The NHL expansion draft rules ensure that the league's newest franchise in Sin City isn't set up for failure.
A new team is being added to the league for the first time since 2000 and, with it, comes the expansion draft, which takes place in the coming days with Vegas' roster being released to the public the night of the NHL Awards on June 21. Unlike that of 17 years ago when Columbus and Minnesota were added to the NHL, the format of this year's draft and the state of the league as a whole will favour the sport's newest club and is setting the Golden Knights up to succeed as fast as possible.
In a precarious and unknown market like Vegas, the sooner wins can come, the quicker the brand will grow. And it all starts with the favourable expansion draft rules put in place by the NHL to help the Golden Knights start off on (somewhat) even footing with many of the league's 30 other clubs.
Vegas will be the only team participating in the expansion draft this weekend and won't have to scrap over unprotected players with another club like the Wild and Blue Jackets did in 2000. On top of having the first and only pick of the litter, there's going to be a bigger crop to choose from—as teams are actually allowed to protect fewer players than they were 17 years ago. Columbus and Minnesota both had to choose a player from each of the 26 teams participating in the draft, leaving them with four fewer assets than the incoming Golden Knights will own when they select one player from each of the league's 30 clubs this year.
The NHL's newest franchise also has a much larger pool of players to select from due to the change in the number of players clubs are allowed to shield from expansion draft exposure. Each team can protect between nine (eight skaters and a goalie) and 11 (one goalie, three defencemen, seven forwards) players, leaving a solid selection of talent available for the Golden Knights to gobble up at the draft. In 2000, teams could protect between 12 and 15 players each, leaving Columbus and Minnesota a thin pool of impact players, and a whole lot of mediocrity, to share between them.
The expansion draft rules are certainly in the Golden Knights' favour, and the timing which they enter the league couldn't be any better, either. Unlike when Columbus and Minnesota joined the fray, the NHL now boasts a hard salary cap along with a new standings format—including the 'loser point'—which has created the largest amount of parity there's ever been. The less disparity there is from the top of the league to the bottom, the better chance this Vegas club will have at being competitive right away or sneaking into the playoffs and making a run once it's there.
Not only does a salary cap help keep teams on a fairly level playing field (financially, at least), it can also be used as a tool to help this expansion club load up on prospects and draft picks as compensation for taking on large, unwanted contracts of clubs needing to shed salary. Vegas will be expected to hit the salary cap floor of around $54 million by the start of the regular season.
Taking on the bad contract of a David Clarkson ($5.2 million per-season cap hit through 2019-20), for example, along with a high-end prospect and draft pick or two is the easiest way for the Golden Knights to stock their system and reach the cap floor all at the same time. Expect to see a few deals like that from general manager George McPhee in the coming weeks and months.
It took Columbus eight seasons to make its first playoff appearance, and the Blue Jackets still have never made it out of the first round. Minnesota, meanwhile, only made the playoffs three times in its first 11 seasons and got out of the opening round only once during a miraculous run in 2003.
With the league in better shape both financially and competitively than it was 17 years ago, and the draft rules being more kind to the Golden Knights than they have for any other expansion franchise, it might not take long for Vegas to find its way in a parity-filled NHL.