Now that the dust has settled from another year of hockey (and the Pittsburgh Penguins reign supreme once again), the offseason begins. This summer will not be your prototypical offseason, though. No, no, no. For the first time since the turn of the new millennium, the NHL will have an expansion draft.
And that event will be here before you know it.
With the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights as the NHL’s 31st member club, the new team will fill out a roster through the expansion draft. The NHL has done this well before the advent of Sin City hockey, too. The league has held 11 prior expansion drafts, the first of which took place in 1967 when the NHL’s “Original Six” franchises were joined by the congregation of the Los Angeles Kings, Oakland Seals, Minnesota North Stars, St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The landscape of the game has altered significantly since 1967 (and, for that matter, from 2000, the last time an NHL Expansion Draft took place). The league exists in a salary cap era now, contract details have become increasingly more complex and widespread media coverage has evolved hand-in-hand with rampant fan fervor. Therefore, there are a lot of moving parts going into this upcoming event, and it can be very, very confusing.
Fret not, hockey fan, because we will happily explain everything you need to know about the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft and hope to answer any questions you may have.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
This draft isn’t like the usual drafts you see on TV for the NHL, NFL and NBA. There won’t be team after team heading to the podium to announce pick after pick. The only team “on the clock” during the expansion draft will be the Golden Knights.
Vegas will select ONE player from each of the other 30 NHL franchise’s rosters to make a 30-player roster when it’s all said and done. The Golden Knights will have to take at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders. As long as they meet those requirements, they can spend their remaining four roster spots on whatever position they like. Also, they will be responsible for reaching the salary cap floor with the players they gather from around the league.
After Vegas has its 30 players, the NHL’s summer business will carry on as usual with the NHL Entry Draft (no changes) and free agency (more on that later).
WHO CAN GET DRAFTED?
It’s not exactly open season for Vegas when it comes to who they can poach from other NHL teams. The Golden Knights probably won’t be fielding a starting line-up of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty and Carey Price. Vegas will be limited to any players left “unprotected” by the other 30 clubs.
Every team will have the opportunity to secure a certain amount of players from exposure to the expansion draft. They can submit a list of protected athletes that consists of either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie OR eight skaters (regardless of position) and one goalie. Vegas will be unable to draft any of these “protected” players.
Furthermore, any player who only has one or two full seasons of professional hockey under their belt is ineligible for the expansion draft. These players also will NOT count towards the list of protected players. They’re freebies. So, for example, Jake Guentzel is not on the table for Vegas to draft via expansion because he has only played one season of pro hockey. On the other hand, a player like Josh Archibald is eligible, and Pittsburgh will have to decide if they want to use one of their few protected spots on him.
Things get cooky when you consider that players who have a no-movement clause (NMC) in their contracts are automatically placed on a team’s protected list. Player’s with an NMC are not freebies like rookies and second-year pros. To protect the rights that they negotiated for in their contract, they will end up on a team’s protected list.
A player could be asked to waive his NMC, just like he would in the event of a pending trade. If he obliges and surrenders his NMC rights, a team is not forced to include him among its protected players. If that player says no, then too bad, so sad; he’s taking up a spot on your protected list whether you like it or not.
Teams that are having a hard time covering all their bases with the limited space afforded by the protected list can use different means to ensure that a player that they covet does not end up in gold and black next fall. In previous expansion scenarios, general managers have struck deals with the incoming team(s) and provided them with assets in order to ensure that an exposed player won’t get scooped up in the draft.
It’s perfectly legal for a team to call Vegas and say, “Hey, we don’t have enough spots on our list to protect our No. 3 center and best penalty killer from last year, Joe Puck. We’ll give you a second round pick and one of our prospects.” These kind of trades have happened quite often in hockey history, and they’re a lot of fun to look back on (like when Los Angeles was so concerned about losing Garry Galley, they shipped a young whippersnapper to expansion Nashville named Kimmo Timonen.)
Now, these trades can be negotiated before the expansion draft takes place, but do not become official in the NHL until afterwards. Thus, these trades are referred to as “handshake deals” or a “gentleman’s agreement”. An expansion GM could ultimately go back on his word and take the exposed player anyway, but he would risk damaging his reputation around the league and ruin any future trade negotiations.
Expect a lot of these type of handshake deals to show up on social media from trusted hockey insiders over the next week. A lot of teams will be desperate to hang onto a player or two dangling off of their protected lists, and Vegas might covet the multiple assets they’d get in return more than that particular player.
Teams will likely phone Vegas and try and dump some overwhelming contracts onto the expansion franchise in hopes of lifting a heavy burden off of the salary cap. But those deals won’t come without a hefty price. If the Golden Knights are willing to assume a lackluster player on an expensive contract, the club on the other side of the trade will probably have to give up some high-end draft picks in order to make it happen.
WHEN IS IT?
The Golden Knight’s expansion draft picks will be revealed during the NHL Awards Show on June 21. However, there are a few more significant dates surrounding the NHL Entry Draft that you’ll want to keep an eye on…
Friday, June 16… A roster freeze goes into effect. That means at noon on Friday, teams can no longer make any sort of transactions. No trades, no waivers, no buyouts, nothing. Your roster at noon on Friday is the roster you’re working with for the expansion draft.
Saturday, June 17… Teams must submit their protection lists to the NHL. The following morning, these lists will be revealed by the league to the public.
Sunday, June 18… Vegas gets a head start on free agency. For three days, the Golden Knights are able to negotiate and sign any unrestricted free agents AND any restricted free agents left unprotected by their current club.
Normally, if a restricted free agent (RFA) signs with a different team, his current club has the opportunity to “match” the offer given to him by the new team. If the current club does not match the contract, then the RFA becomes the new team’s property, but that team then has to compensate the old one with draft picks of varying position based on the value of the contract. Forget all of that, because Vegas will NOT have to compensate teams for signing their RFAs.
Wednesday, June 21… In addition to Vegas’ special free agency window coming to a close, it will submit its expansion draft picks to the NHL that morning. All of the picks will be announced later that night during the NHL Awards Show.
HOW DOES IT AFFECT ME, AN AHL HOCKEY FAN?
The NHL Expansion Draft is unlikely to have a direct impact on the 29 AHL teams that are not affiliated with the Golden Knights (that would be the Chicago Wolves, by the way,) but it could have some serious indirect implications.
The first and most obvious of which is the trickle down effect. Every NHL team is going to presumably lose a player who occupied a roster space at that level. That’s a new opportunity for an AHL star to perhaps permanently move up to the show.
Secondly, the special restricted-free-agency-without-consequences period that Vegas gets could mean they stockpile a bunch of young talent to fill their AHL team in Chicago, or even push for a spot in the NHL. With the limitations presented by the protection list, teams aren’t likely to use up a spot on a prospect coming off of his entry-level deal and headed towards restricted free agency. That allows the Golden Knights to opportunity to swoop in on those RFAs without fear of losing draft picks to those players’ teams.
Lastly, those “handshake deals” might end up including significant prospects, a.k.a. players who have been tormenting AHL opponents for the past few years. The next week or so is going to be the wild west, and its almost a certainty that this shootout will have some stray bullets connect with the minor leagues.