In an article by ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, he reveals that sources have confirmed that the Las Vegas expansion team will be given a head start in free agency. With revamped, pro-team Expansion Draft rules, as well as the ability to make trades (drafts picks, Expansion Draft exceptions) earlier than ever, Las Vegas will now have the benefit of the first shot at the 2017 free agent class.
According to LeBrun, the ____ Knights will have a 48-hour window prior to the Expansion Draft on June 21st, 2017 to negotiate with free agents left unprotected by their respective teams. This includes both unrestricted and restricted free agents. The purpose of this rule is that if Las Vegas is going to use an Expansion Draft selection on a player no longer under contract, they would first want to be sure that this player is willing to sign with the team. In those 48 hours, Las Vegas can negotiate with any unprotected free agent and sign any that they choose to.
The interesting implication that this has on the Expansion Draft is that any team who has an unprotected free agent signed during this head start window can no longer have a player selected in the draft. For GM George McPhee, this adds a whole new layer to draft and free agency preparation. If there is a team with an unprotected free agent that Las Vegas would like to sign as well as an unprotected signed player they would like to draft, it makes no sense to use the window to sign that free agent. It is likely that they will get a shot on July 1st anyways and do not want to have their opportunity to select a player under contract foreclosed on. The loophole that McPhee will likely exploit, rather than signing numerous free agents prior to the draft, will be to establish negotiations with several impending unrestricted free agents rather than sign them right away, so as to give Las Vegas a leg up on the competition come July 1st and the league-wide beginning of free agency. The team will also be able to avoid RFA holdouts or arbitration battles by speaking with the unprotected players before selecting them, instead of using a pick on a player who wants to be overpaid.
The expansion process continues to become more and more intensive and strategic, and for fans, exciting. Las Vegas will be one of the NHL’s main story lines this season, before the team even takes the ice, all culminating in the Expansion Draft next June. Stay tuned.