The Vegas Golden Knights are just five months away from debuting in the NHL. It's going to be an extremely exciting 2017-18 season, as the beautiful city of Vegas finally welcomes a professional sports team. But first thing is first -- this team has to assemble its roster for next season.
The NHL has set an Expansion Draft to take place in Vegas on June 21st. This means that the Golden Knights will select one player from all 30 NHL teams. Each team will send in a list of players they want to protect, which essentially means Vegas will be drafting third/fourth liners at best.
But some teams like the Ottawa Senators and Minnesota Wild carry plenty of depth in certain aspects. Other teams carry two quality goalies, even though each club can only protect one. That will make up for plenty of interesting scenarios as the Expansion Draft nears.
Will some teams decide to trade away their BEST unprotected players instead of losing them for nothing? Will some teams be able to convince Vegas into drafting certain players they don't want anymore? Here is a look at 15 potential surprises that could change the Expansion Draft entirely.
*Stats courtesy of ESPN and HockeyDB.com. Salaries and contract details courtesfy of CapFriendly.com*
15 Chicago Blackhawks Trade Marcus Kruger
The Chicago Blackhawks have by far the most depth when it comes to superstardom, but they won't be leaving any top players available in the Expansion Draft. It's widely been speculated that they'll leave fourth-liner Marcus Kruger available to Vegas. He's undoubtedly going to be the best option they have...or will he?
The Blackhawks could decide to trade Kruger, who brings nice speed and grinding to his game. He would be a solid addition to any team looking to get faster while solidifying their forward depth.
But if Chicago trades Kruger to another team, then Vegas suddenly doesn't have many options when it comes to drafting a Blackhawk. Instead of taking a stud from one of the league's best teams, Vegas could be forced to take a career fourth-liner.
14 Vancouver Canucks Expose Brandon Sutter
Brandon Sutter has been one of the league's top third liners since he broke into the NHL. Though far from a superstar, he's scored 17-plus goals four times and has the potential to score 20-plus. He also brings a strong defensive element to his game, but the Vancouver Canucks may decide to cut ties with him.
Though Sutter showed flashes in 2016-17, he's overpaid with a $4.375 million cap hit over the next four seasons. The rebuilding Canucks could decide to clear out as much cap space as possible, and that may include leaving Sutter available.
The Canucks don't have many standout veterans to protect while youngsters Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen and Troy Stecher are automatically protected. Should Vancouver pull off a surprise and leave Sutter available, that could provide Vegas with a top-two centre who carries 20-goal potential.
If Vancouver exposes Sutter, the Dxpansion Draft gets a little more interesting...
13 Calgary Flames Trade Away Forwards
The Calgary Flames had 12 different players score double digit goals in 2016-17, but goaltending was a huge problem for the team. They're widely expected to chase Ben Bishop and Marc-Andre Fleury in the offseason. In order to do that, general manager Brad Treliving may decide to ship out some forwards.
Eric Francis from the Calgary Sun noted that Troy Brouwer, Matt Stajan and Brett Kulak will probably be the best players available to Vegas. Obviously, stars like Sam Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giordano will be protected.
But what if the Flames decide to trade away Brouwer? He's a former 20-goal scorer and brings impressive grit and toughness, and is a proven playoff performer. Calgary should look to get a draft pick or young roster player rather than lose him for nothing. So if they trade Brouwer and/or Stajan? Then Vegas isn't getting much of an impact player from Calgary.
It'll be interesting to see if Treliving decides to trade away his forwards to ensure Vegas doesn't get much from his roster.
12 Toronto Maple Leafs Trade Tyler Bozak
The Maple Leafs have way too much depth at forward (that's a good problem to have, though). With Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, Connor Brown and Tyler Bozak up front, the Leafs know that scoring won't be a problem anytime soon.
But they can only protect so many players, and Tyler Bozak figures to be the best player this team exposes to Vegas. Bozak has been a solid number-two centre, scoring 49-plus points in three of the past four regular seasons.
He would be a great pickup for Vegas, who wouldn't need to worry too much about finding another top centre. But what if Toronto is able to pull off a trade that sends Bozak elsewhere? Once again, Vegas gets robbed of drafting a quality player. A Bozak trade would really shake things up for the Golden Knights.
