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Predicting the 2017 Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft

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Post-trade deadline, here’s another expansion projection

Las Vegas NHL Franchise Reveals Team Name And Logo Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

I did a projection of the Vegas Golden Knights roster last year in June, but that exercise came with a large caveat: another season of trades was going to change things a lot. Now that the 2017 Trade Deadline has come and gone, we have a much better idea of where teams stand. Some things will still have to happen (will Marc-Andre Fleury be traded or bought out?), but we can project a lot. With that in mind, I set out to try for another attempt at an expansion draft, this time using CapFriendly’s Expansion Draft Tool.

For this process, I tried to go young as often as possible. Vegas isn’t poised to win a championship in the first couple years, so I saw little point in picking players who would fall even further out of their primes by the time the team was ready to compete. When picking veterans to help with a transitional roster, I stayed away from toxic long-term contracts. The best thing Vegas can do is have flexibility, build through the draft, and stockpile players under the age of 30 who can help the team grow. So following that strategy, here’s the team I ended up with:

Some thoughts on the process:

  • Hitting the cap floor was really easy. People have talked about Vegas possibly needing to take on some big contracts to hit the cap floor, but I found I had no issue. The roster above is at $56.4M (floor is projected at $43.8M), and I even downgraded a couple high-ticket players I had. For example, I subbed out Benoit Pouliot for Mark Letestu (less money for fewer years) once I saw the floor wasn’t an issue. All this to say, if you have a team hoping to lose an expensive player because of cap floor considerations (such as Bobby Ryan or Ryan Callahan), you probably won’t get lucky.
  • My hardest task was getting 20 players under contract for 2017-18. My goal of building a young team meant I wanted to take a lot of RFAs, but I wasn’t allowed to. Smart GMs will hold off on re-signing RFAs until after the expansion draft to make it harder for Vegas to take some of their decent young players.
  • I also had a hard time picking three goalies. I wanted two young goalies who could compete for the team’s future starter role, and a veteran to guide them. The problem was that the best veteran options (Jaroslav Halak, Jimmy Howard, even Roberto Luongo) came from teams who had players I wanted a lot more. In the end I took Cam Ward because his contract was only another year and the Hurricanes had nobody I really wanted. If I were George McPhee, I’d probably be active going after a veteran goalie like Ben Bishop or Ryan Miller (or Fleury?) in the UFA market this summer.

So how did I come to my decisions? I had to do the protection process for each team, projecting which format they’d choose and whether any players with NMCs would choose to waive them. For each team below I give a short rationale, and if you click the link after their name, you can see a screenshot of all my choices. Make sure to let me know how wrong I was in the comments. Also note that some of these rosters don’t meet the minimum exposure requirements, but an extension to one player who played in 40 games this season would satisfy that requirement for most teams so I didn’t worry too much about it. No GM is going to lose Chris Kreider over failing to make a Tanner Glass extension.

Ottawa Senators (photo)

Wait, why am I starting with the Sens? Am I biased as a Sens fan? Probably. I predict Dion Phaneuf waives his NMC, knowing Vegas is unlikely to take him. Even if he doesn’t, I can’t see Vegas taking Marc Methot because of age and I can’t see the Sens leaving Cody Ceci exposed. Bobby Ryan also won’t be protected because his contract is expansion-proof. If Ryan were protected, I think the Sens would protect Ryan Dzingel over Zack Smith, but either way, I expect Vegas would still pick Wideman.

Anaheim Ducks (photo)

Ah, here we go. Now it’s alphabetical. The Ducks will convince Kevin Bieksa to waive his NMC (for similar reasons to Phaneuf). This will allow them to protect four of their young defencemen, but still leaves Simon Despres available. However, the availability of Jakob Silfverberg is more attractive to Vegas and he ends up getting claimed.

Arizona Coyotes (photo)

They’re in a great place, since almost everyone they’d want to protect is too young to be claimed. They might even choose 4 F, 4 D just because there aren’t a lot of forwards worth protecting. I wanted to take Jarred Tinordi, but the need to take 20 players under contract for 2017-18 meant Vegas took Luke Schenn instead.

Boston Bruins (photo)

What’s handy for the Bruins is that they basically have 10 skaters worth protecting. They might be alright with someone taking the Matt Beleskey contract off their hands, but Vegas won’t be that dumb. Rather, they’ll hope Malcolm Subban can re-gain his draft form and they pick him as their goalie of the future.

