The Vegas Golden Knights captured their first Stanley Cup in franchise history by demolishing the Florida Panthers in five games. After coming close to hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup back in 2018, the Golden Knights were able to get the job done this time around.
Now that Vegas has reached the mountaintop of the NHL world, the question becomes: Are they capable of winning it all again during the 2023-24 campaign?
Yes, it's not an easy task to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Only 16 teams have done it. Most recently the Tampa Bay Lightning pulled the feat off in 2020 and 2021. It's only been done twice (Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017) over the past 25 years.
According to Caesars Sportsbook, the Golden Knights currently have the second-best odds at +800 to win the 2023-24 Stanley Cup, behind only the Colorado Avalanche. So what exactly do the Golden Knights need to do in order to repeat?
Re-sign Hill, Barbashev
Like any Stanley Cup champion, the Golden Knights are going to be tasked with some difficult decisions. Lucky for Vegas, this is a team that doesn't have a ton of key free agents that need to be re-signed.
The biggest one lies between the pipes in the form of goaltender Adin Hill. He is slated to be an unrestricted free agent, but the Golden Knights did use several different goalies throughout the 2022-23 season. Still, this Stanley Cup wouldn't have been possible without the performance of Hill.
- Hill became the savior for Vegas after Laurent Brossoit began the postseason with some mighty struggles.
- After replacing Brossoit, Hill became a man on a mission. During the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the 27-year-old keeper posted a 11-4-0 record, a 2.17 goals-against-average and a .932 save percentage in 16 games.
- The talented netminder also excelled throughout the Stanley Cup Final, as he tallied a 2.40 goals-against-average and won four of his five starts.
Oh yeah, and Hill made the most spectacular save of the postseason when he turned aside Nick Cousins with his goalie stick from point-blank range.
The Golden Knights acquired Hill in exchange for just a fourth-round pick, and Hill made just $2.675 million during the 2022-23 season. Considering the impressive postseason run Hill had, he's in line for a sizable pay raise. There will certainly be other teams that will be interested in Hill, but the Golden Knights need to make sure they retain his services.
One of the Golden Knights' other top free agents is center Ivan Barbashev. He was acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Blues during the 2022-23 season and had a good amount of success after joining the Golden Knights roster.
- Barbashev, 27, finished fifth on the team with 18 points (seven goals and 11 assists) during the 2023 postseason. He also registered a goal and two assists during the Stanley Cup Final.
- Barbashev really thrived in the second-round series against the Edmonton Oilers, when he racked up three goals and three assists.
- The talented forward helped open that series in a big way with a two-goal performance in Game 1.
While Vegas does possess a ton of forward depth, re-signing Barbashev certainly needs to be a priority if the Golden Knights want to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Barbashev made $2.6 million a season ago, so a fairly large salary increase is likely in order for him as well.
Now, in addition to Hill and Barbashev, players like Brossoit, Jonathan Quick and Phil Kessel are also going to be unrestricted free agents. However, it's fairly likely the Golden Knights will let those players walk since they didn't figure into the equation too much in terms of the team winning it all. The Golden Knights will be able to allocate all their resources into retaining Hill and Barbashev.
Eichel must continue to be elite
When the Golden Knights acquired Jack Eichel back in 2021, it was a move that was expected to put the franchise over the top in terms of competing for a Stanley Cup. That's exactly what happened. He was one of the top reasons Vegas won a Stanley Cup.
Eichel has showcased his ability as an elite offensive producer over the course of his eight-year professional career. In back-to-back seasons (2018-19 and 2019-20), Eichel recorded 82 points and 78 points, respectively. After a pair of down years in which he was affected by a neck injury, the former No. 2 overall pick compiled the third-highest point total of his career with 66 (27 goals and 39 assists).
While it wasn't the highest number of points he's recorded in a single season, Eichel really took his game to the next level during the 2022-23 campaign.
Under first-year coach Bruce Cassidy, the Golden Knights' new system was one built around defense and intensity. With that in mind, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Vegas blue-liners Alec Martinez and Brayden McNabb finished one-two among the league's top shot blockers.
In addition to the team's defensemen beefing up their presence, Eichel also became a more productive two-way player in his first season playing under Cassidy.
The Golden Knights star registered new career-highs in both blocked shots (56) and takeaways (47) during the 2022-23 regular season. That didn't change when the Stanley Cup Playoffs rolled around, as Eichel recorded 30 blocked shots, 25 hits and 19 takeaways in 22 contests.
Eichel has taken his star to the next level and re-established himself as an elite player at his position in his first postseason. If he can continue to lead by example, the Golden Knights definitely have an opportunity to be crowned Stanley Cup champions once again in the near future.
This might seem like an obvious factor for any team that wants to repeat as champs -- in any sport -- but it rings so true.
After the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 2022, they looked poised to potentially repeat. But they weren't the same team throughout the 2022-23 season because of injuries. The loss of captain Gabriel Landeskog crushed them. He underwent knee surgery following the 2022 Stanley Cup Final and ended up not playing a single game during the 2022-23 campaign (Landeskog has to have cartilage transplant surgery and will miss the upcoming season as well). In addition to Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Artturi Lehkonen missed time this past season.
As they embarked on their 2023 postseason run, the Golden Knights were relatively healthy. Star talent like Eichel, Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone didn't miss any action throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Stone was limited to just 43 games during the regular season, but he returned for Game 1 of Vegas' opening-round series against the Winnipeg Jets.
If this extremely talented group can stay healthy, the sky is the limit for what they an achieve.