It’s June 17, the day that has been noted on NHL calendars for the last several months. The next 24 hours will serve as a prelude to an active week across the NHL as teams make moves to protect and expose certain assets and the Vegas Golden Knights will begin to have a semblance of how their roster will take shape. First, the vitals: At 12:00 p.m. PT today a trade/waiver freeze begins in which all teams other than the Golden Knights will not be able to sign, re-sign or trade players. At 2:00 p.m. PT today, expansion protection list are due in to the league office, and at 7:00 a.m. PT Sunday morning, those lists will be made public, and at that time, Vegas will be allowed to negotiate with unprotected UFAs and RFAs. Should they sign an unprotected UFA/RFA, it would count as the selection from that player’s team. Again, all teams will lose a player to expansion.
Several quick bullet point-type decrees: 1) The sense I get is that most of the trades we’ll see throughout the remainder of June are most likely to take place between Thursday, June 22 and Friday, June 23, after the trade freeze is lifted at 5:00 a.m. PT that Thursday. 2) Vegas will be in a position to collect a number of draft picks, which they will likely stagger between 2017 and 2018, and very possibly 2019 as well. 3) As it relates to the Kings, I’m not expecting any excess drama. It is most likely that they will simply lose one player via expansion and move on. If there is a trade to be made by L.A., it will take place between them and another club, and probably not in a deal with the Golden Knights in an effort to channel them to or away from certain players. The Kings are not in as shaky ground in expansion as the Blue Jackets, who it appears will have to surrender a first round pick and a prospect to entice the Golden Knights to select one of three players, one of whom was the second overall pick in 2012, as well as David Clarkson’s contract. This is an appropriate spot for that wide-eyes emoji. (Nice reporting here by Aaron Portzline, by the way.)
For Los Angeles, I am not aware of any deals in place with Vegas or any other teams at the moment, and as such, would expect the Kings to protect eight skaters and Jonathan Quick instead of using the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender. Those eight skaters are, most likely, Anze Kopitar (who has a no-movement clause), Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli, Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez and Derek Forbort. Forbort is basically the only member of this list who isn’t a slam dunk, but any deviance from this group could signal that the Kings have some sort of agreement in place with Vegas or another team, which, as noted, doesn’t appear to be the likeliest scenario at this point.
I was asked by the Washington Post (thank you Isabelle!) to supply an expected protection list earlier this week as part of a mock draft in which the league’s beat writers and the Post helped put together the inaugural Golden Knights. No “side deals” were assumed by the writers, so I submitted the 8/1 list shared above and offered a pair of players that I thought to be most likely to be selected in the expansion draft. Those players were Nic Dowd and Trevor Lewis, though in the draft that the Post held, they ended up selecting Brayden McNabb from the Kings. All are candidates for selection.
And this leads to another reminder that we’ve shared for the better part of the last 18 months: don’t expect Vegas to take on the contracts of Dustin Brown or Marian Gaborik. Pierre LeBrun noted on Twitter this morning that he believes the Kings inquired about what it would take for the Golden Knights to take on Gaborik, and he doesn’t “think that convo lasted long.” The Kings have, at times, over the last two seasons, tried to incentivize teams to take on Brown and Gaborik’s contracts, and haven’t been able to forge any sort of an agreement that made sense. As has been shared, I’m not expecting this to change for the expansion draft.
Back to who Los Angeles could potentially lose. This is not meant as any sort of knock on any player. These are all excellent hockey players who are firmly ensconced in the National Hockey League and play important roles on the Kings. It would hurt the team to lose any of them. This is simply a reflection of numbers, contracts, and the fact that Los Angeles does not have the flexibility, as it stands, to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender. But with all of this considered, the loss of particular players could be mitigated by their contract status and position.
Center depth is so vital for success, and for a team that will be looking to bolster its offensive numbers and focus on better zone entries and distributing the puck into high-danger offensive zone areas, a loss of a playmaker such as Dowd, who commands only a $640,000 cap hit, would be particularly problematic as it would reduce a cap-strapped club’s center depth and remove a player who could yield production at a low cost. Keep in mind that Dowd has one year remaining on his contract and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2018. There are pros and cons for taking a player with one year remaining on their contract; obviously, there is the uncertainty towards their presence past 2017-18, but players on their final contract year – especially centers – can fetch draft picks at the trade deadline if the prospects of re-signing them are murky.
McNabb, who has a $1.7M cap hit, is also due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2018. Obviously the Kings would lose a young, character figure and sturdy physical presence on the back end were he to be claimed in expansion, but with Derek Forbort’s emergence and the expectation that Kevin Gravel could be able to continue to grow into a firmer role on the back end, there are less expensive options that could cushion the blow should McNabb be selected in expansion. The sense I get was that McNabb would’ve been the most likely player selected were this draft held in January, but he’s probably not the most likely player to be selected at this point.
Lewis has a $2M cap hit through 2020, so several of the notes above about cap space opening up flexibility apply. But, come on – Trevor Lewis is an emotional, bought-in member of the leadership committee who locked down important roles during the Stanley Cup and playoff runs. He’s a highly appreciated, even cult-like figure for many in the fanbase and one of the most popular and important figures in the dressing room when the dressing room doors are closed. For the harder to define and quantify but certainly legitimate criteria such as chemistry, work ethic and respect, the selection of Lewis by Vegas would represent such an unfitting thud to his years of appreciated service to the club. The Kings are much better off holding on to the versatile forward, whose cap hit reflects more than just production.
Those are probably the three players most likely to be selected, but there are others Vegas will also be likely to consider. Kyle Clifford is still young and a respected leader and figure in the dressing room, but $1.6M for three more years may be a bit too much to absorb for a younger player who, while versatile on the left side and a heart-and-soul contributor, hasn’t yet averaged 11 minutes per game in his career. Nick Shore, an RFA, doesn’t have a contract at the moment, and the Golden Knights could choose to negotiate with him during their upcoming window. He was still the youngest regular on the team last year prior to Adrian Kempe’s arrival, and, after a six-goal, 17-point season, has certainly shown that at the very least he can hold down a fourth line center role. Perhaps prospect Justin Auger is appealing to Vegas, or young forwards Michael Mersch or Andy Andreoff. All three are RFAs.
Of course, this all changes should Los Angeles make a move prior to the trade freeze, but I’m not under the sense that anything is imminent. There are some fun tools, courtesy of Cap Friendly, that you can use to project your own Golden Knights expansion roster. Vegas’ selections will be revealed during the NHL Awards and Expansion Draft show on NBCSN this Wednesday beginning at 5:00 p.m. PT.
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) June 14, 2017