Buffalo Sabres (photo)

The Sabres were another team I couldn’t decide if they had four defencemen or five forwards worth protecting. Vegas didn’t see a lot worth taking from the roster, so they took Linus Ullmark as another available young goalie who has been touted at times as a goalie of the future.

Calgary Flames (photo)

The Flames have five forwards and three defencemen who are locks to be protected. I bet Calgary would also protect Curtis Lazar and Hunter Shinkaruk given the prices they gave up to get them recently. That leads to Troy Brouwer being exposed, but Vegas takes Micheal Ferland instead in the hopes of getting a young pest.

Carolina Hurricanes (photo)

The Canes are another team in a great spot with most of their best players not available to be claimed. I was originally going to take Joakim Nordstrom as Vegas (as long as they don’t get confused by Erik Karlsson), but I didn’t feel too strongly about it, so ended up claiming Cam Ward again to be my veteran goalie. That way you can tank for a season and then let him walk as a UFA in 2018.

Chicago Blackhawks (photo)

GM Stan Bowman made this nice and easy for himself, giving himself eight players with NMCs. Depending on how Tomas Jurco does, he or Richard Panik will likely be made available and Vegas will take one of them.

Colorado Avalanche (photo)

I predict Francois Beauchemin will waive his NMC, knowing nobody’s going to pick him up at this point. This lets Colorado keep Tyson Barrie and Nikita Zadorov. They’ll have to pick between Rocco Grimaldi, Matt Nieto, and Sven Andrighetto for exposure, but I expect they’ll lose either Joe Colborne or Blake Comeau as relatively expensive one-year contracts from a weak team.

Columbus Blue Jackets (photo)

Would you rather keep Jack Johnson or David Savard? It won’t matter, because Vegas won’t want either. I predict they’ll take William Karlsson, because #Lumbus won’t be able to protect him along with Saad, Wennberg, Atkinson, and Jenner.

Dallas Stars (photo)

The Stars have a few expiring contracts at the right time, so they won’t be crippled by trying to protect their forwards. That will allow them to protect four defencemen and end up losing Antoine Roussel. I considered taking Valeri Nichushkin’s rights, but those pesky 20 contracts prevented me.

Detroit Red Wings (photo)

Detroit has to protect Xavier Ouellet, Anthony Mantha, and Andreas Athanasiou. After that, it’s not too important. I expect Vegas takes the chance on Riley Sheahan that teams were considering for this year’s trade deadline.

Edmonton Oilers (photo)

The Oilers ask Milan Lucic to waive his NMC and he laughs all the way to the bank. Peter Chiarelli cries. But at least they won’t lose anyone of consequence. I expect it’ll be Mark Letestu because he only has one year left on his deal, and only at $1.8M.

Florida Panthers (photo)

Florida’s in a bit of trouble, because they seem to have four defencemen they’re banking their team’s future on. Because of that, they have to leave Nick Bjugstad, Jussi Jokinen, and Jonathan Marchesseault unprotected. Vegas jumps at the chance to take Bjugstad, a 24-year-old top-six centre under contract until 2021.

Los Angeles Kings (photo)

L.A. will try super hard for the Golden Knights to take Dustin Brown off their hands. McPhee will laugh, and say yes but only as long as he gets a first-round pick every year Brown’s under contract. Instead, I say they take Matt Greene, a veteran defenceman with playoff experience. He could be a welcome leader on what I’ve picked to be a pretty young team.

Minnesota Wild (photo)

Admittedly, this is a pretty hard one to predict. On the one hand, the Wild have a solid 22-year-old RFA defenceman in Matt Dumba. On the other hand, they’ve reportedly tried to trade him in the past because they’re worried about his contract capping them out. I predict they’ll stay with the certainty of Jared Spurgeon’s deal, but that means they lose a great young d-man for nothing. If they kept four d-men, they’d lose Niederreiter or Staal or Granlund for free. If any team feels compelled to make an expansion draft-based trade, it’ll be these guys.

Montreal Canadiens (photo)

With most of their best players needing new contracts or being over 30 (or both if you’re Andrei Markov), the Habs can afford to go with four D. I predict they do, especially with the prices the just gave up to get Brandon Davidson. That means Vegas claims one of Beaulieu or Nesterov, and I picked Nesterov because he’s younger.

