Grading the Vegas Golden Knights season

The season didn't go as expected for the Vegas Golden Knights. What was good and what stunk?
Vegas Golden Knights v Dallas Stars - Game Seven
Vegas Golden Knights v Dallas Stars - Game Seven / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

There were some bittersweet feelings last Sunday, with the Vegas Golden Knights being eliminated by the Dallas Stars. The first-round exit in seven games ended the Golden Knights's reign as the defending Stanley Cup champions. Now, eight teams are vying for that distinctive honor, hoping to hoist Lord Stanley come summer time.

But for the (formerly) defending champions, numerous questions and takeaways loom. Now, the Golden Knights must focus on the NHL Draft, starting on June 28. The goal? Build depth for the future and prepare for what lies ahead. No moping and pouting after losing to the Stars. They were the better team and wanted it more. Forward progress is the only progress.

With the offseason looming, that raises questions about who's staying and who's going. Will Golden Knights fans see fan favorites return to T-Mobile Arena next season? Does general manager Kelly McCrimmon have a trade or two in mind to address Vegas's salary cap dilemma? Such questions will shape how the Golden Knights will look in 2024-25... and beyond.

Still, it's worth looking at the season and seeing what went right and wrong. It might tell us about what lies ahead in the future. Whether it's lessons learned, things that can be controlled, or simple positives, the 2023-24 season has plenty of newsworthy topics for the Golden Knights. What went right and what went wrong for Vegas?

The positives for the Vegas Golden Knights in 2023-24

One major positive for the Vegas Golden Knights in 2023-24 came at the end of the regular season. It involves a mundane unit that has struggled since the franchise's inception. Of course, the power play is being talked about here. It took an active trade deadline to finally correct the unit. But it seems to have worked, giving the Golden Knights life on the man advantage.

It started with acquiring Noah Hanifin from the Calgary Flames. The defenseman has more offensive capabilities than other players at his position, which was why he was brought in. Jack Eichel's lifelong buddy was supposed to correct the unit, giving them (and the offense) more juice.

The result? Two goals and three assists on the power play in 19 games, with Hanifin giving more life to the special teams unit. It's seemed to work for Vegas, for they've searched for players that specialized in the trade for years. Nothing materialized until now, with the Boston native bringing his shot and hockey intelligence to the Golden Knights.

But, wait! There's more! Tomas Hertl returned for the last six games of the regular season, boosting the Golden Knights on the man advantage. Not only did the former Shark score a goal and assist on the power play, but Vegas scored on 46.7% of power plays in the last six games. If Vegas can continue putting big bodies up front (i.e. Hertl), they can finally correct their troubled unit for good.

Another positive was Jonathan Marchessault's 42-goal season, where the winger will get a sizable payday. Whether he returns as a Vegas Golden Knight remains to be seen. However, the "Original Misfit" deserves to come back, giving fans more memories of successful Golden Knights moments.

The negatives of the Vegas Golden Knights in 2023-24

First, the Vegas Golden Knights were awfully inconsistent throughout the season. They started the season 11-0-1, roaring through the entire NHL. Life was good for the defending champions, for they hadn't lost a beat. Everything should've had staying power at that point, right?

Wrong. Although they would earn points in six of their next 11 games after the hot start, they only won three of those 11 games. Then came winning seven of their next nine. Then came losing six of their next seven, only getting two points in that stretch. Consistency has been an issue for the Golden Knights all season, with the team failing to get off to a breakaway run.

While injuries played a major role in the inconsistent play, it was also the Golden Knights themselves that did them in. The forecheck lost its patented bite, with Vegas allowing 2,487 shots throughout the regular season. That was the 13th-most in the NHL, worrying fans and the team alike.

Sometimes, there would be a defeatist attitude that permeated with the Golden Knights. One example was the 7-4 loss on April 8th to the Arizona Coyotes (now Utah). Giving up six third-period goals is one extreme that crushed Vegas's soul. However, when it's shot after shot that goes in, there's something amiss with the team's mentality.

The final grade

B-. . . Vegas Golden Knights 2023-24 season. Vegas Golden Knights

The Vegas Golden Knights started off on an A+ pace, scorching the competition with their efficient scoring and Adin Hill performing well. However, the Golden Knights cooled off and couldn't get back into a groove. Granted, injuries are tough to account for in a regular season. However, those same injuries exposed Vegas at the forward position, leaving them gasping for air (and goals).

That's why the Golden Knights get a B- for the 2023-24 season. There were some positives for the season, including new long-term pieces being added to the mix. However, the mentality must change for Vegas, starting with pressuring opponents and getting back to the forecheck. Hopefully, the injuries won't be as severe next season for Vegas, for they'll look to regain the Stanley Cup and party with it in Sin City.

The good news? The foundation is there, with Marchessault as the big piece to the puzzle. But with Hanifin and Hertl bolstering the power play unit and overall offense, the Golden Knights have a foundation set for their title window. It's just a matter of tweaking some issues mentally and physically for Vegas to be back in Stanley Cup contention.