If anyone was in Las Vegas this week, they should know it was a big week for the NHL.
Tuesday, Adidas officially became the new jersey supplier for the league,at a private launch party that had everything from Desiigner rapping in front of future Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid to a first look at the Vegas Golden Knights sweaters.
Wednesday, those same Golden Knights became more real than they’ve ever been, completing their anticipated 30-player expansion draft in front of the league’s biggest names at T-Mobile Arena’s NHL awards ceremony.
After enduring the two-minute stretch through 115-degree air into the arena and watching it all unfold, here are the winners and losers — and, well, everything in between — from Wednesday night’s historic dual celebration:
Biggest winner: Vegas Golden Knights
How can they not be?
Firstly, they’re a real team now — no ifs, ands or buts about it. But they did steal the show at the NHL awards, and that’s because they entered the expansion draft in a favorable position, to say the least. They held all the cards, plain and simple, and they capitalized. Not only did they land more than a few big-name pieces (see: Marc-Andre Fleury, James Neal, Marc Methot) and rack up draft capital from teams worried about losing unprotected assets, but they could still act as the middle man between teams now that they’ve collected discarded talent.
Oh, and did I mention they’re a real team now? T-Mobile Arena’s crowd may have been the slightest of indications, but they wanted a hockey team Wednesday night and they got one.
Biggest winner 2.0: Connor McDavid
If we’re talking about the biggest winner from a broader perspective, it is McDavid, no doubt.
The Art Ross Trophy was enough to cement that the Edmonton Oilers center is quickly becoming one of the premier faces of hockey, especially the NHL’s next generation. But Canada’s humble young hero. He may have been out in front of the cameras more than host Joe Manganiello, to be honest.
That’s what a Ted Lindsay Award will do for you. And a spot on the cover of “NHL 18.” And, oh yes, a Hart Trophy, which landed in a younger player’s hands only when Sidney Crosby took the honor as a 19-year-old in 2007.
Biggest loser: Pittsburgh Penguins
OK, so if the Pens’ biggest loss of the year comes at the NHL awards show, we can all admit they still run the show. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that, weeks ago, Pittsburgh earned its place in history as the wrongly doubted repeat champions of the NHL. Manganiello, by the way, made sure everyone in Vegas knew who holds the Cup.
But if Wednesday night’s festivities left anyone feeling heartbroken, it left the Penguins — or their fans — feeling exactly that. It could not have been easy, no matter how unsurprising it may have been, to see Fleury officially leave Steel City to the delight of Vegas fans. To see Fleury, forever an icon in the Pens net, walk into the T-Mobile Arena spotlights in a Golden Knights uniform, smile on his face, with Sidney Crosby seated no more than a few rows away.
It’s safe to say that all of Pittsburgh is Evgeni Malkin.
Speaking of Crosby, though, it’s not often Sid the (aging) Kid doesn’t come away victorious. But he was left a little shorthanded on Wednesday, too, watching as the NHL’s next big thing, McDavid, took both the Ted Lindsay and Hart Trophy honors. And take it for what it’s worth, but Vegas also had no problem letting him hear it whenever his name was announced as a nominee.
Sounds like Golden Knights fans are fitting in already.
Best entertainment: The staged crowd fanatic
Manganiello was the host of the NHL Awards. Celebrities appeared throughout the night. But my eyes couldn’t stay off the Phil Kessel lookalike who made his debut from the seats of the crowd during an early commercial break, ran through the aisles of player guests and shed at least seven Golden Knights T-shirts over the course of the evening.
At first glance, it was apparent this guy was way too coordinated in his dance moves and spontaneous shirt waves to be, you know, a spontaneous fan gone wild. But he kept popping up again and again during commercials, and his efforts were ceaseless.
Bravo, T-shirt guy. Bravo.
Best moment: Honoring Bryan Bickell
Bickell’s story has been both tragic and inspiring since long before he took the stage with his wife, Amanda, at the NHL awards. Hisdue to his battle with multiple sclerosis drew support from teammates, former teams and many more. And the NHL’s tribute to the ex-Chicago Blackhawks and Carolina Hurricanes winger was truly touching.
See for yourself:
Biggest uproar: Marc-Andre Fleury’s arrival
We’re talking about the best kind of uproar, by the way.
The moment of the night wasn’t necessarily any player, from McDavid to Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, claiming a big accolade. It was most definitely the second to last pick announcement from the Golden Knights’ expansion draft — the transition of Fleury from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas in the blink of an eye.
The audience was louder than it had been all night when Fleury’s name started to seep out of the public address. And it just about capped off a headlining turn — or first step — for the NHL’s newest franchise.