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Plenty of talent available for Vegas ahead of NHL Expansion Draft

June 18, 2017 2:58 PM
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Plenty of talent available for Vegas ahead of NHL Expansion Draft

Former NHL GM Brian Lawton joined the Jeff Blair show to discuss what Las Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee has to look for going into the team’s expansion draft.

The available pieces are all there for the Vegas Golden Knights to be a competitive team right away.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Petr Mrazek, Philipp Grubauer and Antti Raanta in net. Sami Vatanen, Josh Manson, Matt Dumba, Marc Methot, Jack Johnson, Toby Enstrom, Niklas Kronwall and Calvin de Haan on the blue line.

A list of forwards that includes James Neal, Bobby Ryan, Eric Staal, Brock Nelson, Jonathan Marchessault, Cody Eakin, Troy Brouwer, Michael Grabner, Mike Cammalleri, Jori Lehtera and others.

Only it’s not easy to handicap what the NHL’s 31st team might look like as general manager George McPhee and his staff start working through their selections in the NHL Expansion Draft. That’s because McPhee is already believed to have deals in place with Columbus, Anaheim and the New York Islanders about who he’ll take from those teams.

There’s expected be other trades, as well, with the Golden Knights sending out a press release on Saturday night indicating that they’re wide open for business. Indeed, step right up with your draft picks and prospects, and McPhee is willing to look past that valuable player you were unable to protect because of the challenging rules established by the NHL.

“Vegas has indicated that they will give all 30 clubs every opportunity to keep their rosters intact if they’d like,” read the press release. “This means that before the Golden Knights claim a player off a team’s unprotected list, McPhee and his staff are willing to negotiate deals so the other clubs do not lose a player they would otherwise like to keep.”

The message is clear: Vegas is much more interested in becoming a homegrown power a few years down the road than winning a few extra games in its inaugural season.

It’s a sound approach given the way championship organizations tend to be built in today’s NHL. Here we have one starting from scratch, and McPhee recognizes that the entry draft is going to be a lot more important to his ultimate success than the expansion draft.

Still, the veteran GM has an incredibly unique opportunity to maximize assets and position the franchise for a bright future during an expansion draft process that will culminate with his 30 selections being revealed on Wednesday night at the sparkling T-Mobile Arena, just off the Las Vegas Strip.

Fleury is expected to be in the building as the first No. 1 goaltender in Golden Knights history. He and Enstrom were the only players league-wide that elected to waive a no-move clause to be made available in the expansion draft.

Vatanen and Manson are both key figures on an Anaheim Ducks blue line that is the envy of much of the NHL. Only one can be lost. The expected trade will almost certainly determine which.

The Islanders were the only NHL team to protect five defencemen, which left Nelson – a 20-goal scorer each of the last three seasons – available. A side deal is believed to have already been consummated to keep him in New York.

This is the first expansion draft since Columbus and Minnesota entered the league in 2000, but it’s also the first of its kind. There was no salary cap in place when the Blue Jackets and Wild joined the NHL. Everything from the entry-level system to free agency to the waiver process has changed in the years since.

McPhee is required to take one player from each of the 30 existing teams and 20 of them must already have contracts for 2017-18. Vegas needs to claim at least 14 forwards, nine defencemen and three goalies and the players selected are required to count at least $43.8 million towards the salary cap.

Beyond that, the Golden Knights are limited only by imagination and whatever market forces exist around the league.

Vegas is thought to be asking high prices in exchange for doing rival teams a favour – think first-round picks – and could end up with a haul of futures when all is said and done here. Some of the players claimed in the expansion draft are bound to be flipped to other teams – either right away or perhaps before the trade deadline next season.

McPhee is also permitted to negotiate contracts with any free agents left unprotected during this exclusive window – players like Joe Thornton, Alex Radulov, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk, among others.

It promises to be a crazy, sleep-deprived few days at team headquarters.

While the NHL provided an unprecedented look inside the expansion process by releasing the protected lists on Sunday morning, we still don’t have the complete picture. Some of the names listed as “available” are already protected by secret side deals; others will likely join that group before Vegas finalizes its picks by 10 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning.

In the meantime, McPhee and his lieutenants have complete control over any player movement around the NHL.

For the Golden Knights, it amounts to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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