NHL expansion no longer seems as sure a thing as it did a few months ago, with Las Vegas waiting for the phone to ring and Quebec City reportedly out of the running because of the weak Canadian dollar. But if it happens, we’re going to know soon: expansion for the 2017-18 season would be made official before this June’s draft. And now we know exactly how the new team or teams would stock their rosters.
The idea of an expansion draft is always better in theory than in practice. Take a look at the players chosen in the drafts in 1998 (Nashville), 1999 (Atlanta), and 2000 (Minnesota and Columbus). The first players chosen were, respectively, Frederic Chabot, Trevor Kidd, and Rick Tabaracci, and the first skaters off the board were Joel Bouchard, Petr Buzek, and Sean O’Donnell. That’s grim.
All those teams were terrible for years, and the NHL doesn’t want it to happen again, for obvious reasons—it’s harder to build a fanbase and help new owners recoup their investment if they’re icing trash teams. The next expansion draft will be different.
“I think the expansion rules are going to be loosened to an extent so that these guys can be more competitive,” St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong said Sunday. “I think what the league doesn’t want — and I say this as an employee of the league — is a situation like Atlanta where you give them an expansion franchise, they put a horseshit product on the ice for a decade, then say it’s not a hockey market.”
The problem was that teams were allowed to protect too many of their own players, leaving the real dregs for the new franchises. In 2000, for example, teams could protect either two goalies, seven forwards, and three defensemen or one goalie, nine forwards, and five defensemen. That made sure the only players available were constant healthy scratches, bottom-line and -pairing scrubs, and a whole bunch of unpromising AHL talent.
Indeed, the next expansion draft will be a little more generous. The plan was announced at the GM meetings today. Teams can opt to protect either
- One goalie, seven forwards, and three defensemen; or
- One goalie and eight skaters of any stripe.
Additionally, first- and second-year pros will be exempt. (This means professionals of any kind, so the clock started ticking when they got their first minor league paycheck.) If there is one new expansion team, existing teams risk losing one player; if there are two, they could lose up to two.
This bodes well for potential expansion teams, and it’s not just that fewer players will be protected. Because teams won’t be able to protect two goalies, any expansion teams will be able to start life with a quality netminder; that’s a big deal.
Additionally, we live in the salary cap era now—you can bet that teams will be willing to lose talented but overpaid players just to get them off their books. Think Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik, Jordan Staal, David Clarkson, etc. There’s no guarantee that Las Vegas or Quebec would want to shell out that kind of money for any of these guys, but they’d have the option of rostering someone better than Joel freaking Bouchard.