The Las Vegas NHL Team Is Going To Be Not Terrible

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As decided by the executive committee last week—but not leaked until yesterday—the NHL is prepared to expand to Las Vegas for the 2017-18 season, assuming billionaire prospective owner Bill Foley and friends can come up with the $500 million expansion fee. (They can.)

That’s tough news for fans in Quebec City, who have been without major pro sports team since the Nordiques packed up for Denver in 1995. Quebec will have to wait; the market was deemed “too small” and the weak Canadian dollar scared off the NHL, and the unbalanced conferences mean the league could really use one more team in the West. (The NHL desperately wants to get into Seattle, but that is dependent on a new arena, which is itself dependent on the promise of an NBA team. It might be a long wait.)


But it’s exciting for Las Vegas, both for the local fans-in-waiting of the Black Knights—the odds-on favorite for team name—and for the tourism industry, which is expected to play a large role in the team’s sustainability. It’ll be a first for a major North American sports league, and it will hopefully prove to the others that mere proximity to sportsbooks won’t be the end of civilization. And the NHL has shown no inclination to seek a ban on the new team’s games being listed in local casinos.

But what does this mean for you, fan of a team that already exists? For obvious financial reasons, the NHL is determined that Las Vegas achieve competitiveness relatively quickly, compared to most expansion teams of years past. An expansion draft is going to happen next year, and we already know roughly what it’s going to look like. An outline was presented at the GM meetings in March, and more details were reported Friday, by Sportsnet and The Globe and Mail. And there are two rules that matter above all.


1. Teams will have the option to protect either seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie, or eight skaters at any position and one goalie. That’ll mean some interesting tradeoffs to be made: if a team doesn’t want to risk losing a second-pairing defenseman, it’s going to be forced to expose two second-line forwards.

It’s also a change from the last expansion draft, when teams could choose to protect two goalies. Think of all the decent backups around the league now, and the out-and-out goalie controversies—some legitimate potential starters are going to be headed to Vegas. (Luckily for Tampa, Ben Bishop is a UFA next summer. Pittsburgh’s situation might be a little trickier, especially if they’d be forced to protect Marc-Andre Fleury due to his limited no-movement clause. But, this is why the NHL is giving teams a year’s heads-up to plan for this.)

2. Teams will be forced to expose at least two forwards and one defenseman who played at least 40 games in the previous season, or a combined 70 in the previous two. That means legit NHL-caliber guys are going to be drafted.

Because Las Vegas must draft one player from all 30 teams, your team is going to lose someone it regularly ices.


Some more rules:

  • Teams must protect players that have no-movement clauses active in the 2017-18 season, though they can ask those players to waive their no-movement clauses.
  • First- and second-year pros (that includes NHL and AHL time) are exempt.
  • Teams cannot reacquire players they trade after Jan. 1, 2017 prior to Jan. 1, 2018.
  • Las Vegas must draft a team that earns between 60 percent and 100 percent of the 2016-17 salary cap.
  • Las Vegas will get draft lottery odds equivalent to the team that finishes third-last in the league this upcoming season.

Expansion drafts are great! At least in theory, until you see the underwhelming roster that results. But with just one expansion team in play, and draft rules designed to build it up quickly, Las Vegas’s new team should at least be less underwhelming than usual.