The Vegas Golden Knights are 3-0 in their first-ever NHL season. It’s not supposed to be this easy, which is one reason their 3-0 start is a first for an expansion club in the 100-year history of the NHL.
Vegas, kickstarting their first season in the league, kind of got me thinking back to the Blue Jackets’ in their inaugural season all the way back in Y2K.
Who was your favorite to sport the neon bug?
From captain Lyle Odelein, to among the franchise's longest-tenured Jackets in David Vyborny, the team may not have racked up a ton of wins during their first season, but Columbus had an NHL team. A milestone within a milestone.
Feast your eyes on the roster.
Vegas is a really interesting team in my eyes. Any team, let alone an expansion, is fortunate to land a goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury, the leading backstop of Pittsburgh’s most recent cup run, a three-time champ, and still just 32 years of age. Given the circumstances surrounding Matt Murray, the Fleury departure was inevitable and perfect timing for Vegas.
Fleury has already made a lasting impression, backstopping his team to each victory, including an impressive 45-save performance in Dallas during the teams' first game last Friday night. Sniper and alternate captain James Neal has found the back of the net five times, including cementing two game-winners and the first power play goal in the teams’ history.
Then, of course, there’s head coach Gerard Gallant and William Karlsson.
The former in Columbus from 2001 to 2006, and the latter from 2014 to 2016-17 achieving 50 points in his career to date. It's a nice rebound, but ultimately a well-deserved opportunity for Gallant whose unceremonial end in Florida smears, but shouldn't overshadow, the job he did in Sunrise. His tenure culminates in a 103-point season and a division title for the Panthers in 2015-16, just the second division crown in franchise history, and first playoff berth since 2011-12.
GM George McPhee brings a plethora of experience from the exec seat with the Washington Capitals, presiding over seven division titles, his teams boasting eight 40-or-more win seasons, the Presidents’ Trophy, and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
As the Knights figure their way through their first season, and eventual hiccups as customary of any team through any season, let’s look back to that inaugural one in Columbus, a team that ended the year with 71 points and 28 wins.
It’s tough to pin expectations on a brand-new team.
To contrast, the Dave King-led Jackets tied with the Blackhawks and still finished better than six other teams. That includes 19-points better than the New York Islanders. Expansion-cousin Minnesota was three points worse but in the conference finals just three years later. Nashville, just two-years-old, was in third place with 80 points.
If only they were in the Southeast division they would have qualified as a third-place entrant their first year. By the way, the tough draw of playing in the Central division during the Red Wings heyday, and the Blues, Predators, and Hawks before they got going, did not do Columbus any favors necessarily.
I vaguely remember how easy the Jackets made it look Oct. 7, 2000. Against the Blackhawks, they scored the games' first three goals of their existence 9:20 into their first period. Three goals just under two minutes apart.
And almost as fast as that lead felt to accrue was nearly as fast as it was to lose the game 5-3.
Geoff Sanderson was the leading scorer with the clubs’ first 30-goal campaign. The Jackets home record was fairly decent as they came in over .500 but the road record left much to be desired with just nine wins—it still wasn’t the worst that year thanks to Tampa Bay.
Goaltender Ron Tugnutt broke the record for expansion wins by a netminder (22)—if I recall correctly, I met him at school once during an assembly.
Upon reminiscing, I’ve also realized how many teams that may have had down years in 2000 was winning the Stanley Cup or playing very meaningful hockey just a few seasons later. At least in 2017, the Jackets have identified that window.
As fun as it was reminiscing the ole days, it’s better thinking about where Columbus is today as a playoff contender. Kudos to the Knights for their new expansion club, impending success, and a couple of Blue Jacket tie-ins leaving a mark in Sin City.