Mock Expansion Draft: Golden Knights Select Best Players Available

George McPhee is going to be a busy man over the next few days — perhaps the busiest man on the planet — leading up to Wednesday’s unveiling of the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft roster.

McPhee will be wheeling and dealing, engaging in trade negotiations with most, if not all of the NHL’s 30 other teams. A few deals are already done, according to reports, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see that total climb into double-digits by the time the selections are announced.

Reason being, other teams don’t want to lose key cogs in their lineup and the Golden Knights are building for the future as much or more so than the present. So expect to see Vegas land plenty of prospects and draft picks in exchange for passing on win-now players.

George McPhee, Vegas Golden Knights, NHL
(THW file photo)
Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee, left, will be engaged in trade talks with the likes of Ray Shero, now the GM of the New Jersey Devils, in advance of Wednesday’s expansion draft.

Now, forget that reality for a second. With the protected lists being released on Sunday morning — and thankfully being made public — it begged the following questions:

What if the Golden Knights refused to make any trades and simply picked the best players available to ice the best team possible?

What would that roster look like? Would it be a playoff team?

Before answering those questions, it should be noted that had Vegas been taking that approach, the other teams would have made several more trades amongst themselves in advance of submitting their protected lists on Saturday. The relative lack of movement was a clear indication that Vegas is more than willing to accept futures for avoiding certain players.

Forgetting that reality again, let’s have some fun and take a look at the full potential of this Golden Knights’ roster if Bill Foley was demanding the best and nothing but the best.

Playing within the expansion draft rules, as far as minimum requirements for positions, contracts and salary, here are the best players available to the Golden Knights with the teams listed in alphabetical order, followed by my selections and lineup(s).

(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
The Anaheim Ducks apparently have a deal in place with Vegas to prevent the Golden Knights from selecting puck-moving defenceman Sami Vatanen. Otherwise, he’d be the obvious choice. It will be interesting to see what, and who, Vegas gets instead. My money is on one of Brandon Montour or more likely Shea Theodore joining the Golden Knights. Sam Steel could be another possible target for Vegas.

Anaheim Ducks — Sami Vatanen (RHD)/Josh Manson (RHD)

Arizona Coyotes — Jamie McGinn (LW)/Louis Domingue (G)/Kevin Connauton (LHD)/Alex Burmistrov (C)

Boston Bruins — Adam McQuaid (RHD)/Colin Miller (RHD)/Malcolm Subban (G)

Buffalo Sabres — Zach Bogosian (RHD)/Matt Moulson (LW)/Linus Ullmark (G)/William Carrier (LW)/Dmitry Kulikov (LHD, UFA)

Calgary Flames — Troy Brouwer (RW)/Kris Versteeg (RW, UFA)/Matt Stajan (C)/Alex Chiasson (RW)/Lance Bouma (LW)/Tyler Wotherspoon (LHD)/Brett Kulak (LHD)

Carolina Hurricanes — Lee Stempniak (RW)/Joakim Nordstrom (C)/Cam Ward (G)/Eddie Lack (G)/Klas Dahlbeck (LHD)

Chicago Blackhawks — Trevor van Riemsdyk (RHD)/Marcus Kruger (C)

Colorado Avalanche — Carl Soderberg (C)/Mikhail Grigorenko (C)/Calvin Pickard (G)/Joe Colborne (C)/Mark Barberio (LHD)/Patrick Wiercioch (LHD)/Duncan Siemens (LHD)

(Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)
The Columbus Blue Jackets are reportedly trading their first-round pick (24th overall) in Friday’s entry draft, along with a prospect, to the Golden Knights to ensure McPhee passes up the opportunity to pick Josh Anderson, seen here celebrating a goal. It was rumoured that Ryan Murray would be exposed by Columbus as part of that agreement, instead of Jack Johnson. However, Murray did end up on Columbus’ protected list, so he won’t be an option for Vegas.

