The 2017 NHL offseason is a little bit more unpredictable than those of the past, mostly due to the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights to the equation. The expansion draft on June 21 will just be one step GM George McPhee will take in building his roster, a process that will consume the entirety of the offseason.
There’s no doubt about it: teams in a cap crunch are going to be knocking on Vegas’ door, trying their best to dump some problematic contracts on the expansion club. Vegas of course has little incentive to help other clubs out for nothing, but this position gives them a lot of leverage in these negotiations.
Rumor has it that the only way the salary cap will go up in 2017-18 is if the NHLPA uses its escalator clause, and it sounds like there is little appetite for that among the committee. Hence, a handful of clubs will need the shed salary, fast.
Enter Vegas. Look, if you’re George McPhee, you know darn well that the first few seasons aren’t for winning. You need to stock the cupboard with draft picks and prospects and hope to strike gold on some of them. That means McPhee can take a few problematic contracts on, but only if: A) they aren’t too long term and; B) they get assets (picks) as well.
Before getting into today’s list, we should all be aware of the factor of the “expansion handshake deal.” In these scenarios, teams will basically tell McPhee that they will expose player X (one who is of particular interest to the expansion Golden Knights), but only if you take on this problem contract.
It should be an interesting month. Nobody knows who will end up in Sin City this summer, but I’m willing to take some guesses. Here are 15 trades involving the Vegas Golden Knights that could happen prior to free agency.
15 Marcus Kruger & A 4th Round Pick For Futures
This one would fall under the “handshake deal” category. Rumor broke sometime during the last week of May that the Golden Knights were keen on Chicago defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk. The Blackhawks are in a unique position in regards to their protections, as most of their choices are already made for them thanks to the healthy collection of NMC contracts.
Basically, the smart move here from Chicago would be to protect TVR, but there’s no denying that Chicago is in a really tight cap crunch. They need to shed salary before the season starts, so rumor has it the ‘Hawks have agreed to leave van Riemsdyk exposed, but only if the Golden Knights take on the Marcus Kruger contract. There are only two more years left at just north of a $3M AAV, so the Golden Knights should consider this—but make the Blackhawks kick in a middle-round pick as a sweetener.
14 Semyon Varlamov for a 4th Round Pick
Semyon Varlamov is coming off his worst season as a starter, but there is reason to believe GM George McPhee has his eye on Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov. McPhee knows the player well, as he drafted him in the 1st round back in 2006 as GM of the Capitals. He then also traded him to the Avalanche in 2011 for a 1st and 2nd round pick, so maybe he isn’t full on in love with the goalie.
It will be difficult for the Golden Knights to find a bona fide starter via the expansion draft, so the trade route makes the most sense. Varlamov is a good bet to have a bounce back season, he just turned 29, and there are only two more seasons left on his contract. The Russian netminder probably wouldn’t mind a fresh start either, after such a tough year in Denver.
13 Scott Hartnell & 3rd Round Pick For 7th Rd Pick
Here’s another one of those hypothetical handshake deals, but hear me out here. The Columbus Blue Jackets are in a tough spot for the upcoming expansion draft. A handful of young forwards had great seasons for the Jackets this year, and because they were slowly developed in the AHL, they aren’t exempt from expansion protection.
This one all depends on a handful of things: first off, Hartnell would have to waive his no-move clause, which I already consider unlikely. Second, the Golden Knights would need to value draft picks very highly, which I do believe they do at this point. In any case, the Jackets will be looking to move at least one of their NMCs up front (Nick Foligno and Dubinsky have the others), and Hartnell’s will be the easiest to move based on term.
12 Brandon Davidson
This trade is an interesting one for Vegas, because in all likelihood they will be able to grab Brandon Davidson from Montreal in the expansion draft anyway. However, in the off chance that Montreal elects to go 4-4-1 instead of 7-3-1, then the Golden Knights would be best advised to act on a deal like this. No, they shouldn’t be dealing their picks away willy-nilly, but this trade is also contingent on them having collected picks elsewhere.
