The NHL Prepares to Gamble on Las Vegas in 2017-18: What Caps Fans Need to Know

las-vegas-nhlSin City is “All-In” on a new NHL franchise, and it looks to happen as soon as the 2017-18 season. The NHL Board of Governors has approved the Las Vegas bid, headed by local billionaire Bill Foley, to host an expansion franchise at the newly built T-Mobile Arena (just off the Las Vegas Strip).  All that is left is the final negotiation of the franchise fee the ownership group will pay to the league.  While there is no concrete team name yet, we can take a gamble that it will be in the spirit of the Las Vegas gaming and entertainment industry. More important than the team name will be the Las Vegas player to get the first minor penalty for hooking. Ha ha…! Okay, on to the article.

While we wait for more of the process to finalize, Capitals fans are probably wondering how the forming of the future Las Vegas team will affect our current roster.

There are many factors to consider going into expansion.  There will be an expansion draft to fill the new teams’ roster, and an exhaustive process of possible conditional entry draft picks, and how players become available. So Capitals fans, this means that the summer of 2017 will not only bring about unrestricted free agency for many key players (i.e., Oshie, Alzner, Williams, Winnik) and restricted free agency for others (i.e. Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, Galiev, Schmidt, Grubauer); but it will bring about a league-wide Expansion Draft.

In short, this mandated draft allows the expansion franchise to pick players from all NHL teams that are left unprotected.  As we will highlight in this article, teams cannot protect all of their key assets and hard decisions must be made under the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The National Hockey League has undergone several rounds of expansion and other organizational changes during its nearly 100-year history to reach its current thirty (30) teams.  The last time the NHL added expansion teams was in 2000, when the league added the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild. Ultimately, per Commissioner Gary Bettman, the league plans to top out at thirty-two (32) franchises to balance the conferences at sixteen (16) teams in each.

During the expansion draft of 2000, both the Blue Jackets and Wild got to draft 26 players from the pool of exposed NHL talent.  The expansion GMs were able to take up to four goaltenders, eight defensemen, and fourteen forwards. At the time the Capitals were extremely lucky that only prospects Barrie Moore (LW) who had played only one NHL game in a Caps uniform, and Oleg Orekhovsky (D) who never played for the Caps were drafted away from the Capitals system. Though some notable veteran players did get claimed, such as former Capitals forward Joe Juneau, who was selected away from the Ottawa Senators.

For this iteration of the Expansion Draft, existing team GMs must abide by the rules of the new (post-2005) Collective Bargaining Agreement (which was ratified in 2013) and they cannot circumvent the protection protocols to save more players than other teams.  Here’s the short and dirty facts you need to know:

  • An active NHL roster is 23 players but the expansion GM(s) will get to select up to 30 players from unrestricted free agents, active one way NHL, and active two-way NHL/AHL contracts given that the players meet certain criteria. To increase parity across the league the expansion draft process has expanded to 30 players from the 26 players each team was able to select in 2000.
  • Each existing NHL team is allowed to protect seven (7) forwards, three (3) defenseman and one (1) goaltender. All other players are exposed to the expansion draft.
  • Teams will be required to protect any players on contracts carrying a no-movement clause (NMC), and they will count against the number of players the team is allowed to protect.
    • This means that for next summer Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Matt Niskanen, and Braden Holtby are automatically protected (sigh of relief).
    • However they count against the total and the Capitals will only be able to protect five (5) forwards and two (2) defensemen other than those listed above.
  • Players whose contract expires on July 1, 2017 will not need to be protected if they have a no-movement clause.
    • This is important because player contracts technically expire on July 1 and the expansion draft is likely to take place a couple of weeks prior to that date.
    • For instance, next summer, the likely date of the expansion draft, the Capitals will not need to protect Karl Alzner, who will have just completed his final season on his current contract, which carries a NMC. Though if they wish to protect him (and they should) they can by signing him to an extension and either making him protected or including a NMC clause on the new deal.
  • Additionally, it has been stated by the league that players with no-movement clauses that include a limited no trade clause must still be protected.
  • However (and this adds an interesting wrinkle), players with a NMC will be allowed to waive it, should they chose to do so.
    • That could produce a situation, hypothetically, where a team (let’s use the LA Kings for example) convinces Dustin Brown to waive his NMC and then they can leave him unprotected. This offers the Las Vegas franchise a veteran player on contract (which benefits the Kings salary cap woes, and provides leadership to a new team).
  • Another aspect of the latest ratified Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) (which was not a part of any of the initial reports) is that teams will be required to offer at least one defenseman and two forwards who are under contract for at least the 2017-18 season (or are 2017 RFA status).
    • Those players must have played a minimum of 40 NHL games in the 2016-17 season, or at least 70 games between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.
    • Teams will also have to offer a goaltender who is under contract for the 2017-18 season or “an RFA-to-be in 2018” (which is the case of Philip Grubauer, whom the Caps could not protect anyway because they are bound to Braden Holtby via his NMC).
    • This will prevent teams from offering UFAs only or to dangle the protection as a leveraging chip to not extend certain players until after the expansion draft.
  • Of the 30 players that are selected by an expansion franchise, at least 20 of those must be under contract for the 2017-18 season, and there will be minimums by position. An example is that the expansion franchise will need to select at least three goaltenders (but no more than 4).
  • The expansion franchise must also draft players with contract values to fill at least 60% of the Salary Cap (“the floor”), and may not exceed 100% (“the ceiling”) of the cap during the draft.
brian maclellan matt mcclain washington post

Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan | Photo: Matt McClain, Washington Post.

As you can see there are very tough choices to make for so many GMs league-wide. There are a ton of notable names coming due for UFA status next summer, such as Datsyuk, Thornton, Marleau, (Ryan) Miller, Bishop, Sharp, (Brent) Burns, and (Jamie) Benn.

BRADEN-HOLTBY-MOST-WINS-WASHINGTON-CAPITALS.jpgThe Capitals are bound by the CBA to protect Ovechkin, Backstrom, Niskanen, and Holtby but who else “should” they protect. The factors lie in what GM Brian MacClellan does this summer, and which players in the fold perform and develop next season. If I only had five forwards and two defensemen left to protect my thoughts would be to hold onto Kuznetsov, Oshie (should be extended), Burakovsky, Beagle, and Wilson (should also be extended) at forward. While protecting Alzner (should be extended) and Carlson on defense.

Exposing Williams (UFA), Winnik (UFA), and Galiev (RFA), plus any NHL level players signed or promoted this off-season would meet the criteria for the forwards left to be drafted. Also, exposing Orpik, Schmidt (RFA), and Chorney would fit the bill on defense.  While the team could not protect Grubauer, he would be exposed to the draft.

So many tough choices this summer and next. The options and variables are seemingly endless. It will be interesting to see how NHL GM’s roll the dice on various veteran and young players and how this new expansion will affect free agency signings over the next few summers. Everyone place your bets now, and we shall see who comes out a winner.

By Scott Zweibel

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3 Responses to The NHL Prepares to Gamble on Las Vegas in 2017-18: What Caps Fans Need to Know

  1. jonmsorensen says:

    Very curious to see how the NHL handles gambling in Vegas. The reason why no other sports have put a team in LV is the fear of gambling intervening.

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