Mock Expansion Draft: Golden Knights Select Best Contracts Available

From one extreme to the other.

Yesterday, I published a mock expansion draft that showed the potential of the Vegas Golden Knights selecting the best players available from every team without making any trades or side deals.

Today, I’m taking a different approach and instead selecting the best contracts available from every team — with a few exceptions to ensure the Golden Knights reach the salary-cap floor of $55 million.

The actual Vegas roster, to be revealed on Wednesday, will probably wind up somewhere between these two extremes, and Golden Knights general manager George McPhee will certainly be wheeling and dealing in the meantime.

It is my belief that Vegas will be building a team more for the future than the present and thus today’s mock could be closer to reality. And, to make it as realistic as possible, I’m avoiding picking players who are rumoured to be staying with their current teams through side deals.

Without further ado, here is my sixth — and likely last — attempt at a mock expansion draft for the Golden Knights.

Pricey Contracts

Ottawa Senators — Bobby Ryan ($7.25 million, five years remaining)

Montreal Canadiens — Alex Radulov (UFA, signed to five-year, $32.5-million contract, $6.5M cap hit)

Washington Capitals — Karl Alzner (UFA, signed to six-year, $34.5-million contract, $5.75M cap hit)

Karl Alzner, Washington Capitals, NHL, Hockey
(Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)
The thought of the Golden Knights signing Karl Alzner now, ahead of free agency, seems to be gaining momentum. Sure, Vegas could instead select goaltender Philipp Grubauer or fellow defenceman Nate Schmidt — two attractive players exposed by Washington — and circle back for Alzner on July 1, but George McPhee has a rare window to ink pending UFAs before they hit the open market and he might choose to exploit that competitive advantage through the expansion draft.

Pittsburgh Penguins — Marc-Andre Fleury ($5.75 million, two years remaining)

Buffalo Sabres — Zach Bogosian ($5.14 million, three years remaining)

Free Agent — Vadim Shipachyov ($4.5 million, two years remaining)

Philadelphia Flyers — Jordan Weal (UFA, signed to three-year, $9-million contract, $3M cap hit)

Carolina Hurricanes — Eddie Lack ($2.75 million, one year remaining)

Quality Contracts

Dallas Stars — Cody Eakin ($3.85 million, three years remaining)

Minnesota Wild — Matt Dumba ($2.55 million, one year remaining)

(Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
The Minnesota Wild apparently don’t have a deal in place — or didn’t have a deal done as of Sunday — to protect Matt Dumba. Perhaps Chuck Fletcher has since reached out to McPhee with an offer good enough to retain the likes of Dumba, fellow defender Marco Scandella and top-six centre Eric Staal, but you can bet other teams are also making offers on Dumba. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Vegas pick Dumba and promptly flip him for a package better than Minnesota is willing to pay to keep Dumba.

New York Islanders — Ryan Strome ($2.5 million, one year remaining)

San Jose Sharks — David Schlemko ($2.1 million, three years remaining)

Los Angeles Kings — Brayden McNabb ($1.7 million, one year remaining)

St. Louis Blues — Nail Yakupov (RFA, earned $2.5 million last season, signed to two-year, $3-million contract, $1.5M cap hit)

Arizona Coyotes — Alexander Burmistrov (RFA, earned $1.55 million last season, signed to two-year, $3-million contract, $1.5M cap hit)

Colorado Avalanche — Mikhail Grigorenko (RFA, earned $1.3 million last season, signed to two-year, $3-million contract, $1.5M cap hit)

(James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)
If the Golden Knights go heavy on Russians — which I believe they will — Mikhail Grigorenko could be their best bet out of Colorado. Many mocks have Vegas selecting goaltender Calvin Pickard from the Avalanche, but I still think Grigorenko has more upside in the right situation.

New Jersey Devils — Jon Merrill ($1.14 million, one year remaining)

Toronto Maple Leafs — Kerby Rychel ($863,333, one year remaining)

Calgary Flames — Hunter Shinkaruk ($863,333, one year remaining)

Winnipeg Jets — Marko Dano ($850,000, one year remaining)

Vancouver Canucks — Reid Boucher (RFA, $715,000, signed to one-year, one-way contract worth $850,000)

Tampa Bay Lightning — Slater Koekkoek (RFA, earned $894,167 last season, signed to one-year, two-way contract worth $950,000 in NHL and $100,000 in AHL, guaranteed $250,000)

Edmonton Oilers — Griffin Reinhart (RFA, earned $863,333 last season, signed to one-year, two-way contract worth $950,000 in NHL and $100,000 in AHL, guaranteed $250,000)

