After months of anticipation and speculation, we finally have a framework of the rules for the much-expected NHL draft.
The league will reportedly make its decision in June, probably following the completion of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final (June 18 being the last possible day) and leading up to the NHL Draft in Buffalo on June 24-25. We’ll learn if the league is adding one or two new teams for the 2017-18 season.
Las Vegas and Quebec City were the only bidders. It’s widely believed Las Vegas is a shoo-in, but a weak Canadian dollar and the ongoing imbalance between eastern and western clubs could hurt Quebec City’s chances.
The expansion draft could take place sometime in late-June 2017, likely following the end of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final and prior to the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago. TSN’s Frank Seravalli reported each of the existing 30 NHL franchises will lose one player if the league expands by one team, and two if expansion includes Las Vegas and Quebec City.
Teams will be allow to protect one goaltender and either seven forwards and three defensemen or eight skaters at any position. First- and second-year players on entry-level contracts (including those skating in the minors) and unsigned drafted prospect will be exempt.
Each of the existing franchises must expose at least 25 percent of its salary cap. The expansion teams must spend to at least the salary-cap minimum for 2017-18. The current cap minimum is $52.8 million. It will likely be higher in 2017-18, perhaps over $54 million. No word yet if the expansion clubs will be allowed to spend to the cap ceiling in their first season or if they’ll have a lower cap maximum.
The rules for players carrying no-movement or no-trade clause haven’t been determined yet. Various pundits speculate those with no-movement clauses won’t be exposed to the draft because they cannot be placed on waivers. However, players carrying no-trade clauses probably won’t be exempted.
General Fanager indicates only 66 NHL players currently carry no-movement clauses through the end of the 2016-17 season (June 30, 2017). If players with NMCs are exempt from the draft, there could be an increase in their number before next June. This summer’s best free agents could insist on a no-movement clause in their new contracts for at least next season as a means of draft protection. Some general managers could also look upon that tactic as a short-term way of protecting a valuable roster asset.
There’s considerable speculation that teams carrying expensive, lengthy contracts of fading players will use the expansion draft to shed salary. For example, the Columbus Blue Jackets could expose overpaid winger David Clarkson (who carries a modified no-trade clause) in the expansion draft in hopes of clearing the remaining three years (at an annual cap hit of $5.25 million) of his contract from their books. However, unless an expansion club is willing to use Clarkson’s cap hit only to become salary-cap compliant, it’s unlikely they’ll select him.
More intriguing options could include Los Angeles Kings wingers Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik. At this stage in their respective careers, Brown and Gaborik are earning far more than their actual worth. Because they lack no-movement clauses, the Kings could expose them in hopes one of them gets selected in the expansion draft.
Other possible expansion draft cap casualties could include Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler, Carolina Hurricanes forwards Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner, Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov, Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard and New York Rangers winger Rick Nash.
As per USA Today’s Kevin Allen, teams at risk of losing a good player to the expansion draft could attempt to trade them for assets that can be retained. Draft picks, prospects or players with only two years or less on their entry-level contracts would be the likely returns.
Teams carrying depth in talent, like the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, will certainly feel the effects. Quality players lacking no-movement clauses, like center Artem Anisimov or winger Andrew Shaw, could be lost through expansion.
That spurred the New York Post’s Larry Brooks to damn the proposed expansion draft as yet another means to “shaft” good teams. Yes, the more talented the roster, the more likely it could lose a good player in that draft. But what’s the league to do, implement a rule favoring deeper clubs at the expense of the rest? Good luck getting that past most of the NHL governors and general managers.
Be it a Cup contender or a bottom feeder, every team will lose one or two players in the expansion draft. How the general managers of those teams determine who to protect and those they can afford to risk losing through expansion is up to them.
Once the finalized rules for the expansion draft are revealed in June, that’s when the GMs’ work will really begin. The effects could be felt upon this summer’s free-agent and trade markets, as well as throughout 2016-17.