Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Expansion Draft: Bargain-Seeking NHL GMs about to hit the Las Vegas Outlet Mall

Head north on Frank Sinatra Drive, hang a right on Sammy Davis Jr. Drive and then take another right onto Mel Tormé Way.

That's how the directions begin if you're in Las Vegas and are about to make the 10-minute drive from T-Mobile Arena, home of the NHL's newest NHL franchise, to the giant outlet mall north of downtown on South Grand Central Parkway.

Why this is relevant is I'm starting to wonder if the hot deals on NHL players that have been anticipated as a result of the Vegas expansion draft, won't unfold until after the expansion draft is complete on June 20, rather than before that 72-hour process begins on June 17.

Since the expansion draft rules were finalized, the prevailing school of thought has been that there would be a flurry of deals done prior to the deadline for teams to submit their protected lists. The theory being that savvy general managers would use the expansion draft as a pressure point and try to trade for players from teams, who have too many players to protect and are worried about losing a quality player for nothing to Golden Knights GM George McPhee.

While such horse trading could still happen and will to some degree, there are a couple reasons why most of the noise may not occur until after McPhee has decided on his 30 trade chips... I mean players.

Limited Vacancies 

The Flames have an open spot on their protection list at goaltender.

It's that way because young players like Jon Gillies, Tyler Parsons and David Rittich are exempt so don't need protecting and last year's tandem of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson are both pending unrestricted free agents so also don't need protecting.

But in surveying the rest of the league, this is a very unique situation.

Unlike office space in downtown Calgary these days, a vacancy on your protected list is quite rare. Almost all teams find themselves in the opposite situation of having too many players to protect for the number of slots they have available.

This is one of the reasons why pre-expansion draft player movement will likely be limited. Teams may be keen to add a particular exposed player from another team, but doing so means they subsequently have to expose an additional player from their own roster, who otherwise would be protected. That may act as a deterrent.

Best Move Might be No Move

The other factor that could act as a governor on pre-expansion player movement will be the desire for teams to not lose multiple players.

Say you're one of the Western Conference teams like Nashville, Anaheim or Minnesota with a spoil of personnel riches well beyond what you are permitted to protect. Losing one player for nothing might very well be the best outcome of the various options open to you.

Let's examine the Predators as they're a team that is top of mind after evening the Stanley Cup final at two games apiece.

They would be a team that probably opts for the eight skaters-one goaltender breakdown as opposed to seven forwards-three defence-one goaltender so they can keep their vaunted top two defence pairings intact of Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban, and Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis.

Limited to only protecting four forwards in that scenario -- presumably Filip Forsberg, James Neal, Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen -- they would most likely lose a forward to Vegas.

Nashville GM David Poile, knowing he could potentially lose young Swedish centre Calle Jarnkrok for nothing, might try to trade him to another team and at least get a draft pick in return.

The flaw with that plan is you're still going to lose a player to Vegas anyway so now you'll be down two solid pieces upfront. In such a scenario, you no longer have Jarnkrok and now you also are going to lose one of Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, Colton Sissons or Pontus Aberg. Even 2010 first rounder Austin Watson might interest McPhee.

The smarter move for Poile is just stand pat. While losing a player like Jarnkrok for nothing may seem like bad asset management, it's better then losing two players in exchange for that one draft pick. This is a team that in less than a week could be holding the Stanley Cup over their heads. The Predators are clearly in a window to win and any scenario that involves only subtracting one top-nine forward instead of two would be the smarter route to go.

Same goes for the Ducks and Wild. If you're Bob Murray or Chuck Fletcher, don't overthink it and end up clearing out more talent than you need to. You may have four or five coveted guys exposed that you don't want to lose, but Vegas can only pluck one of them. Just accept it and move on.

Similar Deal with Goalie-Rich Teams

With Calgary needing two goalies for next season, among the many names kicked around this off-season have been Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury and New York's Antti Raanta.

Both under contract for next season, the reason these two names are available and have been kicked around as potential Flames targets is again because of the expansion draft. The Penguins have Matt Murray. The Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist. They are the goalies their teams will protect. It makes the other two very attractive options for Vegas to select in the expansion draft unless they are moved beforehand.

There are plenty of reasons I've already covered off in this space for why Flames GM Brad Treliving should be kicking the tires on both guys, among other goaltending candidates, to see what the cost would be. One of them, as mentioned, is Treliving has the luxury of being able to bring in a goalie pre-expansion draft without impacting his protected list.

However, while there may be a deal that makes sense for Calgary, it may not be worthwhile for Pittsburgh or New York given the ramifications on each of them in the expansion draft.

If you're Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford, it would be lousy to lose a 12-year veteran like Fleury and get nothing in return, but dealing him could be worse. Trade Fleury and now you're down him and still looking at losing another player such as minute-munching defenceman Brian Dumoulin.

Dumoulin just happens to be the Penguins leader in ice time in these playoffs, yet is likely the guy exposed on the back end if the team opts to protect Kris Letang, Justin Schultz and young Olli Maatta.

