When George Clooney orchestrated the most sophisticated and elaborate heist in the history of Las Vegas in 2001, his character Danny Ocean had three rules:
- Don't hurt anybody.
- Don't steal from anyone who doesn't deserve it.
- Play the game like you've got nothing to lose.
Sixteen years after the big screen premiere of Ocean's 11, intricate backroom scheming is once again underway in Sin City, only this time it's a different George as the ring leader.
In just over four months, the NHL's newest franchise will play its first preseason game. But there is obviously much work to be done before then as the Golden Knights organization, as of today, consists of just two players.
The mastermind in charge of the plan is general manager George McPhee, who has carefully assembled his front office team. As part of their preparations for the upcoming expansion draft, they're now perusing the blueprints of every NHL roster and deciding on what to steal. In each instance, they need to decide whether they will keep the merchandise after or try to fence it.
Expansion Draft Looms
On June 17, the protected list for each NHL team will be submitted. Teams can choose to protect either 11 players (7 forwards, 3 defencemen, 1 goalie) or 9 players (8 skaters, 1 goalie). Generally speaking, players in their first or second pro season are exempt from needing to be protected.
Following that is a 72-hour deliberation period for Vegas for them to decide exactly which combination of 30 players -- one per team -- they will select. The final results will be unveiled to the public on June 21.
To begin, here are five considerations McPhee must keep in mind when assembling this initial group of 30 players.
- 14 forwards
- 9 defencemen
- 3 goaltenders
That leaves four extras. One thought process would be to use those extra spots to stockpile some additional young defencemen. Another strategy could be to take a couple extra goaltenders with the purpose of auctioning them off after to the highest bidders. There is expected to be some quality back-ups available, some of whom have the potential to be a No. 1, and there are other teams looking for that exact thing.
Worth noting also is one thing they don't have the option to do is buy players out. Any contracts that come in via the expansion draft, must remain intact for at least one year. First buyout period for Vegas isn't until the spring of 2018.
But there's a catch when it comes to building organizational depth through players selected in the expansion draft -- see my next point.
For next season and even the year after, Vegas' minor league roster will need to be stocked through free agent signings or trades. It makes picking up pieces in the expansion draft, which could be leveraged in trades for younger players, another factor to consider.
This is the approach fans typically take when doing their mock expansion drafts over beer and a platter of salt and pepper wings. Look at the list of players available from each team and simply select the one player with the potential to contribute the most to the Golden Knights in the years to come.
4. Trade-In Program
A scenario is Vegas likes a particular prospect on a team but that player is exempt from being taken in the expansion draft. Meanwhile, that players' team is in win-now mode and would rather have a player closer to contributing to the NHL level and would be willing to add that at the expense of a younger prospect with potential, but whose future is less certain.
In this spirit, what you could see happen is one of two things:
1. Vegas selects a player then promptly flips him to another team in exchange for a younger, non-waiver eligible prospect they can stash in the minors.
2. A team proactively trades one of their exempt prospects to Vegas in exchange for 'future considerations'. The future considerations is McPhee agrees to not take anyone from that team in the expansion draft. Taking nobody is something easily enough facilitated as Vegas can waste that pick by selecting one of the pending UFAs that will be a free agent on July 1.
Flames Slant - Take Kulak for instance. Near-NHL ready, Vegas might like his upside but with the other defencemen available around the league, they're not sure if he would crack the NHL team in October and if he doesn't, they risk losing him on waivers for nothing if they try to demote him. Instead, McPhee can propose to Calgary the future consideration of not taking Kulak. In a related transaction, the Flames, for example, could trade to Vegas the rights to college player Brandon Hickey. That sort of thing.
Fast forward two years and one of the teams you would think that would definitely have an interest in Marc-Andre Fleury is Philadelphia given Steve Mason is a pending unrestricted free agent and Michal Neuvirth has not proven to be anything more than a back-up. However, Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford would never trade Fleury to the state-rival Flyers. Only once in the last 25 years have the Penguins traded a roster player cross-state and that was a swap of fourth liners (Kent Manderville for Billy Tibbetts) at the 2002 trade deadline.
Ottawa defenceman Marc Methot is another. The defensive defenceman is making $4.9 million the next two years. If he could be had for half that, there would be a ton of interest around the league. Similar story for Sharks blueliner Paul Martin, who carries a $4.8 cap hit the next two years. How about Martin for $2.4 million? Now there's interest.
It's going to be fascinating to see this play out. The NHL making the expansion lists public will be great, but what won't be known when those lists come out is the various agreements that have been made, or end up being made, to influence McPhee's player selection.
In a year where the Flames pick in the middle of the first round in the NHL Draft and at this point have no picks in the second or third round, the expansion draft is of far greater interest for me right now. Although this lack of draft picks for 2017 could also hamstring Treliving's options in any dealings with McPhee.
In particular, I'm especially interested to see how McPhee leverages this expansion draft because there really are a ton of different ways to extract more value out of it while also setting up Vegas for future success.
For more on the expansion draft, I highly recommend the expansion draft page at Cap Friendly. For a hockey fan, it's a good way to kill a long weekend. That, and re-watching the Ocean's Trilogy.
By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.
Recent Flames Reading:
- Perfect Pairings: A Sommelier's Guide to Six Tasty Goaltending Combinations - There have been much talk about what individual goalies could work for Calgary in 2017-18 but they need a tandem. I look at six combinations that each carry some allure. (May 13, 2017)
- Poached from Pittsburgh: Why it's Sensible for the Flames to Steal a Pens Starter - An in-depth look at why both Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray would be great gets for Brad Treliving. They have too many goalies, Calgary has too few. Let's make a deal. (May 7, 2017)
- Report Card: Subject-by-Subject Grading of Treliving's Work as Flames GM - Just like in school, I took Treliving's time in Calgary and divided it into eight subjects. e.g. The Draft, July 1 Signings, Asset Management, etc. I then assigned a letter grade to each. (May 2, 2017)
- Change is the only Constant: Who Might be Back and Who Might Not in 2017-18 - The off-season begins for the Flames with a look at 12 names frequently mentioned in 'will they be back' debates. I examine what might unfold for each of them and why. (April 23, 2017)