Davidson joined the Canadiens at the 2017 trade deadline, and his usage since then leads one to believe that he’s not a part of the plan moving ahead (he only dressed for three of six playoff games). The 25-year-old defenseman had a tough year because of injuries, but he’s been trending in the right direction for years and would be a savvy pickup for the Golden Knights.
11 Marco Scandella For A 3rd Round Pick
Again, McPhee should be wary of giving up draft picks via trades, so whenever I suggest this know that it’s contingent on him having acquired picks in deals elsewhere. The Minnesota Wild are, in a word, hooped for the upcoming expansion draft. With incredible depth throughout the roster, it’s impossible to say who they will leave exposed, but they will most certainly have to leave a top-four defenseman exposed.
That is, unless, they try to deal one of those defensemen so as to not lose such a valuable asset for nothing. If this is the route Minnesota chooses to go, the Golden Knights should be right in on this. I chose Scandella because his term is the shortest of the D-men Minnesota would consider trading, but this could very well be Matt Dumba or maybe even Jared Spurgeon.
10 Tobias Enstrom For A 3rd & 4th Round Pick
Winnipeg has a lot of reason to trade Tobias Enstrom, as he has a hefty contract with a NMC. Enstrom isn’t used as he’d like to be used anymore, and I imagine he’d waive his NMC for the chance to play top-four minutes in Vegas. This trade would help the Jets out of a cap crunch AND expansion issue, as it would afford them the ability to protect Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, and Jacob Trouba on the back end.
From Vegas’ standpoint, it’s a pretty low risk move as well. Sure, if they don’t pull off this trade then there’s a chance they could get an even better player from Winnipeg in the draft, but that doesn’t mean Winnipeg won’t be able to find a deal elsewhere. Plus, McPhee will covet picks, and if the Jets are kicking in an upgrade (as they are in this proposal), it works for both sides.
9 Ilya Kovalchuk For A Conditional 2nd Round Pick
This is one of the more far-fetched deals I have here, but can you imagine? Ilya Kovalchuk has expressed interest in a return to the NHL in 2017-18, and it’s looking imminent. Now, will Kovy want to stay in New Jersey, or will they deal his rights to another club? Furthermore, if dealt, would Kovalchuk really want to sign with an expansion club with little chance of winning?
Even though it’s unlikely it all comes together for this deal, Vegas does need a face for their franchise. With due respect to Vadim Shipachyov and Reid Duke, the face needs to be at least somewhat recognizable and the name needs a little more notoriety. Kovalchuk fits that bill to a T. Perhaps he could even be the franchise’s first captain…
8 Jimmy Hayes For A 7th Round Pick
Honestly, I don’t think the Boston Bruins will be able to protect Jimmy Hayes. They have four no-move clauses as it is, and that doesn’t include them still having to protect Brad Marchand, Matt Beleskey, Riley Nash, David Pastrnak, and Ryan Spooner. Now, the Golden Knights will still have the opportunity to grab a stellar player from Beantown, but this move is cap-related for the Bruins.
No, Hayes’ contract isn’t crippling at $2.3M, and there is just the one year left on it. But, when you consider that the Bruins are sitting with roughly $10M in cap space and still require 2017-18 deals for RFAs David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner, that $2.3M will go a long way. Hayes has been underwhelming for Boston since joining the club, so his value is likely low league-wide for that price.
7 Rick Nash & A 5th Rounder For A 6th Rounder
Say what? The Rangers are going to trade Rick Nash AND drop a round in the draft to do so? Why the heck would they do that? Well, the answer to that question is, again, the salary cap. Nash is still a serviceable player, but his $7.8M cap hit is a little too much for the Rangers to stomach for even one more season—especially when you consider that they have less than $10M in cap space and still six RFAs (at least four of which they should prioritize).
This, again, requires the player to waive his NMC, and frankly I see that as unlikely in Nash’s case. If it happens, though, I don’t really see why the Rangers and Golden Knights wouldn’t do this. The Golden Knights are getting a bona fide first-line winger for their inaugural season with only one year’s commitment, and the Rangers are solving a cap issue that desperately needs solving.
