For the next 72 hours, the NHL revolves around Las Vegas.
On Sunday morning, the league revealed the protection lists that every team submitted in advance of the expansion draft, outlining the players protected from being selected by the Vegas Golden Knights and also the ones available. The Golden Knights and General Manager George McPhee now have a three-day window to build their team from the list of players exposed and also make deals with other NHL teams involving those players. Vegas’s first team will be announced during the NHL Awards on Wednesday night.
For the Washington Capitals, there was no suspense Sunday morning as The Post reported their protection list Saturday afternoon. The most notable players the Capitals could lose are defenseman Nate Schmidt and goaltender Philipp Grubauer.
Washington isn’t the only team that might see a talented player plucked from its roster for nothing. The Minnesota Wild exposed forward Eric Staal and defensemen Marco Scandella and Matt Dumba. To save their top-two defense pairings, the Nashville Predators opted to protect eight skaters, which meant leaving James Neal, a 23-goal scorer this season, unprotected. The Golden Knights could swipe Rangers forward Michael Grabner, who scored 27 goals this past season. The Islanders were the only team to protect five defensemen, and they might still lose blue-liner Calvin de Haan.
Top Anaheim defensemen Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen were exposed, as was forward Jon Marchessault, a 26-year-old 30-goal scorer in Florida this past season. Detroit’s Petr Mrazek, once considered the top Red Wings goaltender, wasn’t protected along with defenseman Xavier Ouellet, a second-round pick in 2011. Vancouver’s 2012 first-round pick, Brendan Gaunce, was exposed. The Philadelphia Flyers didn’t protect goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who the team signed to a two-year, $5 million contract extension in March. It’s widely believed that Pittsburgh goaltender and three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury has already been tabbed to land in Vegas after he waived his no-move clause to be eligible for the expansion draft.
Now begins the jockeying regarding some of those top players. On Saturday night, the Golden Knights issued a statement that “before the Golden Knights claim a player off a team’s unprotected list, McPhee and his staff are willing to negotiate deals so the other clubs do not lose a player they would otherwise like to keep.” In other words, McPhee is happy to accept a collection of draft picks, prospects and other assets in exchange for not selecting certain players. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the Blue Jackets have already agreed to deal their first-round pick this year and a prospect to Vegas for McPhee to steer clear of forward Josh Anderson, young goaltender Joonas Korpisalo and defenseman Jack Johnson.
Teams were also eager to see the list of players available because Vegas now becomes a trade avenue for them. The league is in a freeze until Thursday at 8 a.m., and the Golden Knights are the only trade partner for the 30 other NHL clubs during that time. So, as a hypothetical, a team that might be interested in Washington’s Grubauer could incentivize Vegas to select him in the expansion draft and then subsequently trade him.
“With expansion, there’s a lot of unprotected goalies out there,” Arizona General Manager John Chayka told reporters Saturday. “Vegas doesn’t need 10. They only need a couple, and there’s opportunities for trades from that perspective.”
“The players Vegas drafts, not all of them are going to play for Vegas. It’s not so much an expansion draft for them as it is an accumulation of assets,” Calgary General Manager Brad Treliving recently told Sportsnet 960 The Fan’s “Boomer in the Morning.”
The Golden Knights will also have this three-day window to meet with the pending restricted and unrestricted free agents exposed in the draft, and if they negotiate a deal with one of those players in that time, that counts as Vegas’s pick from that team. Even if the Golden Knights don’t sign any unrestricted free agents by Wednesday night, this serves as a sort of first negotiating advantage for them before the first day of free agency on July 1.
The good news for teams is that the Golden Knights can take only one player from a team. And now Vegas holds all the cards.