So while losing Fleury for nothing sounds like a bad deal in principle, Dumoulin and Fleury both leaving for a draft pick is worse, especially considering the Penguins are coming off a second straight Stanley Cup appearance. The less change, the better.

Same thing for the Rangers.

Flipping Raanta to Calgary for a draft pick prior to expansion may seem like the smart move, but then they would also lose to Vegas Swedish forward Jesper Fast or Michael Grabner or Oscar Lindberg, or a solid blueliner like Nick Holden. Now you're down two players. Viewed that way, losing your back-up goalie to Vegas but keeping the rest of your roster intact -- and it's a very good team coming off a 102-point season -- is a much better outcome.

Post-Expansion Draft Door-Crasher Specials

What we know is Vegas is going to leave the expansion draft with 30 players.

What I expect is McPhee is going to then take all his trade chips and there could be a bunch of them, set up shop at Las Vegas Premium Outlets North, and declare himself open for business.

McPhee has to select 14 forwards, nine defencemen and three goaltenders, but that leaves him with four extras to play with. The smart move would be to grab extra defencemen and goaltenders -- both of whom are always coveted -- and then auction them off to the highest bidder.

I would expect Treliving to be one of the GMs in the store browsing for a long time. Heck, he may have already pre-ordered a limited edition goaltender soon to be in stock.

Making a deal with Vegas for a goalie, now that's the type of deal for the Flames that makes sense for both sides.

While accruing draft picks are fine for McPhee, he also needs to build out his organization and the void out of the expansion draft will be that staggered depth of guys that are one, two and three years out. The expansion draft will net Vegas a lot of solid NHL-ready players, but mostly bottom-six forwards and third pairing d-men, there won't be much high-potential youth. The NHL entry draft is where McPhee will start accumulating youth, but these kids will still be several years away.

Missing are the guys in-between, those players that in the expansion draft are exempt from being selected. With Calgary limited on draft picks anyway -- without both a second and third round pick in 2017 -- it would make way more sense for the Flames to leverage a prospect instead, when shopping for a goaltender.

Maybe it's trading Brett Kulak in a deal for Raanta. Maybe it's dealing Oliver Kylington for Fleury. Maybe it's moving Hunter Shinkaruk for Phillip Grubauer. Don't get hung up on the specific names as they're just examples, more so it's the concept to take notice of and there would be a myriad of possibilities.

Final Word

It's not unusual for it to be quiet around the Stanley Cup. Making news that detracts from the final is generally frowned upon. Once the playoffs are over and that could be as late as June 14, will there be a plethora of news? Probably, but there may not be as many trades as we're anticipating.

For bargain-shopping GMs, the best time to head to Vegas might be for the sidewalk sale that begins June 21. While not all inventory must go, you can bet there will be a handful of players moved.

So when the NHL unveils the Golden Knights 30-player roster, I'd be hesitant to describe it as Vegas unveiling it's 2017-18 team as a bunch of them may not be in Nevada by September. Heck, some won't be there long enough to plug money into a slot machine.

Regardless, with the 2017 NHL Draft coming right after the expansion draft, and on the heels of that being July 1 free agency, we're on the verge of a very busy time in the hockey world. Lest I forget Nashville's Stanley Cup parade that has to squeeze in there too.

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.


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      1. Giving up Kylington for Fleury would be incredibly unwise. I get the point you're making, but if that particular scenario happened, there would be many angry fans.

        1. You're correct in that it's more the concept that I'm promoting. Brandon Hickey's rights, Jon Gillies, David Rittich, Curtis Lazar... the list of prospects the Flames could part with in a deal for the 'right' goalie is much longer than their asset base in terms of draft picks. And a young prospect might be exactly what George McPhee is looking for.

      2. This is a great article, and something people seem to be missing. To build on your example, if you're Pitt and you trade Fleury for a 2nd round pick, you're essentially trading Dumoulin for a 2nd round pick since you're losing Fleury either way. It's not "better to get something than nothing" for Fleury, there's an opportunity cost.

      3. DPG

        I really enjoyed this article. Personally I hope BT can find a way to add a goalie and a top 9 forward b/c of the expansion draft. I think Mcphee would like to turn his 30 picks into something like 35-40 assets. As you pointed out I could see him selecting an extra goalie and focusing on D. He has to build an NHL team but also needs to fill half an AHL team and I'm sure he wants some of that group to be staggered. The best bet for McPhee is either to pick the best player available from each team or already have deals in place to "fill an order". I could see him picking for example Grauber, Raanta, Fleury and a younger guy and saying to Flames who do you want and what will you pay.

        1. I don't know what 'DPG' means but thank you. I agree with you that there very likely deals in place and we'll see a lot of transactions very quickly post-expansion draft and pre-NHL draft with draft picks and other assets flying around. It should be fun. Whether Calgary is in the mix for more than just a goaltender, we'll see. The potential is there but there are also 29 other GMs that will be bidding for similar deals.

          I'd like to see the NHL just keep on adding expansion teams, one every off-season, it's a new wrinkle to the off-season that has been quite fascinating to discuss.

        2. DPG is just my id tag as I don't have any of the other accounts and only post through the anonymous site.

      4. Darren, I love your work to bits, but I think you've missed the fact that Fleury has a no-movement clause in his contract, which forces Pittsburgh to protect him instead of Murray.

