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A fast start to life - The Golden Knights and the expansion teams who excelled early

22 Май 2018 16:31

The Vegas Golden Knights' dream season could soon have a fairytale ending after they reached the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season of existence.

They will now face either the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals in a seven-game series as they attempt to become the first true expansion franchise to win a championship in their maiden campaign.

Here, with the help of data compiled by Brandon Schlager of Sporting News, we take a look at some of the other expansion teams in North American sports to have excelled early in their existence.


Carolina Panthers & Jacksonville Jaguars

The 1995 Panthers posted the highest first-season winning percentage (43.8) of any NFL expansion team when they produced a competitive 7-9 record, while the Jaguars began life with a 4-12 campaign in the same year. 

But the pair were each a win away from facing each other in an all-expansion Super Bowl a season later. Carolina lost to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game while the Jaguars were defeated by the New England Patriots in the AFC title showdown.

Then Jacksonville head coach Tom Coughlin guided them to three further playoff appearances but a maiden Super Bowl title continues to elude both franchises, the Panthers twice losing in the season-ending showpiece, while the Jaguars - with Coughlin back in a front-office capacity - were denied a spot in Super Bowl LII by a Patriots comeback in January.

Milwaukee Bucks

Coming into the NBA two seasons after the Chicago Bulls posted the best winning percentage of any expansion team in the league's history (40.7 per cent), the Bucks won just 27 of their 82 games in the 1968-69 campaign but rapidly improved and tasted glory in just their third season of existence.

Having won Rookie of the Year in 1969-70, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - then known as Lew Alcindor - inspired the Bucks to the NBA title, winning both MVP and Finals MVP as he averaged over 26 points a game in the playoffs, Milwaukee sweeping the Baltimore Bullets to claim the 1971 championship.

Abdul-Jabbar would win two move MVPs with the Bucks and help them to the Finals again in 1974 before requesting a trade and being dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1975.

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks' 1998 debut saw them go 65-97, but a year later they were in the playoffs behind the arm of Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Randy Johnson.

They lost a National League Division Series to the New York Mets in 1999 but, in just their fourth season of existence, prevailed over the New York Yankees to become the fastest MLB expansion franchise to win a World Series.

That 2001 triumph saw the Diamondbacks win a thrilling game seven 3-2 with a ninth-inning comeback. Tony Womack tied the game with a double before Luis Gonzalez plated the winning run, with Johnson and Curt Schilling named co-World Series MVPs.

St. Louis Blues

Six teams entered the NHL in the 1967-68 season and it proved a successful year for the expansion franchises as four made the postseason, albeit in a league of just 12 teams.

None fared better than the Blues, however, as they progressed all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to be swept by the Montreal Canadiens.

No expansion team had replicated the Blues' feat before the Golden Knights this season. However, while the other three teams to make the playoffs that year have all since won the Cup - the Pittsburgh Penguins becoming one of the NHL's most successful franchises - the Blues are still waiting for their first such triumph.

Vegas Golden Knights

The announcement of the formation of the Golden Knights raised more eyebrows than perhaps any other expansion team in history.

But they have emphatically silenced the doubters by producing the best first season of any expansion franchise in any of the four major North American sports.

They won 66.5 per cent of their games in the regular season and, should they go one better than the Blues 50 years ago, will write their name in the history books with the most improbable of triumphs.

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