The Vegas Golden Knights drafted their inaugural team Wednesday night, selecting a player from each of the 30 other NHL clubs as part of an expansion draft. The Golden Knights were able to negotiate with the other teams, agreeing to avoid certain unprotected players in exchange for draft picks or prospects.
Teams had a year to prepare to lose one player in the process, and yet some fared far better than others.
Calgary Flames: Calgary’s list of unprotected players didn’t leave much to be desired, but the Flames still got off remarkably easy. Vegas’s selection was 35-year-old Deryk Engelland, one of two pending unrestricted free agents the Golden Knights drafted. Vegas had a 72-hour window to get a head start and sign those players left exposed, and the Golden Knights used that time to ink Engelland to a reported one-year, $1 million deal. That counted as Vegas’ selection from Calgary, so all the Flames lost was a player who may have hit the open market on July 1 anyway. The Golden Knights got a Las Vegas resident who can help promote the franchise in its first season.
Montreal Canadiens: After Montreal traded for forward Jonathan Drouin before the expansion draft, the Canadiens had to leave 22-year-old winger Charles Hudon exposed. Many assumed the Golden Knights would go for Hudon, who has limited NHL experience but showed potential by scoring 27 goals in 56 American Hockey League games last season. But without even bribing Vegas with anything in exchange, the Golden Knights selected 31-year-old defenseman Alexei Emelin, who the Canadiens might have been down on anyway. The Canadiens desperately need a blue-liner after dealing Nathan Beaulieu and prospect Mikhail Sergachev, but shedding Emelin’s $4.1 million cap hit will help the team acquire someone through trade or free agency this offseason.
Marc-Andre Fleury: The past two seasons have added two Stanley Cup championships with Pittsburgh to Fleury’s résumé, but the goaltender has also been pushed aside during that time in favor of 23-year-old Matt Murray. After 10 NHL seasons, Fleury has nothing to prove professionally, and Las Vegas can be a fresh start that will allow him to be a No. 1 goaltender again. He received the loudest ovation at the NHL Awards on Wednesday night when he donned a Golden Knights jersey for a first time, and he appears poised to be the franchise’s face for its start.
Vegas Golden Knights: The team had to pay $500 million to join the league, so Vegas was always intended to be the biggest winner in this expansion draft. In addition to selecting impressive NHLers such as Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal, Marc Methot and Nate Schmidt, the Golden Knights were also able to stock up on draft picks (12 through 2020), including three first-rounders in this weekend’s draft. In exchange for not selecting certain players, Vegas also nabbed top prospects in defenseman Shea Theodore and forward Alex Tuch.
Florida Panthers: Florida made some questionable decisions when it opted to protect eight skaters and a goaltender rather than seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender. That left 26-year-old Jonathan Marchessault unprotected after he scored 30 goals last season and is under contract for one more season with a measly $750,000 cap hit. In exchange for exposing Marchessault, the Panthers then traded forward Reilly Smith to Vegas for a fourth-round pick in an effort to shed Smith’s salary. Smith has a $5 million cap hit through the 2022 season, but it’s unclear why the Panthers were so desperate to shed the 26-year-old’s salary. In what could be considered a down year, he still scored 15 goals and he’s only one season removed from a 25-goal campaign. Vegas was able to add 45 goals of production for a fourth-round pick.
New York Islanders: Vegas General Manager George McPhee decided to pay back his old boss in New York’s Garth Snow by fleecing him. The Islanders were the only team to protect five defensemen, though they still somehow left top-four blue-liner Calvin de Haan exposed. That format didn’t enable them to protect very many forwards, so Snow gave McPhee what amounted to a king’s ransom to select 25-year-old goaltender J-F Berube, a pending unrestricted free agent who the Islanders kept on the roster all of last season for fear of exposing him to waivers. The Islanders sent the Golden Knights their first-round pick this season, their 2019 second-round pick and forward Mikhail Grabovski, who may not play next season because of lingering concussion symptoms. Trading Grabovski was a salary dump to clear up cap space before potentially acquiring a top-six forward in the coming days, but now one has to wonder what it’ll have left to offer for that piece after already giving up so much to Vegas.
McPhee’s predecessor and successor with the Capitals: While it was a good night for McPhee, who previously held the same post in Washington, the expansion draft wasn’t so kind to the man McPhee replaced with the Capitals (David Poile) and the one who stepped in after McPhee was fired in 2014 (Brian MacLellan). Nashville’s Poile won GM of the Year at the NHL Awards, but he lost forward James Neal, who’s scored at least 20 goals in every season of his nine-year career. Washington’s MacLellan saw defenseman Nate Schmidt swiped from his team, leaving the Capitals with a vacancy in the top-four of the blue line and even more concerning salary cap constraints as the team now tries to fill that hole.