Boston Bruins — Malcolm Subban (RFA, earned $863,333 last season, signed to one-year, two-way contract worth $950,000 in NHL and $100,000 in AHL)

Bargain Contracts

Columbus Blue Jackets — William Karlsson ($1 million, one year remaining)

New York Rangers — Antti Raanta ($1 million, one year remaining)

Chicago Blackhawks — Trevor van Riemsdyk ($825,000, one year remaining)

Florida Panthers — Jonathan Marchessault ($750,000, one year remaining)

(Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)
Jonathan Marchessault is a no-brainer from Florida if Vegas is looking to pick the best contracts available. Marchessault scored 30 goals in a breakout season and still has another year left on his contract at $750,000. That’s by far the best bang for your buck in this expansion draft.

Anaheim Ducks — Nic Kerdiles ($650,000, one year remaining)

Nashville Predators — Colton Sissons ($625,000, two years remaining)

Detroit Red Wings — Ryan Sproul ($625,000, one year remaining)

TOTAL: 30 players at approximately $66.24 million/31 at $70.74 million counting Shipachyov

Also Considered

Anaheim Ducks — Chris Wagner/Logan Shaw/Nick Sorensen/Jaycob Megna

Arizona Coyotes — Louis Domingue/Kevin Connauton/Peter Holland

Boston Bruins — Colin Miller/Joe Morrow/Alex Khokhlachev/Jimmy Hayes

Buffalo Sabres — William Carrier/Linus Ullmark

(Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)
If the Golden Knights don’t want to take on Zach Bogosian’s hefty contract, then look for Vegas to select a cheaper option like budding power forward William Carrier or impressive goaltending prospect Linus Ullmark.

Calgary Flames — Alex Chiasson/Emile Poirier/Tyler Wotherspoon/Brett Kulak

Carolina Hurricanes — Joakim Nordstrom/Connor Brickley/Klas Dahlbeck/Cam Ward

Chicago Blackhawks — Ville Pokka/Kyle Baun

Colorado Avalanche — Calvin Pickard/Mark Barberio

Columbus Blue Jackets — Sam Gagner/Matt Calvert/Anton Forsberg

Dallas Stars — Jamie Oleksiak/Curtis McKenzie/Mattias Backman/Ludwig Bystrom

(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)
Cody Eakin had an “off” year in Dallas and Jamie Oleksiak still has big upside on defence, so he could be a target for Vegas if they don’t believe in Eakin’s ability to rebound.

Detroit Red Wings — Martin Frk/Tomas Nosek/Xavier Ouellet/Riley Sheahan

Edmonton Oilers — Jujhar Khaira/Laurent Brossoit/Tyler Pitlick

Florida Panthers — None

Los Angeles Kings — Trevor Lewis/Nick Shore/Nic Dowd/Jack Campbell

Minnesota Wild — Eric Staal/Gustav Olofsson/Christian Folin/Erik Haula

Montreal Canadiens — Charles Hudon/Jacob de la Rose/Brandon Davidson

Nashville Predators — Pontus Aberg/Austin Watson/Anthony Bitetto

New Jersey Devils — Beau Bennett/Stefan Noesen/Devante Smith-Pelly

New York Islanders — Brock Nelson/Josh Bailey/Calvin de Haan/Thomas Hickey/Shane Prince

(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)
The Islanders were the only team in the league to protect five defencemen, yet strangely exposed Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey instead of Adam Pelech. Nevertheless, Vegas is guaranteed to get a quality player from the Islanders. McPhee was an advisor for Islanders GM Garth Snow prior to landing the Vegas gig and it sounds like they have worked out a side deal. Those details aren’t yet known in full, but the belief is that the Golden Knights will be getting the Islanders’ first-round pick (15th overall) in Friday’s entry draft and perhaps more as incentive to pass on key players — presumably Nelson, Bailey and de Haan, but possibly Strome as well. If none of them are available, Hickey could be the next-best option for Vegas.