Nashville Predators (photo)

If you have a solid top-four, you keep it. The Preds are probably the best example of that, knowing that losing, say, Ryan Ellis or Mattias Ekholm would have a bigger impact that Craig Smith or Colin Wilson. It means Vegas takes one of those two forwards. I went with Smith, but you could argue Wilson since he’s cheaper and signed for less time.

New Jersey Devils (photo)

I admit, this is where I struggled the most. I have no idea what the Devils will do. I couldn’t find eight skaters worth protecting. In the end, I protected Travis Zajac to try to bait Vegas into taking Mike Cammalleri. It won’t work, McPhee will shake his head, and pick a depth defenceman from this poor team.

New York Islanders (photo)

The Isles will have to lose at least one out of Calvin De Haan or Thomas Hickey. Because of that, I predicted them to choose to protect seven forwards so as not to add Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, or Ryan Strome as another potential loss. I had Vegas going with Hickey, but you could argue the younger De Haan instead.

New York Rangers (photo)

When did the Rags become young and talented at forward? That was one of my biggest surprises when doing this. It means that even when going with a 7-3-1 format, they have to leave Michael Grabner, Brandon Pirri, Jesper Fast, and Oscar Lindberg available. I had Vegas taking the last one there, but whatever happens, I’m sure they’ll be happy with the players they get from these guys.

Philadelphia Flyers (photo)

The Flyers are odd in that they can basically protect everyone they’d want to. I was going to take Steve Mason as my veteran goalie until I realized he’s not under contract. That means likely either Matt Read or Dale Weise gets taken. I picked Read because he’s only got a year left on his deal.

Pittsburgh Penguins (photo)

The Pens are probably going to lose a defenceman, because they can protect their most valuable forwards. Brian Dumoulin? Frank Corrado? JUSTIN SCHULTZ?!?! I went with the former.

(EDIT: I didn’t pick Matt Murray because there’s a 0% chance the Pens leave him unprotected. If they can’t trade Fleury, and he won’t waive, they’ll buy him out.)

San Jose Sharks (photo)

The Sharks are a big team that will need to find another forward to expose. Maybe they sign Patrick Marleau to a one-year deal so they don’t have to expose Chris Tierney or something. I think Vegas takes a young defenceman. I wanted to get Mirco Mueller, but not being under contract for next year forced me into taking Dylan DeMelo.

St. Louis Blues (photo)

The Blues are also in a decent spot. I had them losing Ty Rattie, though they may sub out Rattie for Dmitrij Jaskin. Maybe they expose someone like Paul Stastny instead, but I can’t see them doing it while still trying to prove they’re a competitive team.

Tampa Bay Lightning (photo)

Steve Yzerman is a wizard. Trading Valtteri Filppula allows him to mostly keep his forward corps intact. I think Alex Killorn’s contract was signed with full anticipation of exposure in the expansion draft, and I predict Vegas falls for it and takes him.

Toronto Maple Leafs (photo)

I have the Leafs losing one of Connor Brown or Connor Carrick, depending on whether they do a 7-3-1 or 4-4-1. Toronto has most of its best players ineligible for the draft which works out great for them.

Vancouver Canucks (photo)

Nobody’s waiving an NMC on this team, which isn’t a big deal because they don’t have anyone great. I figure Vegas takes a chance on a young player in Reid Boucher, unable to find anyone they’d really like to pick.

Washington Capitals (photo)

The Caps have to decide who they want to lose: Brett Connolly or Tom Wilson. I’d argue Wilson’s been pretty disappointing for the Caps so they’d let him go (and Vegas would comply). Else, Connolly could be on to his fourth team in his short career.

Winnipeg Jets (photo)

The Jets have to pick a 4-4-1, else they’d be losing Tyler Myers or Jacob Trouba for nothing. That leaves a bunch of guys open: Matthieu Perreault, Adam Lowry, Marko Dano. I picked Perreault, partly for salary reasons, but Lowry especially since he has another year of commitment could also be very attractive. If the Jets keep him, Joel Armia enters the conversation. Perreault I think could be a veteran mentor who still can play well, but I’d be open to counter-thoughts.