11 Pittsburgh Penguins Cut a Deal With Vegas
The Penguins have a problem.
They have a 23-year-old stud in the crease named Matt Murray, who guided the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 2016. He's younger, cheaper and all-around better than fellow Penguins goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury.
But here's the deal, Fleury has a no-trade clause and controls his own destiny in Pittsburgh. Should he refuse to waive it, then Murray is suddenly exposed to the Golden Knights -- who wouldn't hesitate to draft him.
Perhaps general manager Jim Rutherford will be so desperate to keep Murray, he's able to make a deal with Vegas. Perhaps trading away a young roster player and/or a first-round pick to Vegas in assurance that they don't draft Murray may be enough to get a deal done. That would totally change up the draft.
10 A Veteran(s) from the King waives his NTC
The Los Angeles Kings are about to enter a rebuilding phase...sort of. They've missed the playoffs in two of the last three years, and many veterans carry expensive contracts that are virtually unmovable right now.
It starts with 30-year-old captain Anze Kopitar, who has seven years left on his contract that'll pay him $10 million a season. He's also coming off the worst season of his career. Dustin Brown has five years left on a deal that'll give him $5.875 million a season. Marian Gaborik will make $4.875 million over four more years. Jonathan Quick will make $5.8 million for six more years.
The thing is, these players are still talented -- they just cost too much money. If Vegas could pick one of them in the draft, they'd be happy too. That will only happen if any of the Kings' veterans are willing to waive their no-trade clauses. That's a long shot to happen, but if it does, it'll surely shake up the draft.
9 Canucks Bribe Vegas To Take Luca Sbisa
Because overpaid veterans like the Sedins, Alexander Edler and Loui Eriksson carry no-movement clauses, the Canucks won't be able to expose any bad contracts they would like to get rid of. Except, defenceman Luca Sbisa is an exception.
General manager Jim Benning has gotten plenty of heat for giving Sbisa $3.6 million a season. Sbisa has just one year left on his contract, but you have to think the Canucks just want to get rid of it now. Therefore, it's not impossible to believe Benning will try to ask Vegas general manager George McPhee to take Sbisa.
Of course, Benning may have to throw in a mid-round selection or prospect to ensure that the Golden Knights take Sbisa. Should the Canucks bribe McPhee into taking the defenceman's bad contract off their hands, it could make for an interesting Expansion Draft...
8 Vegas Trades For Ben Bishop's Rights
The Los Angeles Kings acquired Tampa Bay Lightning star goalie Ben Bishop at the trade deadline, but that was only for insurance in case starter Jonathan Quick got injured again. Bishop is surely going to find a new home in the offseason, and many teams (including Vegas), will be interested in his services.
Of course, Vegas will have the golden opportunity to find a starting goalie through the Expansion Draft. But what if McPhee decides to trade for Bishop's rights before the draft, in order to get a head start at the negotiating table?
Suddenly, things get interesting here. If the Golden Knights trade for Bishop's rights and feel confident in working out an extension, then they may not bother looking at a guy like Matt Murray or Cam Ward in the Expansion Draft.
7 Senators Trade Ryan Dzingel and/or Bobby Ryan
The Senators have too many quality forwards, and face the risk of losing one or two top-six forwards through the draft. Obviously, they'll look to protect Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Derick Brassard, J.G. Pageau, Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf, Craig Anderson and Cody Ceci.
That means that Ryan Dzingel (a pleasant surprise who scored 14 goals this year), or former 30-goal man and playoff hero Bobby Ryan could be left exposed to Vegas. Remember, Ryan lacks a no-movement clause in his deal.
Ottawa could be great to Vegas, who'll have a great opportunity to land a potential 20-goal scorer here. But if the Senators decide to trade Dzingel and/or Ryan to other teams, then Vegas won't get much of an impact player from them. General manager Pierre Dorion may decide to trade them and get something in return.
6 Anaheim Ducks Trade Jakob Silfverberg
Back in November, TSN's Craig Button projected the Golden Knights to select Anaheim Ducks' winger Jakob Silfverberg in the Expansion Draft. Anaheim will have to protect the likes of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Nick Ritchie, Rickard Rackell, Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm, among others.