Columbus Blue Jackets — Jack Johnson (LHD)/ William Karlsson (C)/Josh Anderson (RW)/Joonas Korpisalo (G)/Sam Gagner (C/RW)/Matt Calvert (LW)

Dallas Stars — Cody Eakin (C/LW)/Kari Lehtonen (G)/Dan Hamhuis (LHD)/Jamie Oleksiak (LHD)

Detroit Red Wings — Petr Mrazek (G)/Riley Sheahan (C)/Darren Helm (C)/Xavier Ouellet (LHD)/Ryan Sproul (RHD)

Edmonton Oilers — Benoit Pouliot (LW)/Griffin Reinhart (LHD)/Laurent Brossoit (G)/Juhjar Khaira (C/LW)/Tyler Pitlick (RW, UFA)

(Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)
The Florida Panthers surprised some by protecting four defencemen instead of seven forwards, thus exposing the likes of 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault. Granted, Marchessault’s breakout season was also a surprise, and Vegas might be more interested in Reilly Smith or Jussi Jokinen, who both have more of a history with Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant from his Florida tenure. Vegas’ pick from the Panthers promises to be one of the more intriguing selections now.

Florida Panthers — Reilly Smith (RW)/Jussi Jokinen (LW)/Jonathan Marchessault (RW)/Jason Demers (RHD)/Roberto Luongo (G)

Los Angeles Kings — Brayden McNabb (LHD)/Marian Gaborik (RW)/Dustin Brown (RW)/Trevor Lewis (C)/Jack Campbell (G)

Minnesota Wild — Matt Dumba (RHD)/Marco Scandella (LHD)/Eric Staal (C)

Montreal Canadiens — Alex Radulov (RW, UFA)/Tomas Plekanec (C)/Andrei Markov (LHD)/Charles Hudon (LW)/Jacob de la Rose (C)/Brandon Davidson (LHD)/Nikita Nesterov (LHD)

Nashville Predators — James Neal (LW)/Craig Smith (RW)/Colin Wilson (LW)/Colton Sissons (C)/Pontus Aberg (RW)/Austin Watson (RW)

New Jersey Devils — Mike Cammalleri (LW)/Jon Merrill (LHD)

(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)
The New York Islanders are another team that had difficult decisions to make, surprisingly protecting five defencemen, including Adam Pelech over Calvin de Haan. One would think Vegas prefers de Haan, but the Golden Knights could also pluck a talented forward from the Islanders if they so desire. Don’t be surprised if McPhee and Garth Snow end up making a side deal of some sort between now and Wednesday, allowing the Islanders to retain a few more players.

New York Islanders — Josh Bailey (RW)/Brock Nelson (C)/Ryan Strome (RW)/Calvin de Haan (LHD)/Thomas Hickey (LHD)/Jaroslav Halak (G)

New York Rangers — Antti Raanta (G)/Michael Grabner (RW)/Oscar Lindberg (C)/Jesper Fast (RW)/Brendan Smith (LHD, UFA)

Ottawa Senators — Bobby Ryan (RW)/Marc Methot (LHD)/Fredrik Claesson (LHD)/Chris Wideman (RHD)/Clarke MacArthur (LW)

Philadelphia Flyers — Michal Neuvirth (G)/Matt Read (RW)/Michael Raffl (LW)/Michael Del Zotto (LHD, UFA)/Jordan Weal (C, UFA)

Pittsburgh Penguins — Marc-Andre Fleury (G)/Carl Hagelin (LW)/Bryan Rust (RW)/Derrick Pouliot (LHD)

(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)
Most just assume Joe Thornton will re-sign and eventually retire with the San Jose Sharks, but given the lack of top-six centres available in the expansion draft, the Golden Knights might try to lure the bearded playmaker to Vegas.

San Jose Sharks — Joe Thornton (C, UFA), Patrick Marleau (LW/C, UFA)/Mikkel Boedker (LW)/David Schlemko (LHD)/Brenden Dillon (LHD)/Paul Martin (LHD)/Joel Ward (RW)/Aaron Dell (G)

St. Louis Blues — David Perron (LW/RW)/Jori Lehtera (C)/Nail Yakupov (LW/RW)/Dmitrij Jaskin (LW)/Magnus Paajarvi (LW)/Ty Rattie (RW)/Carl Gunnarsson (LHD)/Petteri Lindbohm (LHD)

Tampa Bay Lightning — Andrej Sustr (RHD)/Jason Garrison (LHD)/Cedric Paquette (C)/Slater Koekkoek (LHD)/Jake Dotchin (RHD)/Yanni Gourde (C/LW)