New York Rangers — Oscar Lindberg/Michael Grabner/Jesper Fast

Ottawa Senators — Fredrik Claesson/Chris Wideman/Marc Methot

Philadelphia Flyers — Michal Neuvirth/Taylor Leier/Greg Carey

Pittsburgh Penguins — Bryan Rust/Josh Archibald/Derrick Pouliot

San Jose Sharks — Aaron Dell/Dylan DeMelo/Barclay Goodrow

St. Louis Blues — Dmitrij Jaskin/Ty Rattie/Magnus Paajarvi/Petteri Lindbohm/Jordan Bennington

(Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)
The St. Louis Blues surprisingly protected tough guy Ryan Reaves over a plethora of forwards with more offensive capabilities — including Yakupov, Dmitrij Jaskin (seen here), Ty Rattie and Magnus Paajarvi as younger talents on affordable contracts, plus David Perron and Jori Lehtera as more expensive veterans. That was a puzzling decision by Doug Armstrong, but it should be noted that Reaves played his junior in Brandon for Vegas assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon and the Golden Knights might have been eyeing him to protect the youth in their lineup. Instead, Vegas will likely take some youth off St. Louis’ roster and the Golden Knights’ pick could very well be Jaskin if it’s not Yakupov. Jaskin has a year left on his contract at a salary of $1 million.

Tampa Bay Lightning — Andrej Sustr/Jake Dotchin/Yanni Gourde/Cedric Paquette

Toronto Maple Leafs — Brendan Leipsic/Martin Marincin/Antoine Bibeau

Vancouver Canucks — Brendan Gaunce/Anton Rodin

Washington Capitals — Philipp Grubauer/Nate Schmidt/Brett Connolly

Winnipeg Jets — JC Lipon/Scott Kosmachuk/Ben Chiarot

Vegas Golden Knights Depth Chart

Forwards (16)

(Evgeny Dadonov/Ilya Kovalchuk/Thomas Vanek)-Vadim Shipachyov-Alex Radulov

Cody Eakin-Ryan Strome-Bobby Ryan

Jordan Weal-William Karlsson-Jonathan Marchessault

Mikhail Grigorenko-Alexander Burmistrov-Nail Yakupov

Kerby Rychel-Colton Sissons-RW

Reid Boucher-Marko Dano-RW

Nic Kerdiles/Hunter Shinkaruk-C-RW

Defencemen (10)

Karl Alzner-Zach Bogosian

Brayden McNabb-Matt Dumba

David Schlemko-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Jon Merrill-Ryan Sproul

Griffin Reinhart/Slater Koekkoek-RD

Goaltenders (4)

Marc-Andre Fleury

Eddie Lack

Antti Raanta

Malcolm Subban

Closing Thoughts

I really like the look of that roster and feel as though this is my best (and most realistic) mock to date.

Obviously there is a hole to fill in the form of a top-line left winger. James Neal and Mike Cammalleri were available in the expansion draft, but I preferred Sissons and Merrill based on their contracts.

(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)
Colton Sissons enjoyed a coming-out party in this year’s playoffs, producing six goals and 12 points for the Nashville Predators and filling in admirably when top-line centre Ryan Johansen went down to injury. The Golden Knights would have been watching closely and considering Sissons’ cheap contract, he could suddenly be a target for Vegas over more established — but more expensive — Nashville forwards like James Neal, Craig Smith and Colin Wilson.

I did draft a lot of depth at left wing, so Gerard Gallant could experiment with any of Grigorenko, Yakupov, Rychel or Boucher alongside Shipachyov and Radulov.

However, as McPhee, I would look to sign a free agent this summer by trying to lure Dadonov out of Russia or, failing that, attempt to win the Vanek sweepstakes on July 1.

The 28-year-old Dadonov has been Shipachyov’s wingman in the KHL the past few seasons and is coming off a career-high 30-goal campaign for St. Petersburg SKA. Dadonov finished with 66 points in the regular season to Shipachyov’s 76, which included 50 assists. They continued to be a dynamic duo in the playoffs, with Shipachyov’s 20 points edging Dadonov’s 19 in leading their team to a league championship.

Shipachyov, 30, signed a two-year contract with a $4.5-million salary on May 4 and speculation was that Dadonov would soon follow him to Vegas, but that has yet to materialize. Perhaps money or term are holding up those negotiations, but the Golden Knights remain the frontrunner to sign Dadonov should he decide to cross the pond. A two-year, $8.5-million contract ($4.25M cap hit) sounds about right — slightly less than his set-up man.

Fellow KHL teammate Ilya Kovalchuk is also looking to return to the NHL, but he’s likely looking for Radulov-type money rather than Shipachyov’s salary. So, for the sake of this mock, Kovalchuk would be out of Vegas’ price range and put the Golden Knights over the salary cap.

In reality, Kovalchuk to Vegas has decent potential and he should be considered another candidate to become the Golden Knights’ top left winger. Kovalchuk is still property of the New Jersey Devils, but they have been fielding offers and trying to facilitate a sign-and-trade scenario that could be finalized on July 1.

