Assuredly, if the NHL and GMs across the league knew they would create a Stanley Cup contender from their spare parts, the Vegas Golden Knights would not have been exempt from the next expansion draft. Instead, they have to deal with the downside of exemption but have a huge opportunity on the NHL trade market.
If everyone knew how good the Golden Knights would be, the expansion rules might not have been beneficial. However, the previous expansion teams in Columbus, Nashville, and San Jose had long-standing struggles. They served as a warning to the NHL that fanbases are far more difficult to build when a team stinks.
And stinks for years.
The Golden Knights broke the expansion mold AND are exempt from the 2021 expansion draft on July 21. Believe it or not, that is not entirely a good thing.
But Kingerski, how is keeping good players a BAD thing?
Glad you asked. Because Vegas will keep all of its players, they will not lose a salary, and they will not have a spot in their lineup which will create some necessary change. Instead, GM Kelly McCrimmon will have to do it all the hard way.
(By the way–Thank you for welcoming me to Las Vegas. I so enjoyed covering the Round Two series. I’m spending part of the summer here and in Pittsburgh as we build the National Hockey Now network, which is now in 10 markets across the league. Stay tuned for No. 11).
McCrimmon will have to work the NHL trade front harder. He will have to find a way to shed some salary and create turnover but only with a willing dance partner.
Just for fun, you can play on the PuckPedia.com Expansion Draft Tool to see who the Vegas Golden Knights may expose. It’s an interesting exercise because McCrimmon would be in a prime position to expose a large salary if he chose.
The top seven Golden Knights forwards would be protected, but in a different world, would they have exposed Reilly Smith to expunge the $5 million cap hit? Maybe the $5 million William Karlsson who scored 39 points in 55 games?
Which goalie would McCrimmon protect? That is something to chew on, isn’t it?
With a quick stroke, the Golden Knights, who have just $5 million to fill three lineup holes, including top-pair defenseman, could free up another $5 million.
That’s a lost opportunity, but it also leads to greater opportunity.
NHL Trade Market Opportunity
The Golden Knights also have a gigantic opportunity on the NHL trade front. Because the Golden Knights will not lose a player, they can load up. While their top competitors like the Colorado Avalanche are agonizing over difficult choices and the reportedly sky-high asking price to make side deals with Seattle, McCrimmon can go on a shopping spree.
How many teams would love to get something back for their soon-to-be exposed players instead of waving goodbye for nothing?
Because of the rules, Kraken GM Ron Francis should have plenty of competition before the July 21 deadline. The deep Metro Division will have a plethora of exposed forwards and defensemen.
The Pittsburgh Penguins could expose 20-goal scorer Jared McCann or big personality grinder Brandon Tanev but the Washington Capitals might be the top team for the Vegas Golden Knights to watch.
The Capitals could expose one of two potential top-four defensemen. Only one of Brenden Dillion or Michael Kempny is likely to be protected.
And McCrimmon should pounce like a desert cat, pending conversations with pending free agent Martinez.
The Carolina Hurricanes might leave one prime defenseman unprotected. The pending free agency and NHL trade drama with top RHD Dougie Hamilton will have cascading effects. If Carolina gives up and lets Hamilton walk, they will protect their top two left-side defensemen.
If Hamilton sticks around or is protected, second-pair LHD Brady Skjei could be available. Skjei is a 27-year-old defenseman who could replace Alec Martinez for a little more cost ($5.25 million).
The Nashville Predators made the first strike on the NHL trade front when they dealt former 30-goal scorer Viktor Arvidsson to the LA Kings for a second (2021), and third-round(2022) picks. Nashville realized Seattle would select Arvidsson, so GM David Poile got something for him.
McCrimmon has carte blanche do to the same. He can load up with more than seven protectable forwards and more than three protectable defensemen.
For now, we’re left to speculate on unprotected lists, but on July 17, those lists become public. In the days before the lists are locked, there will be defensemen available and teams who wouldn’t mind an asset in return. The days leading up to the 17th could be wild as teams wheel and deal.
And one more scenario to consider.
What if the Golden Knight could acquire a few assets on the cheap and ship them to the Buffalo Sabres for a No. 1 center?
Seattle and Francis should have stiff competition for those exposed players. It’s an opportunity For the Vegas Golden Knights as good as playing the worst team in the playoffs in the NHL Semifinal.
Sorry, too soon?