Toronto Maple Leafs — Kerby Rychel (LW)/Brendan Leipsic (LW)/Martin Marincin (LHD)/Antoine Bibeau (G)/Eric Fehr (RW)/Brian Boyle (C, UFA)

Vancouver Canucks — Reid Boucher (LW)/Brendan Gaunce (C)/Luca Sbisa (LHD)/Derek Dorsett (RW)

Washington Capitals — Philipp Grubauer (G)/Nate Schmidt (LHD)/Kevin Shattenkirk (RHD, UFA), T.J. Oshie (RW, UFA)/Karl Alzner (LHD, UFA)/Justin Williams (RW, UFA)/Brett Connolly (RW)

Winnipeg Jets — Toby Enstrom (LHD)/Marko Dano (C)/Shawn Matthias (LW)

Forgetting the salary cap exists, this would be the best possible lineup for the Golden Knights:

Forwards (16)

James Neal-Vadim Shipachyov-Alex Radulov

Mike Cammalleri-Joe Thornton-Bobby Ryan

David Perron-Cody Eakin-Reilly Smith

Benoit Pouliot-Carl Soderberg-Lee Stempniak

Kerby Rychel/Alex Burmistrov/Marko Dano/Reid Boucher

Defencemen (10)

Jack Johnson-Zach Bogosian

Calvin de Haan-Sami Vatanen

Brayden McNabb-Matt Dumba

Slater Koekkoek-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Tyler Wotherspoon-Colin Miller

Goaltenders (5)

Marc-Andre Fleury

Petr Mrazek

Michal Neuvirth

Antti Raanta

Philipp Grubauer

However, the salary cap does exist and, turns out, that is a $100-million roster — assuming Vegas signed Radulov for five years at $32.5 million ($6.5 million per) and Thornton for three years at $18 million ($6 million per) as its two key unrestricted free agents.

(Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)
If Joe Thornton is considered farfetched as a free-agent signing for Vegas, Alex Radulov shouldn’t be. The Russian scoring machine could slot right in alongside compatriot Vadim Shipachyov, who is already penciled in as Vegas’ top-line centre. The Golden Knights have more money to throw around than any other team and Radulov’s negotiations with Montreal are said to be hung up over both salary and term. If McPhee wants to chance Radulov in Vegas, he could meet his demands easier than Marc Bergevin and the Canadiens.

As good as those Golden Knights look on paper, they are $25 million over the new salary cap of $75 million.

Thus I had to tweak my win-now roster and start making cuts. I started by ditching my top defence pairing of Bogosian ($5.14) and Johnson ($4.36). Then I got rid of my entire fourth line of Soderberg ($4.75), Pouliot ($4) and Stempniak ($2.5). I was more reluctant to part with Reilly Smith ($5) and Mrazek ($4), but they were just too rich for Vegas’ revised roster.

As a result, I made the following swaps:

Zach Bogosian, Buffalo Sabres, NHL, Fantasy Hockey
(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)
Buffalo’s acquisition of Nathan Beaulieu ahead of Saturday’s deadline for protected lists resulted in the Sabres exposing Zach Bogosian. He’s had his share of injury troubles in recent seasons and comes with a big contract, but Bogosian could also bounce back and be a top-pairing defender for Vegas if the Golden Knights decide to roll the dice on him.

Bogosian ($5.14M) for Ullmark ($750K) — saving of $4.39M

Smith ($5M) for Marchessault ($750K) — savings of $4.25M

Soderberg ($4.75M) for Grigorenko ($1.3M) — savings of $3.45M

Johnson ($4.36M) for Karlsson ($1M) — savings of $3.36M

Mrazek ($4M) for Ouellet ($715K) — savings of $3.28M

Pouliot ($4M) for Reinhart ($863K) — savings of $1.4M

Stempniak ($2.5M) for Nordstrom ($1.28M) — savings of $1.2M

Those changes slashed $21.33 million from the Golden Knights’ payroll, leaving them at a total of $78.68 million. There was some confusion over whether Shipachyov’s $4.5-million cap hit had to be counted towards the expansion draft. Without Shipachyov, the Golden Knights would be legal at $74.18 million for 30 players (15 F, 10 D, 5 G).

Vadim Shipachyov
(Photo courtesy HC Vityaz/
Vadim Shipachyov, seen here winning a face-off in a KHL game this past season, was the Golden Knights’ first major signing and the 30-year-old centre projects as a top-six forward for Vegas in his debut NHL season.

