UNDERSTANDING THE EXPANSION DRAFT RULES
Before we all jump into our list speculation, nitpicking evaluations, and CapFriendly mock drafts, let's break down the official 2017 Expansion Draft rules so we all know what we're dealing with.
* Clubs will have two options for players they wish to protect in the Expansion Draft:
a) Seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender
b) Eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goaltender
* All players who have currently effective and continuing "No Movement" clauses at the time of the Expansion Draft (and who to decline to waive such clauses) must be protected (and will be counted toward their club's applicable protection limits).
* All first- and second-year professionals, as well as all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward their club's applicable protection limits).
2. Player Exposure Requirements
* All Clubs must meet the following minimum requirements regarding players exposed for selection in the Expansion Draft:
i) One defenseman who is (a) under contract in 2017-18 and (b) played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.
ii) Two forwards who are (a) under contract in 2017-18 and (b) played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.
iii) One goaltender who is under contract in 2017-18 or will be a restricted free agent at the expiration of his current contract immediately prior to 2017-18. If the club elects to make a restricted free agent goaltender available in order to meet this requirement, that goaltender must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the club's protected list.
* Players with potential career-ending injuries who have missed more than the previous 60 consecutive games (or who otherwise have been confirmed to have a career-threatening injury) may not be used to satisfy a club's player exposure requirements, unless approval is received from the NHL. Such players also may be deemed exempt from selection by the League.
3. Regulations Relating to Expansion Franchise
* The Las Vegas franchise must select one player from each presently existing club for a total of 30 players (not including additional players who may be acquired as the result of violations of the Expansion Draft rules).
* The Las Vegas franchise must select the following number of players at each position: 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders.
* The Las Vegas franchise must select a minimum of 20 players who are under contract for the 2017-18 season.
* The Las Vegas franchise must select players with an aggregate Expansion Draft value that is between 60-100% of the prior season's upper limit for the salary cap.
* The Las Vegas franchise may not buy out any of the players selected in the Expansion Draft earlier than the summer following its first season.
The 30 NHL Clubs must submit their Protection List by 5:00 P.M. ET on Saturday, June 17, 2017. The Las Vegas team must submit their Expansion Draft Selections by 5:00 P.M. ET on June 20.
WHATS DOES THIS ALL MEAN?
With consideration to the highlighted sections above, I will go into the effect of the language.
Protection List Options
The protection lists will be broken down into two options: the wildly favoured 7F-3D-1G list and the 8S-1G list.
In the case of the latter, teams that go this route will be doing so for the purpose of protecting additional defenceman. The 4F-4D-1G combination could be a popular option for teams attempting to secure strength on the back end, with even higher denominations of defenceman to forwards eligible (ex. 3F-5D-1G and so on). Frankly I don’t foresee that many teams using the 4-4-1 strategy or any further D-heavy list, but an often unacknowledged use of the 8S-1G list may be required by a team that fails to meet the minimum eligible exposure requirements at each position. Whether this is due to a lack players under contract heading into the 2017/18 season (ex. UFA/RFA's) or lack of roster players who fulfill the eligibility standards (ex. games played threshold) it may force a team team to go the 8-1 route in order to fulfill these requirements.
Team lists must meet a select set of player contract requirements heading into the draft. All pending Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA’s) do not need to be protected, allowing players with presently expiring contracts to be chosen by Vegas, all the while maintaining their ability to hit the open market on 1 July 2017. However, teams cannot exclusively leave players with expiring contracts exposed - this includes all RFA skaters and all RFA goaltenders who have not received a qualifying offer from the team prior to the submission list deadline on 17 June 2017 (*offer submission exclusive to goaltenders). Unprotected RFA’s are still eligible for selection by the Golden Knights - as are UFA’s - but will not meet the exposure requirements for the team as an unprotected defenceman or unprotected forward. The rules require at least 2 forwards and 1 defenceman under contract for the 2017/18 season to be left exposed, along with 1 goaltender under contract for the 2017/18 season or under rights restriction as an RFA with said team having submitted a qualifying offer prior to 5:00pm E.T. on 17 June 2017. Players who hold a ‘No Movement Clause’ are also automatically included within the teams protection list. This is unless both team and players have agreed to waive the NMC, allowing the player to then fulfill one of the unprotected player qualifications.
In addition to the active standard player contract requirement, the rules stipulate teams must expose players who have reached a requisite number of games played. This has been marked by a 40GP threshold in the 2016/2017 season, or a 70GP threshold over the course of the 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 seasons. In effort to strengthen the quality of roster players eligible for the Golden Knights' selection, this rule easily could have been manipulated by General Managers with proper foresight into their protection lists prior to seasons end. For the other 30 clubs this rule also acts as a way for teams to further protect young players still developing within their systems, and knock out players riddled by injury over the previous season(s).
Rules-Based Negotiation Tactics
This brings me to what I would call the buried contract / buy-out rule. Certain teams have utilised their cap space by taking on contracts from long-term injury reserve players (re Toronto Maple Leafs with Nathan Horton), as well as those with penalties imposed on termination (buy-out) and recapture (retirement while under contract - Pavel Datsyuk). The players with ‘potentially career threatening injuries’ will be ineligible for exposure and includes those who have missed 60 consecutive games in a row this past season or have suffered an injury deemed to be career threatening. However, a caveat exists stating that the league may approve such a player to be eligible for exposure and selection - effectively meaning that if Vegas and the NHL club in question have come to a beneficial agreement on the matter, the league will allow it (ex. team throws in their first round draft selection with that player). In addition to this sort of negotiation, other teams may entice Vegas to pick a certain player off their exposed list who has seen a significant drop in on-ice value but carries with them the burden of a heavy contract. Although Vegas may take on these players (and their contracts) with the luxury of enormous cap space, they will not be allowed under league rules to buy-out said player until after the 2017/18 season, meaning they will be accountable for the full cap hit for at least their inaugural season. A team like the LA Kings would be misguided not to go down this road and negotiate a deal to rid themselves of one of their bad contracts (re Dustin Brown).
Expansion Team Requirements
The Golden Knights are also bound to expansion draft requirements within the process of their selections. Although you may have been under the assumption they can select any exposed player off the 30 current NHL rosters, they actually have to follow fairly easy, albeit mandated, rules. A total of 14 forwards, 9 defenceman, and 3 goalies must be selected, with an additional 4 players that may be fall into any of the positional categories. There is no wiggle room to select fewer than the mandated minimums at each position through the expansion selection process. If they were to select a player from a team in concert with a transaction including another player(s), these additional players would not be included within their selection requirements, only the player officially selected in the expansion draft.
The Golden Knights will also be mandated to select at least 20 players of whom are under contract for 2017/18. This means they may choose up to 10 pending UFA's/RFA's come 1 July 2017 within the drafts 30 selections. A strong case can be made that an early to mid-20’s RFA with rights restricted could be an advantageous selection for the team, however in selecting a UFA Vegas would be acquiring the exclusive negotiating rights to the player for only 10 days - a questionable move to make.
Last but not least, the combined salary cap hits of the Golden Knights expansion selections - not including players previously signed or acquired through other means - must fall within a cap space window of $43.8M and $73.0M (60%-100% of the 2016/17 cap ceiling). On the low end of this spectrum, this would require the team to take on an additional $10.2M in cap space to hit the $54.0M salary floor from this past season before the commencement of the upcoming 2017/18, pending no change in salary cap figures. (*NOTE: it is expected and within the terms of the CBA to raise the cap as much as 5% next season)
George McPhee and the VGK management brass have quite the task ahead of them in evaluating and choosing the best options available. However, these rules should provide them the flexibility to maximize their haul.