***

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