On one hand is Gary Bettman’s expressed mandate that whatever expansion draft scenario the National Hockey League comes up with, it must allow the new club the chance of a respectable roster.
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On the other is the collection of arched eyebrows and quiet snickers the commissioner’s admonition is likely to draw from NHL general managers, who naturally will use every loophole known to man — and a few man hasn’t thought of yet — to keep the expansion franchise from actually getting any good players.
History says the GMs will find the way.
For purposes of this discussion, we’re assuming it will be one expansion team, Las Vegas, and that it will begin play in 2017-18, though the NHL is determined not to show its cards.
(The Canadian peso is so down in the dumps, Quebec City’s bid might be viable if expansion holds off another year and the loonie rebounds, but for now, it’s on hold.)
The notable difference between the expansion draft model the league will adopt this time and the one in 2000, when Columbus and Minnesota stocked the shelves from 26 other teams’ jetsam (Nashville and Atlanta, admitted in 1998 and ’99, respectively, were exempt), is that the Las Vegans should have a really terrific goaltender and even a darned good backup.
They’ll need them. The talent available everywhere else on the roster is going to be … um, sparse.
Because each of the 30 existing clubs will be permitted to protect only one goalie under either of the scenarios former Vancouver Canucks assistant GM Laurence Gilman developed for the league, Las Vegas potentially could be picking from some or all of Ryan Miller (or Jacob Markstrom), James Reimer, Frederik Andersen, Jimmy Howard, Al Montoya, Brian Elliott, Cam Ward (or Eddie Lack) …
It shouldn’t be like 1999, when clubs had the option to protect two goalies and Atlanta’s goaltending yield was Trevor Kidd (immediately traded to Florida), Norm Maracle and Corey Schwab, or like 2000 when the first two goalies picked were Rick Tabaracci and Jamie McLennan.
But now the other shoe drops.
It sounds good in theory: if clubs choose Option A, to protect three defencemen and seven forwards, you’d think an expansion team could make a decent blueline corps by picking from the best No. 4 D-men on 30 teams.
Just for fun, let’s say the unprotected list were to include Michal Rozsival from Chicago, Kyle Quincey from Detroit, Anton Volchenkov from Nashville, Kevin Bieksa from Anaheim, Rob Scuderi or Luke Schenn from Los Angeles, Keith Yandle or Kevin Klein from the Rangers, Matt Niskanen from Washington, and on down the list.
Not bad, right?
Ah, but now we get to the fine print: a team deep in defencemen and just average up front chooses Option B: protect eight skaters, regardless of position.
How many really good D-men are unprotected in that case?
Now look at forwards: if a team chooses Option A and protects seven, which is probably going to be the preferred choice of so many mediocre teams — protecting 10 skaters overall rather than eight — try to think of your club’s eighth best forward and ask yourself how an expansion team can be any good picking 14 or 15 players just like that.
Couldn’t those skinflints even reduce the protected list to a goaltender, two D-men and six forwards, or a goalie and eight skaters of any position?
You want to give the new guys a fighting chance, at least that would be a start.
As it is, the plan is slanted heavily toward existing teams to preserve anyone who’s really any good, and yes, a case can be made that that’s how it should be. Those teams worked a lot of years to build their talent pools.
But for $500 million — if the NHL gets the full asking price — an expansion franchise ought to be able to expect more than the halt, the lame, the poor of spirit and the rich of contract … and a goalie.
Oh, and first- or second-year pros are exempt, so a team doesn’t have to lose its best young prospects.
Oh, almost forgot: now factor in players on no-move contracts, which the league would argue should make them ineligible for expansion purposes, because existing clubs should be stuck with their bad contracts.
The GMs want the opposite: to be able to unload their aging, overpriced turkeys, but there’s a lot of wrangling to be done before that’s settled, and the GMs don’t lose too many arguments on hockey operations.
Someone suggested it be left up to the player with a no-trade or no-move deal to decide whether he wants to be made available or not; the idea being, as expressed this week by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, that some might want to play in Vegas because there is no state tax in Nevada.
That’s the kind of character guy I want on my expansion team.
Yea or nay, we should know more before the draft in June. Vegas probably has a prop bet for that.
Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques