With the NHL’s trade freeze now in effect, the Vegas Golden Knights are now in the driver’s seat and begin to plan out their Expansion Draft strategy. Many talented and valuable unprotected players are now up for grabs for this new franchise to gather and build their infant club. On top of the actual draft itself, the Golden Knights may already have deals in place with other teams like Columbus or Minnesota in order to draft a specific player in return for an extra asset. Between today and the presentation of the Golden Knights draft choices at the NHL Award in Las Vega, Vegas can secure more deals with other franchises in order to select their unprotected players now that these teams could not find ways to monetize their extra assets before the trade freeze. Let’s take a look at a list of players that could force teams to sacrifice an extra asset for in order to bait the new Sin City franchise into drafting them:
Tomas Plekanec: With a $6 million cap hit for next season, the Montreal Canadiens now find themselves in uncertain cap troubles. The acquisition, and later signing, of Jonathan Drouin has helped the Habs bolster their forward group, but, with Alex Galchenyuk, Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov all seeking new deals, the wiggle room for next year might be very tight. Andrei Markov made $5.75 million last year and will probably seek a one-year deal north of $4 million, while Alexander Radulov is seeking a long-term 7-year deal at about $6.5 million. Galchenyuk has found himself looking for another short-term deal in order to prove his worth as both a forward and a center, but, even with the above baggage, he will still command $4million + per season. That doesn’t leave much room for big contracts like Plekanec’s and that of bruising defender Alexei Emelin ($4.1 million), but, due the Habs short list of NHL quality left-handed defensemen, Alexei Emelin is worth more to the Habs overall success than Plekanec at this point. In as such, Montreal maybe have to sacrifice a 2nd round pick, of which they own two in this draft thanks to the Eller trade with Washington at last year’s draft. This will also allow Bergevin some wiggle room in case a deal does come around for another top-4 or potential top-six center. Although Plekanec has been with the Habs since he was drafted 71st overall in 2001, his recent performances have left many thoroughly disappointed and will most likely lead to his exit.
Marc Methot: Many will look at Methot’s name and immediately point out that Ottawa could protect Methot, along with Cody Ceci and Erik Karlsson, and expose Dion Phaneuf. Although Phaneuf being drafted by Vegas is also a possibility, the veteran rearguard is an overall superior defenseman to Marc Methot in almost every category, but his $7 million cap hit may push him out of Ottawa come June 21st. Phaneuf’s full value was on display during the most recent NHL playoffs, as he anchored a blue line all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Phaneuf was an integral part of the playoff run with his booming slapshot, his great physical play and his good first pass. Marc Methot , albeit a serviceable defenseman, is mostly a defensive defenseman with a low scoring rate and low possession numbers while playing with Erik Karlsson on a nightly basis. Even when Methot went down with an injury at the of the last season, the Senators did not miss a beat because of Phaneuf’s calming presence on the blueline with the likes of Cody Ceci and Fredrik Claesson. Phaneuf will be counted on to mentor upcoming defensive phenom Thomas Chabot, as he will most certainly make the Senators’ roster next fall; especially if they were to lose Methot at the Expansion Draft. Thus, with prospects knocking at the door, quality leadership and offensive abilities from Karlsson, Ceci and Phaneuf, Methot would most certainly be the obvious target for exposure on the Sens’ blueline and a key target for the Vegas Golden Knights.
Sami Vatanen: It has become evident to many that Sami Vatanen is most likely on his way out of Orange County. The Ducks may possibly have a deal in place with the Vegas Golden Knights in order to save the plethora of young unprotected defensemen on their roster. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Kevin Bieksa would surely be the three defensemen the Ducks would protect, and this would leave the likes of Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson available for Vegas. Sami Vatanen would be the better option to unload for the Ducks when it comes to salary, as Vatanen’s $4.875 million heavily outweighs Manson’s $0.825 million cap hit. With Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour rising through the ranks on the first two defensive pairings in Anaheim, it appears Vatanen has been pushed back to the third pairing and represents an expensive powerplay specialist. On a team like the Golden Knights, Vatanen would be able to anchor their power play at a more than respectable salary, while also getting quality top-4 minutes. For the Ducks, allowing or enticing the Golden Knights to take Vatanen off their hands would grant them some serious cap relief to sign Theodore and Montour to long-term extensions.
Matt Dumba: I made this pick because the Minnesotta Wild are simply stacked at all positions. Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon seem to be locks for protection. This leaves Marco Scandella and Matt Dumba as potential expansion bait for the Vegas Golden Knights to snatch up. On the flipside, the Wild forward corps would also be extremely attractive for an expansion team, as the club would most likely protect captain Miko Koivu, Zach Parise (NMC), Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund, Jason Pomminville (NMC) and Charlie Coyle. This would leave Eric Staal and Nino Niederreiter exposed. However, if we learned anything from the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson tradelast summer, it is that top 4 defensemen significantly out weight the trade value of top-6 forwards. With that being said, if the choice of Nino and Dumba were laid out in front of Vegas GM George McPhee, the new franchise would look to capitalize on the high value of defensemen.
Dumba is exactly what a new franchise would want in a top 4 defenseman, as the 24-year-old rearguard came into his own this season and has begun to show excellent progression from his explosive junior days. Dumba would help drive the offense on the powerplay for Vegas for years to come and could carry a younger defense corps later on in his career. With his 11 goals and 23 assists (all career highs), Dumba would help the Golden Knights be competitive right out of the gate.
Dustin Brown: The former captain of the Los Angeles Kings has certainly had a fall from grace over the last three seasons. Once the captain of a two-time Stanley Cup winning Kings, Brown’s offensive struggles and lack of speed saw him heavily criticized, stripped of his captaincy and, in some games, benched in favor of younger and faster talent. Having only produced an average of 30 points per 82 games for the last three seasons, the 32-year-old forward, who holds a $5.875 million cap hit, has been shopped to other teams over the past two seasons to no avail. Enter Vegas. With the upcoming expansion draft, many believe the Kings are ready to sacrifice their first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft in order to finally be rid of Dustin Brown’s albatross contract. This would allow them the funds to bolster their criminally depleted defensive depth and lower the pressure on Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin. This move also allows the young Adrian Kempe to jump into the lineup full-time, who will present a cheaper, faster and more promising performance than Brown at this late stage of his career. He would instantly bring leadership and experience to a new and most likely young team in Vegas. Vegas would have him on the books for another four seasons, where he plays a similar role, but to a lesser extent in offensive production, as that of Shane Doan over the last decade for the Coyotes.
It should be an exciting week ahead for the NHL and its fans. Vegas has certainly created a buzz for fans and the Expansion Draft has truly allowed teams to either suffer or profit from the entry of a new team into their league. At this point, we have already felt the effects of the Expansion Draft across the league with the Drouin, Beaulieu and Mueller trades, but, with Vegas picking 30 players and only being to ice 23, the trades are far from over.