The Vegas Golden Knights weren’t supposed to make the playoffs this year. They weren’t supposed to have a 40-goal scorer or four others with 20 or more. And they certainly weren’t supposed to compete for the top seed in their division.
But late in March, that’s exactly where they’re at — and a good portion of the Knight’s success comes from their selections and decisions at the expansion draft from last June. It’s where the team stole a player from every other team in the league and committed even more larceny in deals aside from the draft.
Those trades brought in Reilly Smith, who has 60 points this year, Shea Theodore, who mans the blue line for 20 minutes a game and Alex Tuch, an up-and-coming power forward. Meanwhile, unprotected lists brought William Karlsson, Jon Marchessault and Marc-Andre Fleury to Vegas.
Naturally, NHL teams aren’t looking forward to another expansion draft, but that looks like what they’ll be getting in the summer of 2020 as the expansion to Seattle looks more likely each day. The nightmare got even worse for general managers Wednesday with the announcement that the protection rules would remain the same:
GMs were told that expansion draft rules will be the same as Vegas if Seattle is added.
— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) March 21, 2018
Last summer, the Philadelphia Flyers were hardly affected by the expansion draft. Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny and Robert Hagg (among others) didn’t need to be protected because of their experience and the rest of the roster didn’t leave much unprotected.
The top players left unprotected included Michael Raffl and goalie Michal Neuvirth, but in a surprising twist, fourth-liner Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was the one selected by Vegas.
It’s easy to say Philadelphia won’t be so fortunate at the next expansion draft and although it may seem early to start planning, the teams that gave up Marchessault, Karlsson and Tuch may say differently.
At the Vegas expansion draft, teams were allowed to protect either seven forwards, three defenseman and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie. Players with two years or less of professional experience and unsigned prospects were exempt from the draft.
Each team was also required to expose one defenseman and two forwards under contract that played 40 games in 2016-17 or 70 games over the prior two seasons and one goalie under contract.
The exempt players helped the Flyers last year, but Provorov, Hagg, Konency, Oskar Lindblom, Travis Sanheim and Nolan Patrick will all need to be protected this time. That’s also not including prospects like Mikhail Vorobyov and Philippe Myers, who haven’t even played an NHL game yet, but will/could have over two years of experience by 2020.
But to actually get to the brass tax of the outlook, Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Sean Couturier and Shayne Gostisbehere are the only full-time NHL players signed that far in the future. Because of Giroux’s no movement clause, he needs to be protected. There’s a chance things have changed for Voracek by then — he’ll be almost 31 by that time — but let’s say all deserve to be protected.
The Flyers’ protection plan will likely go seven forwards and three defensemen. The eight total skaters leaves too many high-valued forwards open for selection.
Already, there’s just four forward spots and two defensmen spots left. Without some monumental change, a few of those forward spots will go to Patrick, Konecny and Lindblom. Provorov and Sanheim are likely to take the remaining two blueliner openings.
That leaves one protection slot among the forwards for Vorobyov, Scott Laughton and Nicolas Aube-Kubel.
On the blue line, Myers, Hagg and Sam Morin could be left exposed. Of course, this is all assuming the Flyers don’t bring in a veteran at some point over the couple of years.
Stemming from that, you may have noticed Wayne Simmonds wasn’t included in these plans.
Don’t Pay for Veterans Unless They Fit the Plan
Simmonds’ contract comes to an end in the summer of 2019 and debate over re-signing or dealing him has already raged over Flyers twitter. The upcoming expansion draft makes things even tougher.
It’s improbable to imagine Simmonds signing a one-year contract, which means whatever team does ink him will have to factor him into expansion draft plans. For the Flyers, that could mean pushing out a young player.
The team could re-sign him and expose him anyways, as long as Simmonds doesn’t sign an NMC, but the former King and his agent will foresee that issue. It’s easy to see how problematic a Simmonds’ contract negotiation could/will become.
The biggest point with Simmonds — and really any veteran — is whether they fit into the team’s plans. Does management value the veteran over a younger player? That’s fine if they do, but the team better ask itself that question.
There were reports the Flyers inquired on the Ottawa Senators’ Mike Hoffman at the trade deadline. The 28 year old’s deal runs out in summer 2020, which makes him and other players signed to similar-lengthed deals perfect.
But for the players that have contracts that flow into the 2020 expansion draft, no movement clauses will be the albatross to watch out for.
The Senators learned that the hard way with Dion Phaneuf. The team had to protect him after acquiring the defenseman from the Maple Leafs and lost Marc Methot in the expansion draft.
Be the Islanders
The phrase “be the Islanders” doesn’t seem that appealing unless it’s the early 1980s, but what the team did at last year’s expansion draft was actually a strong model.
The team gave up a first and second round pick and prospect Jake Bischoff to the Golden Knights, who also took on Mikhail Grabovski’s contract. Vegas then took goalie J-F Berube in the expansion draft instead of Josh Bailey, Calvin De Haan or Casey Czikas.
The Islanders gave up a lot of future assets without a doubt, but they didn’t give up Bailey, who has 67 points this year, or any of the other roster players they deemed important.
They could have followed the Blue Jackets, who lost William Karlsson and his 39 goals, or the Florida Panthers, who supplied the Knights with two 20-plus scorers.
What the Flyers can learn is to not give up young players. The Jackets and Panthers made that mistake. The Islanders gave up future assets, but they weren’t players the team developed, and lost a huge cap hit and a player at an overstocked position.
But the downside for New York is that the club wasn’t where it thought it was. The team gave up a 15th overall in a deep draft and followed up this year by missing the playoffs again.
For the Flyers, they should be better than that in two years, especially since they’re already past the Islanders now. That should make separating with draft picks and prospects easier, but there’s another way they can soften the blow.
Stock Up on Draft Picks
Philippe Myers potential has him as a top-four defender. No team wants to give up a player of that caliber for nothing.
If the Flyers want to follow the Islanders, that could entail giving up multiple draft picks to protect those who can’t be. If you have to give up those draft picks, it would be easier to do so if the prospect cupboards are already stuffed.
No one has to tell general manager Ron Hextall that. In the past two drafts, the 53 year old has made 19 selections, and even though the Flyers rebuild is coming to an end, he’s still stocked up on picks.
He traded Brayden Schenn for two first-round picks and dealt prospect Cooper Marody, who was a sixth-round pick with little potential, for a third-rounder in 2019.
So if Philadelphia has to give up a first to protect a player making an impact as the team contends, it doesn’t seem so bad when the Flyers had four first round picks between 2017 and 2018.
The teams that made the wrong choices at the 2017 expansion draft won’t be forgetting their mistakes anytime soon. The next expansion draft may seem far away, but it’s never too early to start planning. By looking at history, the Flyers can come away unscathed despite being in a harder position than they were the last time around.