Twenty years ago yesterday, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild were taking their first official steps as NHL teams, engaging in the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft. Yet the additions of the 29th and 30th NHL teams goes down as an utterly forgettable event in the annals of NHL history, given just how poor the results were. Fast-forward 17 years and the NHL finally adds team No. 31, the Vegas Golden Knights. Recency bias aside, the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and especially the season that followed will have a firm foothold on their place in league history. The vast differences between these two drafts, both in format and outside factors, help to explain why the infant Golden Knights already seem to be more established in year three than the Blue Jackets and Wild, facing down their twentieth seasons in 2020-21.
Columbus and Minnesota: $80,000,000
Like most things in pro sports, this story starts with money. The Blue Jackets and Wild paid just $80MM in 2000 to enter the NHL, not exactly a premium price even 20 years ago. As a result, their introduction to the league was never intended to be smooth. The odds were stacked against them in their inaugural seasons and beyond as they had to fight hard for their place in the league. The Knights on the other hand paid over six times that amount and the 2021 Seattle expansion team is set to pay even more, a record $650MM. With that comes more cushy conditions upon entry, allowing for immediate success to be more realistic.
Columbus and Minnesota: Nashville Predators (1998), Atlanta Thrashers (1999)
The Blue Jackets and Wild also entered the league during a frenzy of expansion. The NHL added nine teams between 1990 and 2000 and Columbus and Minnesota were the unfortunate pair to bring up the rear. Talent was spread thinner than it ever had been before and Nashville and Atlanta, added in the previous two years, were completely exempt from the Expansion Draft. The expansion team thus drafted 26-man rosters. In contrast, when Vegas entered the league the NHL had not seen expansion in the better part of two decades. No one was exempt and talent had been replenished across the league, with Vegan able to pick from each of the 30 teams. Talent level continues to not be a concern approaching the 2021 Expansion Draft, in which Seattle will also have 30 teams to choose from other than Vegas, who also won’t receive a share of their entry fee.
Columbus and Minnesota: Nine forwards, five defensemen, and one goalie or seven forwards, three defensemen, and two goalies
Vegas: Seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie or eight skaters and a goalie
Nine forwards, five defenseman, and a goalie?! It’s no wonder that most people can’t remember the players selected by the Wild or Blue Jackets. They were either fourth-liners, bottom-pair defensemen, or minor leaguers. On top of that, the team were also competing with one another for these scraps. The secondary option in 2000 became the primary option for Vegas in 2017 minus a second goalie. This guaranteed that nearly every team would expose a top-nine forward, a top-four defenseman, and an experienced goalie.
Columbus: G – Frederic Chabot, Dwayne Roloson, Rick Tabaracci; D – Radim Bicanek, Jonas Junkka, Lyle Odelein, Jamie Pushor, Tommi Rajamaki, Bert Robertsson, Mathieu Schneider, Mattias Timander; F – Kevyn Adams, Kevin Dineen, Dallas Drake, Ted Drury, Bruce Gardiner, Steve Heinze, Robert Kron, Sergei Luchinkin, Barrie Moore, Geoff Sanderson, Turner Stevenson, Martin Streit, Dmitri Subbotin, Jeff Williams, Tyler Wright
Minnesota: G – Zac Bierk, Jamie McLennan, Chris Terreri, Mike Vernon; D – Artem Anisimov, Chris Armstrong, Ladislav Benysek, Ian Herbers, Filip Kuba, Curtis Leschyshyn, Sean O’Donnell, Oleg Orekhovsky; F – Michal Bros, Jeff Daw, Jim Dowd, Darby Hendrickson, Joe Juneau, Sergei Krivokrasov, Darryl Laplante, Steve McKenna, Jeff Nielsen, Stefan Nilsson, Jeff Odgers, Scott Pellerin, Stacy Roest, Cam Stewart
Vegas: G – Jean-Francois Berube, Marc-Andre Fleury, Calvin Pickard; D – Alexei Emelin, Deryk Engelland, Jason Garrison, Brayden McNabb, Jon Merrill, Marc Methot, Colin Miller, Griffin Reinhart, Luca Sbisa, David Schlemko, Nate Schmidt, Clayton Stoner, Trevor van Riemsdyk; F – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Connor Brickley, William Carrier, Cody Eakin, Erik Haula, William Karlsson, Brendan Leipsic, Oscar Lindberg, Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal, Tomas Nosek, David Perron, Teemu Pulkkinen, Chris Thorburn
Kinda one-sided isn’t it? Sean O’Donnell, Filip Kuba, and Darby Hendrickson were some of the best players available to Columbus and Minnesota, while the vast majority of Vegas’ roster was at the very least as accomplished as that trio when they were selected. No one taken in the 2000 Draft can even be remotely compared to established players in their prime like Neal, Perron, and Fleury, young scoring forwards like Marchessault and Karlsson, or up-and-coming defensemen like Schmidt and Miller. The Knights’ entire draft roster also had NHL experience or earned it in their first two seasons, while a number of Blue Jacket and Wild picks never even saw the light of day.or
Draftees To Play With Team
Columbus and Minnesota: 11 apiece
To make matters worse, some of the most well-known players selected by the Blue Jackets and Wild – Mathieu Schneider, Mike Vernon, Dallas Drake – never played a game for the franchise. This was by design, as the teams opted to take the select players specifically to allow them to walk as free agents and recoup the compensatory picks, but it sill added to the overwhelming lack of player value selected in 2000. In 2017, the Golden Knights managed to retain more than half of a 30-man roster that was far too large to ever retain completely. In fact, the only player who did not join Vegas in their inaugural season or was not traded away was goalie JF Berube.
First Playoff Appearance
So how did these drastically uneven expansion results play out? The Wild made their first playoff appearance in their third season with some holdovers from the draft and even made it to the Western Conference Final. However, they finished last in the Northwest Division in the two seasons prior and subsequent to this underdog run. The Blue Jackets did not make the playoffs for the first time until 2009, nearly a decade into their existence. By then, there was no trace of their bleak expansion draft roster. The franchise has just six playoff series appearances in their history, with their first win coming just last season. Vegas on the other hand turned the expansion trope on its head with an incredible run in 2018, fueled almost entirely by draft selections. The team then qualified for the playoffs again last season and are a top-four seed in the West in the upcoming expanded postseason.
First Stanley Cup Final Appearance
Columbus and Minnesota: None
The Golden Knights made it as far as any team can go without winning the Stanley Cup in their very first season. It was unheard of success for an expansion team in any sport and the structure and surrounding of the 2017 Expansion Draft played a major role. The Blue Jackets and Wild, limited for years by their own expansion restrictions, have never made the Stanley Cup Final and entering their twentieth season in 2020-21 don’t look particularly likely to do so next year either. These is a very strong likelihood that Vegas returns to the Final and possibly wins a Stanley Cup before Columbus or Minnesota and Seattle may very well share those same odds.
Twenty years later, the Blue Jackets and Wild are still struggling to establish themselves as top teams in the NHL and their struggles can be traced all the way back to the 2000 Expansion Draft. So while the anniversary can be celebrated for the formal additions of the franchises to the NHL – bringing pro hockey back to Minnesota and spreading the game to a market that has wholly embraced it in Columbus – it should also be remembered as the poorly-constructed entry device that limited these teams from the get go. The 2000 Expansion Draft will never be remembered for any individual players that were selected, but instead the complete lack of impact players selected and the factors that contributed to that result.