The NHL purposefully designed the rules regarding the expansion draft to give the league’s newest member the best possible chance to compete right away. Teams have two options in terms of whom to protect from their current roster: they can either choose to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie or they can go the alternate route of eight skaters and one goalie. Any player with two seasons or less of experience playing professional hockey in North America are exempt. Undoubtedly, many teams will confront some tough choices when it comes to whom they potentially lose to the Golden Knights later next month.
Rob Vollman, writing for ESPN.com, examines who among the four Stanley Cup semi-finalists Vegas GM George McPhee is most likely going to garner significant interest from the veteran hockey executive. From the reigning champion Penguins, Vollman suggests that unless the club can convince Marc-Andre Fleury to waive his NMC and subsequently trade him to another club looking for a #1 between the pipes, one of Pittsburgh’s goaltenders would be the best choice for McPhee and the Golden Knights. However, should the Penguins proactively move one of their ’tenders – almost assuredly Fleury – prior to the expansion draft, Vollman suggests blue liner Brian Dumoulin as the best choice given his penalty killing prowess and ability to play solid defensively.
According to the scribe, Anaheim, barring some shifty maneuvering, may risk losing Josh Manson or Jakob Silfverberg to their new division rivals. Manson, as a right-hand defenseman who can move the puck and plays with bite, would be an excellent addition for Vegas.
Because of their defensive depth, Nashville will likely choose to protect eight skaters, with four being blue liners. This means the Golden Knights will probably have their pick from a group which includes forwards Calle Jarnkrok, Craig Smith and Colin Wilson. Ultimately, Vollman thinks Jarnkrok would be the sensible choice given his affordable cap hit ($2MM annually through 2021-22) and his strong two-way play.
Given the lack of proven goal scorers likely to be available to McPhee in the expansion draft, Vollman wonders whether Vegas could be convinced to take the onerous contract of Bobby Ryan off of Ottawa’s hands. Ryan, who has five years – at which point the winger will be 35 – and an annual cap charge of $7.25MM, has struggled since joining Ottawa four years ago and finished with just 13 goals in 62 contests this past season. However, he has played better in the playoffs recording five markers and 14 points in 16 games. Vollman doubts McPhee would take that hefty contract on without the Senators offering them further incentive to do so but also notes the $7.25MM price tag would make it much easier to reach their targeted floor of $43.8MM in salaries. And at 30, there is hope Ryan can provide at least a few seasons of solid offensive production for a club who will likely struggle to put the puck in the net.
In other Golden Knights news:
- The Golden Knights have done well in hiring veteran coach Gerard Gallant to be the franchise’s first bench boss, at least if some of his former charges and current contemporaries are correct. NHL.com’s Brian Hedger penned an article on Gallant, who is currently an assistant with Canada’s entry in the 2017 IIHF World Championship, which included quotes from Michael Matheson and Nick Bjugstad, who each played for Gallant in Florida. Matheson, a young defenseman who rejoined Gallant on Team Canada for this tournament, said: “He’s a tremendous coach and I loved my time with him. He just gives his players a lot of confidence. He realizes that you’re going to make mistakes but that it’s not the end of the world. He’s just going to put you back onto the ice because he has confidence in you.” For his part, Bjugstad said: “He’s one of my favorite coaches ever,” and indicated he was well-liked in the room in Florida. “Everyone respected him. He had a young team with us, and it didn’t take him long to kind of push us to that next level, the next step. There’s no reason he can’t do it with the next team.” Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper also offered up strong praise for Gallant: “I think it’s a great get for Las Vegas. I got to meet Gerard at the [World Cup of Hockey 2016], and that’s a big reason he’s here with us today. He’s extremely knowledgeable about the game, the guys play hard for him and I think he’ll do a [great] job in Vegas.” Gallant’s ability to help develop young players and earn the respect from his charges should do him well in his new position. While the Golden Knights will have access to quality NHL talent via the expansion draft, the organization will still likely rely on building with youth through the draft and it may be a few seasons before they are ready to compete regularly for the postseason.
- With the probable lack of proven goal scorers available to Vegas in the expansion draft, the club will likely look for other ways to add offensive talent to the organization. The Golden Knights have already inked free agent center Vadim Shipachyov, a skilled Russian who was expected to draw significant interest from several NHL clubs this summer. He may well slot in as the team’s #1 center to begin the season. But, as talented as Shipachyov might be, he is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer and Vegas will have to add more talent around their new #1 pivot. Luke Fox of Sportsnet suggests that former top overall draft pick Nail Yakupov is just the sort of player Vegas should take a chance on as they search for impact offensive talent. Yakupov, who suffered through the worst season of his career with St. Louis in 2016-17, scoring just nine points in 40 games, has said he has no desire to return home and play in the KHL. Fox believes the 23-year-old winger is worth a short-term, small money deal for Vegas, or for another team starved for cheap offense, perhaps L.A. Signing Yakupov would certainly make a lot of sense for Vegas. The presence of Shipachyov could help ease Yakupov’s adjustment to the desert and provide the talented winger with the type of setup man that could help him thrive.