Jakob Silfverberg is quietly emerging as one of the league's best wingers. He scored a career-best 23 goals in 2016-17 after scoring 20 last year. He's a player the Ducks cannot lose for nothing, so you have to assume they'll look to trade him.
And as we said before with other teams, should the Ducks decide to trade away their best unprotected player, then Vegas won't come away with a potential star from another team. This could really hurt them if they miss out on a guy like Silfverbeg.
5 Islanders Trade Away a Defenceman
The Islanders have plenty of depth at forward and on defence. Their loaded blue line includes Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan and Dennis Seidenberg. But the Islanders can only protect up to three defencemen, and that could mean losing a young stud like Hamonic or de Haan.
With that, general manager Garth Snow will not want to lose any of his top blueliners for nothing. Guys like Hamonic and de Haan could net first-round selections, NHL-ready prospects or even quality roster plays of equal value.
So if the Islanders decide to swing a trade with a non-Vegas team, then that'll affect the Expansion Draft. Or, they could choose to not trade any of their blueliners and watch Vegas select one of them. Things are going to be interesting on Long Island...for once.
4 Capitals Trade Philipp Grubauer
There is zero doubting that the Washington Capitals will choose to protect goalie Braden Holtby, who is arguably the best netminder in the world. But Washington also has a 25-year-old backup named Philipp Grubauer, who showed that he's more than ready to be a starter in 2016-17.
Grubauer went 13-6-2 with a .926 save percentage and 2.05 goals against average with three shutouts this season. And since Washington can only protect one goalie, they face the possibility of losing Grubauer for nothing. If Vegas doesn't wind up with a guy like Fleury or Bishop, McPhee could take a strong look at Grubauer.
Should the Capitals leave Grubauer exposed, you can bet that the Golden Knights will take him without question. But should they swing a trade with another team, they'll sabotage Vegas' chances of getting a top-notch goalie.
3 Red Wings Bribe Golden Knights
After seeing their 25-year playoff streak come to an end, the Detroit Red Wings need to kick start a rebuild. The main problems are that they don't have many NHL-ready prospects in the system, and that they have way too many past-their-prime veterans that carry expensive contracts.
Captain Henrik Zetterberg has four years left at a $6.083 million cap hit, but you can expect he won't be going anywhere. Frans Nielsen has five years left at a $5.25 million cap hit per season. Justin Abdelkader has six years left at $4.25 million a season. Niklas Kronwall has two years left at 4.75 million a season. Darren Helm has four years left at $3.85 million a season.
Detroit really has to shed as much salary as possible. A big twist? Imagine Ken Holland bribing Vegas to select one of those bad contracts while throwing a draft pick or young roster player the other way. Giving them a second rounder for taking a guy like Helm could work out well for Detroit. And that would totally shake up the Expansion Draft!
2 Wild Trade Away a Defenceman
According to NHL.com, each team can either A) Protect seven forwards, three defenceman and a goalie OR B) Protect eight skaters and a defenceman. For the Minnesota Wild, you have to assume they'll go with option A.
But the problem is, Minnesota has way too much talent on the blue line. With Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella on defence, the Wild are sure to lose at least one of those in the Expansion Draft. That is unless general manager Chuck Fletcher can swing a deal, though.
All five of those blueliners have potential to be a top-pairing guy on another team. There is no way Minnesota can lose one of them for nothing. If the Wild trade one of them (which would ideally bring in another scorer), then Vegas would have to go to Plan B in drafting another player from Minnesota.
And believe us, Plan A would be far more ideal.
1 Marc-Andre Fleury Creates Problem in Pittsburgh
We already talked about Vegas being able to cut a deal with Pittsburgh. But what if no such deal takes place? Then here's what could happen.
Marc-Andre Fleury decides he wants to stay a Penguin and refuses to waive his no-trade clause (and this isn't out of the question. He's been great with Pittsburgh and has no reason to want to leave). Then Murray is going to be exposed, and there's nothing the Penguins can do about it.
Vegas would surely prefer drafting Murray than receive a late-first round pick from Pittsburgh in an extremely weak draft class. In a perfect world for Vegas, they select Murray in the Expansion Draft.
And this will be because Fleury refused to leave Pittsburgh. Oh, how exciting things are about to get...