6 Rickard Rakell For A 2nd Round Pick
If you’re looking for a team that is completely boned for the upcoming expansion draft, look no further than the Anaheim Ducks. They’re screwed on so many levels that I almost feel bad for them, and I detest the Ducks. Even if they convince Kevin Bieksa to waive his NMC, they will likely lose Josh Manson on the back end. If they elect to go 4-4-1, then they lose one of Rickard Rakell or Jakob Silfverberg.
This basically means that they’ll be trying to trade a defenseman—probably Sami Vatanen—prior to expansion. If they’re unable to do this, then this could be plan B. Rakell is a heck of a player and is coming off a 30-goal season, so it’s possible that Anaheim’s ask is a little higher here, and it’s also possible they ask around the other 29 teams as well. Needless to say, the next month or so spells interesting times for the Ducks franchise.
5 Mike Green & A 6th Rounder For A 5th Rounder
Mike Green is a shade of the player he once was when he was putting up 70 point seasons from the blue line in Washington, but he still has value. The problem for the Red Wings, though, is that they are another team in a cap crunch, and shedding Green’s $6M salary for the 2017-18 season would be of great benefit to them.
Vegas doesn’t have to give up much in this hypothetical, and Green is still a great bottom-pairing option who would play on the top unit power play in Vegas. The veteran would also give the young defensemen Vegas undoubtedly picks up in expansion some shelter for their first year in Sin City, which has value. The Red Wings have only $5M or so in cap space, and still need to ink RFAs Tomas Tatar and Andreas Athanasiou to new deals. Something’s gotta give.
4 Tomas Hertl For A 3rd Rounder
Tomas Hertl hasn’t developed the way the Sharks probably had hoped, and as a result I would assume they deem him as expendable. Hertl is the type of prospect that Las Vegas could be very interested in. He’s shown signs of elite-level talent already in his young career, and he has one season left on the bridge deal he signed worth $3M.
Acquiring Hertl would be a boon for the Golden Knights, as his expiring contract and pending RFA status would make him extra appetizing at the 2018 trade deadline. If the Golden Knights are happy with him, they can re-sign him, but if they’re ready to move on, they can probably flip him to a playoff team at the deadline for at least a 3rd round pick, if not more.
3 Eddie Lack For A 7th Rounder
The Carolina Hurricanes have found themselves in a desperate situation when it comes to the crease, and that’s exactly why they’re going to be willing to give up Eddie Lack for what results in negative value. A 7th round pick is next to useless in the NHL, as players selected that later rarely play a game in the league.
Lack has basically no value for the Hurricanes right now, and with the recent arrival of Scott Darling (who they will most certainly protect in expansion), the ‘Canes need to shed either Lack or Cam Ward. It’s true that Vegas will get to choose either in expansion for free, but if they forfeit a 7th rounder for Lack that allows them to nab another player off of Carolina’s roster—perhaps a defenseman.
2 Ryan Strome For A 3rd Rounder
The New York Islanders are perhaps on their way to a somewhat significant rebuild, but that won’t kick-in until after the 2017-18 season. In the short term, they have a few expansion draft conundrums, as they have assets they aren’t able to protect and would be sorry to see go for no return. They’re particularly deep up front, and with reason to believe Ryan Strome has fallen out of favor, they might try to deal him in the coming weeks.
If you’re Vegas, why not take a chance on Strome? He comes with just one season remaining on his bridge contract that pays him $2.5M, and at 23 years old has lots of room to grow his game. As an expansion franchise, McPhee is going to want to gather as many prospects as possible, and that includes young players already at the NHL level.
1 Jordan Eberle
If you were to hit an Edmonton Oilers message board these days, you would think that Jordan Eberle is the league’s worst player. However, if you take a step back, it’s easy to see that a five-time 20 goal scorer and consistent 50 to 65 point producer does indeed hold value in the NHL. Now, the Edmonton Oilers have a cap crunch on the horizon, but they don’t truly need to concern themselves until 2018-19, when Connor McDavid’s second pro contract will take effect.
It’s accepted that Edmonton will probably be looking to deal either Eberle or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and since they both come with $6M cap hits, many believe this may be a challenge for GM Peter Chiarelli. Although this deal is admittedly likely to take place after 2017-18, Vegas might as well get in on the action here. It’s not often teams are selling off perennial 20 goal scorers for nickels on the dollar.