This is a collaboration between Vegas Golden Knights writers Thomas Conroy and Shayna Goldman analyzing the 2017 Expansion Draft by each division. Here are the previews for the Atlantic, Metropolitan and Central Divisions.
The Vegas Golden Knights have a great opportunity to make life difficult for their Pacific Division rivals. How? Well, the Knights’ strategy heading into this portion of the expansion draft should be to choose the best available player from each of their divisional opponents.
Golden Knights GM George McPhee’s chief goal must be to weaken each team’s roster, but the players selected cannot be waiting for the ink to dry on their retirement papers. If a veteran catches McPhee’s eyes that’s okay, but he must be able to contribute on the ice and help create a winning environment inside the locker room. The Knights would be doing themselves a favor by selecting a player of this nature because you cannot measure their value to guide an inexperience roster through the grind of an NHL schedule.
Signing Free Agents is Key
The fastest way to become competitive in professional sports today is signing a couple impactful free agents, and the Golden Knights could become the talk of the offseason by using this approach. The NHL awarded them an exclusive 72-hour negotiation window with restricted and unrestricted free agents that begins on June 18 at 10 am ET prior to the expansion draft. Any player signed during this period will count as his former team’s selected player and that team cannot lose another player in the draft.
This advantage doesn’t suggest the Knights to sign every proven goal scorer and dynamic defenseman available because they must draft 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders as the framework of a 30-man roster. Of the 30, 20 of those players must be under contract for the 2017-18 season, and the selections must amass at least 60 percent of the Knights’ salary cap.
Now, that we have gone over the Knights exclusive free agent negotiation window, let’s preview the Pacific Division (by final regular season standings):
It doesn’t surprise close observers of the expansion draft that the Anaheim Ducks have reportedly a pre-arranged expansion draft deal in place with the Knights that allows them to keep their top four defensemen intact for another season. Hockey insider Bob McKenzie was the first to report of the agreement, which sends Vegas a package of draft choices and players in exchange for them not selecting a top player off the Ducks non-protective draft list.
It's believed ANA has a pre-arranged deal in place with VGK so it isn't necessary to ask Kevin Bieksa to waive his NMC.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 13, 2017
This trade affords Anaheim to keep Cam Fowler, Kevin Bieksa, Josh Manson and Hampus Lindholm as a unit, but now, the Golden Knights have an opportunity to select a top-nine forward off the Ducks roster. Either way, they’re guarantee to welcome a quality player to the desert.
The next juggernaut in the NHL is the Edmonton Oilers as they have the right mix of young and veteran talent that acquired the necessary playoff experience this spring to make a memorable Stanley Cup run in the near future. It could happen next season or the year after, but it won’t take place if the roster loses a key component in the expansion draft.
Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli must decide if Benoit Pouliot or Griffin Reinhart are expendable pieces, and their absence from the lineup won’t deter the team’s goal of competing for a Stanley Cup championship. I don’t think the Oilers will surprise anyone with the names on their protected list, but that remains to be seen.
San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks are a team in transition as they have gone as far as possible in the playoffs with this group of players. It might be wise to part ways with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau; both are unrestricted free agents and could receive interest from the Knights about becoming that much-needed veteran presence in the locker room.
If the Sharks believe that either one or both players can still be productive on the ice, then re-sign them to low-risk, high-reward contracts quickly before the speculation of their departure becomes reality. The thought of losing Thornton or Marleau might anger Shark fans, but reshaping the roster now will help the team to remain competitive in the playoff chase moving forward.
The Calgary Flames roster is filled with quality forwards, but not everyone can be protected in the upcoming expansion draft. It’s highly likely that the Flames will lose one of their talented players to the Golden Knights. The final two spots on the protected list is between Michael Ferland, Curtis Lazar, Troy Brouwer and Matt Stajan. The favorites to be protected are Ferland, who the Flames believe has the potential to make an impact in the lineup next season, and Lazar, a trade deadline acquisition from the Ottawa Senators that they believe can resurrect his career after playing in their system for a full season. Their decision hasn’t been finalized, but it could come down to which players fit better into the chemistry of the team.
Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings have won two Stanley Cups in the last six seasons, but their collection of talent became complacent and failed to make the playoffs once again. Team owners fired the GM Dean Lombardi and head coach Darryl Sutter, and elevated Rob Blake and John Stevens to their respected positions.
One of the new regime’s first test will be their protected list because it will give an indication on what direction this team will be heading next season. The Kings are one of the few teams in the NHL that could use the four forwards, four defensemen and one goaltender protected list format. The downside to using this format is exposing Derek Forbort and Kyle Clifford to the Knights for the taking.
There hasn’t been much to cheer for if you’re an Arizona Coyotes fan as the team’s on-ice success has been non-existent of late. But, their luck might be moving in the right direction this offseason. The Coyotes might avoid losing a quality player in the expansion draft because the majority of their talented young forwards (Max Domi, Dylan Strome and Nick Merkley) are exempt from eligibility. This allows the Coyotes to protect another defenseman since their youngsters cannot be selected.
Losing a quality blueliner like Connor Murphy isn’t going to improve the situation in Arizona, especially after the team’s goaltenders struggled horribly in between the pipes all last season. To get out of the division cellar, the Coyotes must play better team defense and effectively clear the puck out of their zone to cut down the opponent’s scoring opportunities. This won’t be accomplished if Vegas selects a defenseman.
When you’re one of the worst teams in the NHL, the odds are high that the Vancouver Canucks will not lose a proven talent in the expansion draft. The Canucks rising stars (Thatcher Demko, Cole Cassels and Guillaume Brisebois) are exempt from the draft, and the best case scenario for them is losing a veteran like Derek Dorsett to the Knights, which opens a roster spot for a younger forward. This will help the Canucks to become a more athletic team on the ice next season.
Thomas Conroy covers the Vegas Golden Knights for The Hockey Writers Network He has been writing about sports since 2007, first as a contributor for Bleacher Report and Football Nation. Recently, Conroy was a co-editor for the Bolts Beat website on Fansided. To read more his work, please him on Twitter @tsconroy