The NHL’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, are about to take center stage. After a roster freeze goes into effect at 3 p.m. Saturday, the Golden Knights will select one player from each of the league’s thirty existing teams. Vegas will have a three-day period, from June 18-20, to stock its initial roster. The selections will be announced during the NHL Awards ceremony on June 21.
There are some basic rules Vegas has to follow during the expansion draft. These have been known to the public for quite some time, but let’s look them over again.
- They must select the following number of players at each position: 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders. The other four picks can be of any position. So, for example, if GM George McPhee desires, he can select seven goalies in all and then go crazy ape bonkers trading them off to acquire additional assets like draft picks, prospects or established NHLers.
- Vegas must select a minimum of 20 players who are under contract for the 2017-18 season.
- The Golden Knights must select players with an aggregate Expansion Draft value that is between 60-100% of the prior season's upper limit for the salary cap.
- Vegas may not buy out any of the players selected in the Expansion Draft earlier than the summer following its first season. It’s also been reported that they can’t trade a player selected in the expansion draft back to his previous team until January 1, 2018.
In a new twist to the expansion draft, during this three-day period, the Golden Knights can negotiate with any unprotected UFAs or RFAs. If they come to terms with a free agent that player automatically becomes their choice from the player’s previous team. The Knights will also be able to make trades with the “Original 30” during this span. The NHL has indeed tried to give its newest franchise a lot of expansion bang for the $500M bucks it paid to enter the league.
Okay, so that’s all well and good for Vegas, but how does that affect our Florida Panthers?
Florida’s contracted players fall into two categories, those that are expansion draft exempt and those that are eligible to be poached by McPhee and his nascent Golden Knights. Let’s take a look at the organizational (in my best Bryan Murray voice) breakdown.
Forwards: Denis Malgin, Jared McCann, Kyle Rau, Jayce Hawryluk, Dryden Hunt, Juho Lammikko, Chase Balisy, Henrik Haapala, Maxim Mamim
Defenseman: Michael Matheson, Ian McCoshen, Thomas Schemitsch, Michael Downing, Linus Hultstrom, Josh Brown
Goaltenders: Adam Wilcox, Samuel Montembeault, Colin Stevens
These players (and all of Florida’s unsigned draft choices) are automatically exempt from the expansion draft as they are mere first and second-year professionals, so hands off, Ser George.
Forwards: Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad, Jussi Jokinen, Jaromir Jagr, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Huberdeau, Derek MacKenzie, Colton Sceviour, Thomas Vanek, Michael Sgarbossa, Steven Hodges, Brody Sutter, Paul Thompson, Tim Bozon, Graham Black
Defensemen: Keith Yandle (NMC), Jason Demers, Mark Pysyk, Alex Petrovic, Aaron Ekblad, Jakub Kindl, MacKenzie Weegar, Brent Regner, Reece Scarlett
Goaltenders: Roberto Luongo, James Reimer, Sam Brittain
These are the players that the Panthers will have to either protect or expose to the Golden Knights.
Defenseman Keith Yandle is the only Florida player with a no-movement clause, so the Cats are required to protect him.
The Panthers must expose at least two forwards and one defenseman who are under contract for 2017-18 and played in 40 or more NHL games the previous season or played in 70 or more NHL games in the previous two seasons. In addition, they must expose at least one goaltender under contract for the 2017-18 season.
Exposing two forwards and a goaltender meeting this requirement is not an issue, but defensively, that’s another story, As of right now, the Panthers would be forced to expose either Aaron Ekblad or Jason Demers (which means Demers) to meet the games played - under contract criteria.
The Panthers can choose one of the following two plans to keep McPhee’s grubby paws off the players they want to keep. They can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or they can protect eight skaters (regardless of position) and one goaltender.
Todd takes the GM chair
With the nuts and bolts of the draft out of the way, I'll play armchair GM and put together a protected list for both the 7-3-1 and 8-1 options based on the current Panthers roster. My feeling is that Dale Talllon (due to Florida's bounty of youngish, high-quality forwards) will elect the 7-3-1 scheme and protect 11 players, so we’ll start with that option first.
My 7-3-1 protected forwards:
Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Nick Bjugstad, Colton Sceviour
My 7-3-1 protected defensemen
Keith Yandle (NMC), Aaron Ekblad, Alex Petrovic
My 7-3-1 protected goaltender
Under the 7-3-1, the Panthers are most likely to lose either Jason Demers or Mark Pysyk. Demers is a player Vegas could draft and flip to another team and get good return, while the solid Pysyk would probably be a player they’d hold on to and get some use out of. Could Vegas surprise us and go forward by trying to sign Jaromir Jagr or take versatile veteran Jussi Jokinen or maybe a younger, cheaper type that’s a better expansion team fit like Mike Sgarbossa? Sure they could, but I just don’t see that happening. Petrovic is also a strong possibility for Vegas if the Cats decide to protect Demers or Pysyk along with Yandle and Ekblad.
My 8-1 protected forwards:
Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Marchessault
My 8-1 protected defensemen
Keith Yandle (NMC), Aaron Ekblad, Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk
My 8-1 protected goaltender
Under the 8-1, Demers is again a target, but one would think Vegas would be very tempted by an exposed Reilly Smith or Nick Bjugstad. Smith and Bjugstad are two players that are already signed to long-term deals and both have put up good offensive numbers in the past and could benefit by the potential for increased ice time that a move to Sin City would bring.
There is one player that I think is strong sleeper pick for the Golden Knights in either protection scheme and that is MacKenzie Weegar. Weegar is young, cheap, coming into his own and can be re-signed and stashed in the AHL if Vegas comes out of the draft with a glut of veteran defensemen on one-way deals. Sounds like the kind of player that would fit in perfectly on an expansion team.
Use the comment section to let us know who you want to see protected and who you think the Panthers will lose to Vegas.