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Vegas Golden Knights Stand Alone: A Brief History of NHL Expansion Teams

Nihal Kolur

The Vegas Golden Knights are perhaps the best expansion franchise in sports history. The team advanced to the Stanley Cup Final on Sunday after beating the Winnipeg Jets in five games, becoming the first expansion team in the history of the four major sports to make it to the championship round.

Since 1991, the NHL has added 10 new teams, including the Nashville Predators in 1998, Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) in 1999 and Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild in 2000. But none have fared as well as the Golden Knights in their first season.

In fact, the Predators are the only one of those four teams to even make the Stanley Cup Final, which they accomplished last season after 18 years in the league.

Twenty-seven of the 31 teams in the league have reached the Stanley Cup Final in their history. Only Arizona, Winnipeg (who the Golden Knights beat on Sunday), Columbus and Minnesota have not. It has taken the average expansion team nearly 12 years to reach the championship round.

The previous model for a successful NHL expansion team was the Florida Panthers, who finished one win shy of a .500 record in their inaugural 1993-94 season. The Golden Knights have shattered that record.

Although the 1967-68 St. Louis Blues made the Cup final in their first season, the NHL's new rules to put all six of its expansion teams into the same division (the winner of which made the final), diminishes the Blues' accomplishment. They were also swept in the final.

Across the four major sports, Vegas stands alone. In the MLB, no expansion club has finished with more than 70 wins in its first season. In the NBA, the 1967 Chicago Bulls are the most successful expansion team, but they only won 33 games. And in the NFL, the 1995 7-9 Carolina Panthers top the list.

So, as you watch Marc-Andre Fleury and company play in the Stanley Cup Final, remember that you are witnessing history. The likes of which may not be topped again.