Vegas Golden Knights, $5.6 million in cap space
Biggest changes: Where do we start? When it comes to the NHL's newest franchise, everything is new: the front office, the coaching staff, the roster, the logo, the building. All of which makes this new chapter in league history so exciting. With a roster assembled from scratch, the NHL's newest team will be difficult for the opposition to scout. The home-ice atmosphere should be electric in Vegas, but any advantage the expansion team will have over its competition could end there -- unless you count late nights on the Strip leaving visiting teams battling the "Las Vegas flu."
Case for: The scene at T-Mobile Arena will be something as the team enjoys the requisite honeymoon period that comes with any city welcoming its first major pro sports franchise. Located on the iconic Las Vegas Strip, the building will be -- judging by the preseason -- filled with a healthy combination of energized locals, curious onlookers and excited out-of-towners. Will it result in many wins for the Golden Knights? Probably not, but there are reasons for hope. At the very least, this should be the most competitive expansion team in the modern expansion era. (Take that for what it's worth.) An expansion draft that was tilted in Vegas' favor compared to previous iterations certainly helped general manager George McPhee assemble a roster with speed and talent. Dynamic players such as James Neal and Nate Schmidt will be given the freedom to skate by coach Gerard Gallant, who was beloved by players in his previous job with the Florida Panthers before being fired in November. The respected Gallant could have the upper hand in the early going as opposing teams play catch-up in their efforts to scout a group of players that have been skating together but for a few weeks. If all else fails, they'll have Marc-Andre Fleury in net, a Stanley Cup champion who was considered a franchise goaltender not too long ago.
Case against: A poker pro has a better chance of hitting a straight flush on the river than the Golden Knights have of making the playoffs. The club will undoubtedly struggle to find chemistry as players grow accustomed to each other as well as the inherent newness of the club's place in the league. There's also 25 years of empirical evidence -- dating back to the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning joining the league in 1992 -- showing that expansion teams struggle to compete in their first season. Even if Gallant does manage to galvanize this group into a competitive bunch, the apparent lack of scoring touch should be insurmountable. There's a former 40-goal scorer in Neal, and Russian import Vadim Shipachyov, whose 76 points for SKA St. Petersburg ranked third in the KHL last season. The scoring mostly ends there. With McPhee expressing apprehension about handing roster spots to recent draft picks, this season will be more about identifying the players who will make up the team's veteran nucleus moving forward.
Trade bait: The Golden Knights have 11 defensemen with NHL experience, five of whom will be unrestricted free agents next summer. They can't all dress on opening night. Considering how valuable a veteran such as Jason Garrison, Luca Sbisa or Clayton Stoner could be for a team seeking blue-line depth, it wouldn't be terribly surprising if McPhee dangled a couple of them in a potential trade. McPhee has been stockpiling draft picks and could certainly add to that impressive collection by dealing some of his blueliners.
Goalie situation rating: 7. This is the strength of this club. With Cup-winning Fleury and 2016 IIHF world champion Calvin Pickard entering the shooting gallery that is typically an expansion team's net, the Golden Knights are in a good place when it comes to their crease.
Scout's take: "Are they going to be a great team? Who knows that? But they're certainly not going to be horrible, by any means. They debuted pretty good, scoring nine goals in the preseason. They can score goals with guys like James Neal and David Perron. Alex Tuch is going to be a good young player. In goal, they've got a bona fide winner in Marc-Andre Fleury, who is not even close to being done."
Prediction: 8th in Pacific