If Dadonov’s deal doesn’t get done by then and Kovalchuk proves too rich for Vegas, then McPhee could turn his attention to Vanek and likely sign him — assuming that interest was mutual. At $4.25 million for Dadonov or Vanek, that would take the Golden Knights right to the cap ceiling based on my projected roster.

I would try to get Vanek on a one-year contract, so he could be flipped to a playoff contender at next year’s trade deadline — much like Detroit did this year in sending him to Florida. The Red Wings were able to ink Vanek for a bargain $2.6 million last summer, but he enjoyed something of a resurgence (15 goals and 38 points in 48 games with Detroit) before tailing off with the Panthers (two goals and 10 points in 20 games) as they missed the postseason.

There aren’t many free-agent left wingers this year, with the consolation prizes including Patrick Marleau, Patrick Sharp, Jiri Hudler and Chris Kunitz. So that weak crop might drive Vanek’s value north of $4 million. If Vegas was willing to offer more term — a two- or even three-year contract — Vanek would presumably sign for between $3.5 and $4 million. Either way, he’d be my primary target besides Dadonov (and Kovalchuk).

(Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports)
Thomas Vanek had an up-and-down season split between Detroit and Florida, but Vegas could be the Austrian winger’s next landing spot if the Golden Knights don’t land Evgeny Dadonov by the start of NHL free agency on July 1.

The Golden Knights would also be spending the next couple days, weeks or months shopping Lack and Raanta on the trade market. There wouldn’t be room for both of them on the roster, but either of them would make a fine backup for Fleury.

Raanta is seemingly the better of the two — certainly coming off a better season between them — and should command more in return. But he could also be a keeper for Vegas, with the preference being to flip Lack — perhaps back to Vancouver, where he had his most success, to pair with fellow Swede Jacob Markstrom. That return would be minimal, though, and Lack could rebound with a change of scenery from Carolina, so the Golden Knights may retain him instead.

(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)
Could Antti Raanta be the next Cam Talbot and go from being Henrik Lundqvist’s backup to a solid starter for another team? Many believe Raanta has similar potential and he turned 28 years old last month, so he should be entering his prime years. The Golden Knights would be wise to pluck Raanta from the Rangers and peddle him around the league for the best possible return, which could be a younger goaltending prospect with promising upside and/or a fairly high draft pick.

That said, I still wouldn’t be surprised to see Neuvirth and/or Grubauer among the Golden Knights’ goaltending selections since Vegas has hired their mentor from Washington.

Up front, I definitely foresee Vegas having some Russian flair and surrounding Shipachyov with at least a couple compatriots already playing in North America to help ease that transition on and off the ice.

Predicting two all-Russian forward lines — Dadonov/Kovalchuk-Shipachyov-Radulov and Grigorenko-Burmistrov-Yakupov — may seem farfetched, but I wouldn’t rule it out. McPhee likes his Russians — remember, he had Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Dmitry Orlov and Semyon Varlamov as key contributors in Washington — but Gallant might have mixed emotions about taking on that many.

However, the NHL is trending towards rolling four scoring lines and those Russians would certainly generate offensive chances and be entertaining to watch. They would put butts in the seats at T-Mobile Arena — which would also make owner Bill Foley a happy man — but Gallant’s concern would be from a defensive liability standpoint and putting too much pressure on Fleury to stand on his head as Vegas’ perceived starter.

(Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)
Nail Yakupov has endured an enigmatic NHL career to date as the first overall pick from the 2012 draft. Yakupov has the tools — a wicked one-timer and above-average skating ability — to be an offensive force, but he seems to lack the so-called “tool box.” Contrary to popular belief, Yakupov isn’t lacking in work ethic or motivation, so Vegas might roll the dice on him. Yakupov would be a total boom-or-bust pick for the Golden Knights, but he’s a likeable guy with name value who could sell some jerseys if nothing else.

All in all, I like the make-up of that roster and it’s a team that I’d pay to watch. In fact, I’m already planning a Vegas trip to hopefully see the Oilers battle the Golden Knights this coming season. That will be the first date circled on my holiday calendar once the NHL schedule is released next month.

In the meantime, we have the expansion draft to look forward to. If you wanted to check out my five previous attempts at drafting the Golden Knights’ roster, here are those links (note the publishing dates):

Mock Expansion Draft: Las Vegas Lineup Better Than Expected (July 15, 2016)

Golden Knights Mock Expansion Draft: Christmas Edition (December 15, 2016)

Golden Knights Mock Expansion Draft: Easter Edition (May 7, 2017)

Golden Knights Mock Expansion Draft: Tweaked With Fan Feedback (May 18)

Mock Expansion Draft: Golden Knights Select Best Players Available (June 18)