        Fleury also has a limited no-trade clause allowing him to select 12 teams he can't be traded to.

        This means Pittsburgh will lose Murray to Vegas for nothing unless they can trade Fleury, get him to waive his no-movement clause, or buy him out.

        Surely Pittsburgh would rather lose Fleury and Dumoulin for a draft pick than lose their young, cost-controlled goalie of the future, Murray, for nothing.

        1. Thanks for the note and reminder that while I've addressed Fleury and his NMC previously in this space, I did not touch on that situation in this particular piece.

          Look, I'm well aware that Fleury has a no-move clause. I also know that he has shown his willingness to wave it in the past as from what I've heard, Jim Rutherford has shopped him around previously but the asking price was too high.

          What we know is Pittsburgh is not losing Murray. He's their guy for the current and the future. He was their choice as No. 1 this season and how things have played out in the playoffs only re-iterates that fact. So we know the Penguins will not move on from Murray or have him taken away. Trust me, there are ways to ensure that even an unprotected player should it come to that are not taken by Vegas.

          Fleury wants to be a No. 1. If he wants to be a prick about it and not wave his NMC, which I get is his right, then he's going to be sitting on the bench in Pittsburgh next year wearing a ball cap. He doesn't want that. He still views himself as a No. 1 goalie and from everything I've heard, he'll gladly go somewhere else to be that and would wave his NMC for that to happen.

          Granted, this is all what I've heard from my channels and nothing has been officially announced on this topic, but I'm not the only one fully expecting Fleury to wave his NMC and thus become eligible to be exposed. I have even heard speculation that a deal for him to go to Vegas is already agreed to. Whether they keep him to be their first (smiling) face of the franchise or flip him, I'd actually lean towards the former as he has some star power and is a nice piece for a new franchise to build around, but we'll see. But that's the background on that and why I'm referring to Fleury as I have.

          I should probably add in a note to this effect for the benefit others that have not read my previous writings and won't have this background. Cheers.

      5. Great article, but I have one issue.

        "If you're Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford, it would be lousy to lose a 12-year veteran like Fleury and get nothing in return, but dealing him could be worse. Trade Fleury and now you're down him and still looking at losing another player such as minute-munching defenceman Brian Dumoulin.
        Dumoulin just happens to be the Penguins leader in ice time in these playoffs, yet is likely the guy exposed on the back end if the team opts to protect Kris Letang, Justin Schultz and young Olli Maatta."

        Why wouldn't they just do the 4-4-1 setup? Crosby, Kessel, Malkin, Hornqvist protected with Guentzel and Sheary being exempt. That would leave Hagelin, Rust, Kuhnhackl and Cole exposed, all of which are expendable, especially with Sprong likely in the NHL next year.

        Fleury may or may not waive his NMC. If he doesn't, he'll either be traded (and his value will be more around Kulak or Shinkaruk than Kylington, given that it's a buyer's market pre-expansion), or bought out. We are the only team with an open goalie spot so if the goal is not to buy him out, we are pretty much the only option for GMJR (other than Vegas, who probably wouldn't pay assets for a goalie considering the plethora of other options available to them for free). If he is bought out, we can try to sign him as a UFA, or he can just go to Vegas anyways. Fleury waiving his NMC would be great for Pittsburgh, but with that comes the risk that he won't get chosen by Vegas (in favour of Rust or Dumo/Maatta), and has to be a back up for two more seasons. Being bought out or traded is the most secure option for him at this point, if he wants to be a starter.

        There are many avenues that Fleury can take, so it really depends how loyal he is to the team. But this is a team that pretty much replaced him as soon as a younger goalie was ready, and replaced him in the middle of a playoff run that he was doing quite well in (imo he was the 2nd round MVP). Obviously the reason for that is 'it's a business,' which is a fair explanation, but in that case, why would Fleury do them a favour of loyalty by waiving him NMC when he has far more control over where he plays and will make more money if he's bought out?

        1. Thanks for the note and the points you raise are all fair and speaks to the uncertainty of what will shake down this week in Pennsylvania.

          The 4-4-1 split is certainly something I would not rule out. We'll soon learn how Rutherford views the depth in the organization.

          As for Fleury, he is in control but he's very much an adored figure in Pittsburgh for all he's done there. Will he hold the team hostage and force them to buy him out? Given the middle finger he'd be giving the team with such a move, which would impact the team's salary cap for the next four years, not sure he is the kind of personality that would want to end his long relationship with that city with a messy divorce like that where he becomes disliked for forcing their hand, despite him having earned the right to do so. But it makes for great debate as we've seen and experienced just now. The nice part is we'll find out soon enough. Cheers.

        2. I agree everything you read and hear about him is that he is a class act and a fine team mate. I am sure he would remain in Pittsburg but also knows his reality. I see in LV next year; I don't see him in Calgary.


      6. I wish I could meet some of the NHL players as well. This is the best chance to meet then I thought but my luck was not with me in that day so I cannot make the day in my favor and I missed the chance in Vegas.