That would leave Vegas with the following lineup:

Forwards (16)

James Neal-Vadim Shipachyov-Alex Radulov

Mike Cammalleri-Joe Thornton-Bobby Ryan

David Perron-Cody Eakin-Jonathan Marchessault

Mikhail Grigorenko-William Karlsson-Alex Burmistrov

Joakim Nordstrom/Kerby Rychel/Marko Dano/Reid Boucher

Defencemen (10)

Calvin de Haan-Sami Vatanen

Brayden McNabb-Matt Dumba

Slater Koekkoek-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Xavier Ouellet-Colin Miller

Griffin Reinhart-Tyler Wotherspoon

Goaltenders (5)

Marc-Andre Fleury

Michal Neuvirth

Antti Raanta

Philipp Grubauer

Linus Ullmark

If Shipachyov’s salary counts and puts the Golden Knights over the cap for the expansion draft by $3.68 million, I would decide against signing Thornton ($6M) and instead select Schlemko ($2.1M) from San Jose for a savings of $3.9 million.

(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)
For whatever reason, David Schlemko just strikes me as the kind of player who ends up on an expansion team. Schlemko’s beard game isn’t as strong as Thornton, but he was a subtle standout for San Jose in the Sharks’ first-round playoff loss to the Edmonton Oilers. Schlemko likely caught the eye of the Golden Knights’ scouting staff and he’s got an attractive contract with three more years left at an affordable $2.1-million annual salary. Therefore, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Schlemko get selected by Vegas.

I’d hate to lose Thornton on a technicality, but he was probably a pipe dream anyway. That would finalize the Golden Knights’ roster at $74.78 million, with the following lineup:

Forwards (14/15)

James Neal-Vadim Shipachyov-Alex Radulov

Mike Cammalleri-Mikhail Grigorenko-Bobby Ryan

David Perron-Cody Eakin-Jonathan Marchessault

Marko Dano-William Karlsson-Alex Burmistrov

Kerby Rychel-Joakim Nordstrom-Reid Boucher

Defencemen (11)

Calvin de Haan-Sami Vatanen

Brayden McNabb-Matt Dumba

David Schlemko-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Slater Koekkoek-Colin Miller

Xavier Ouellet-Griffin Reinhart/Tyler Wotherspoon

Goaltenders (5)

Marc-Andre Fleury

Michal Neuvirth

Antti Raanta

Philipp Grubauer

Linus Ullmark

As far as I can tell, that roster would meet all the requirements and be completely legal. It would also be quite potent, even more so if Thornton was permitted to sign with Vegas as long as the Golden Knights were cap compliant by the start of the regular season. That wouldn’t be an issue given their abundance of goaltenders, with at least two to be flipped for futures during the off-season.

(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)
Marc-Andre Fleury waived his no-movement clause to be exposed — and presumably picked — in the expansion draft. His wife has apparently been to Vegas already, shopping for real estate and scouting out schools for their children in the fall. So Fleury will likely be the Golden Knights’ starting goalie next season, but Vegas is expected to pick a few extra netminders with the intent of trading them.

Realistically, the Golden Knights’ roster that will be revealed on Wednesday will look nothing like this and will probably pale in comparison — especially on defence. Vegas also won’t likely spend to the cap in the expansion draft, instead saving money for free agency on July 1.

However, this was a fun exercise to see what kind of win-now roster the Golden Knights could put together by taking a best-player-available approach to selecting their team through the expansion draft.

I honestly think my Golden Knights’ roster — especially the one with Thornton — would compete for a playoff spot in the Pacific Division or at least a wild-card berth in the Western Conference in their inaugural season.

I definitely don’t think that lineup would land Vegas in the draft lottery next year, which may or may not be the goal of this expansion franchise with top talents like Russian sniper Andrei Svechnikov and Swedish defender Rasmus Dahlin available in 2018.

Time will tell what approach Foley, McPhee and the Golden Knights are taking towards the expansion draft and the 2017-18 NHL season. One thing is for certain, there should be no shortage of trades involving Vegas between now and Wednesday’s roster announcement as part of the NHL awards ceremony, taking place inside T-Mobile Arena on the Vegas Strip.

Stay tuned!