Blame The Trades, Not The Rules For The Golden Knights Success
Good afternoon and I hope all of you had a great Christmas and holiday season.
One comment I have received more than once in my blogs is the idea that the Expansion Draft is unfair and forces teams to lose good players.
From another team's perspective it feels unfair to spend time drafting, developing, and trading for players, only to lose them. That all being said, it was the mistakes of other NHL teams and the trades they made with Vegas that made that team so good, rather than the expansion rules that were put in place.
Today I thought was a good time to look back at the Vegas Expansion Draft and the trades that were made that put the team where they are today.
TRADE #1 - Florida Panthers trade Reilly Smith in exchange for a 4th round pick.
The big one. What remains the most befuddling decision by then GM Dale Tallon, was the series of events that led to Vegas acquiring what was 2/3 of their top line in their first season and remain two high end top six players.
Reilly Smith had just signed a 5 year deal worth 5 million and followed up a 25 goal season with the Panthers with a disappointing 15 goal season. Tallon was dealing with internal cap constraints and wanted to walk away from what he thought would be a cap killer.
Trading Smith ended up being a failure but at least a defendable decision. What remains awful was protecting Nick Bjugstad at 4.1 million who was coming off a 14 point in 54 games (due to injuries) while failing to protect Marchessault who had just scored 30 goals on a bad Panthers team and had one year remaining at 750,000.
Additional fun fact, Marchessault could not be protected because the team chose the 4-4-1 route in order to protect Alex Petrovic... ouch.
TRADE #2 - Minnesota Wild trade Alex Tuch in exchange for a 2018 3rd round pick and so that Vegas would not select the then 22 year old Matt Dumba or the 27 year old Marco Scandella.
Vegas would go on to select Erik Haula. Haula as a 25 year old put up 26 points in 72 games with the Wild before going on to score 55 points and 29 goals in 76 games with the Golden Knights. While Haula was injured the following season and heavily regressed, he was one of their most important pieces in that inaugural season.
Tuch, the player Minnesota traded to Vegas had a reasonably successful first season with the GK with 37 points in 78 games and then followed it up with a great second season with 52 points and fourth on the team in scoring. Injuries hurt the 24 year old last season but healthy once more he is a valuable player to that roster.
TRADE #3 - New York Islanders Trade Mikhail Grabovski, Jake Bischoff, 2017 1st round pick (Erik Brannstrom), 2019 2nd round pick (Robert Mastrosimone) for Expansion Draft Considerations.
This is a weird one and there is a bit of a tree to follow. The Islanders sent a pretty big package to the GK but it was done so to prevent Vegas from selecting any of Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey, Ryan Strome or Calvin de Haan. Vegas would end up picking goaltender Berube who would not be qualified by the team. Grabovski would retire before ever donning a Vegas jersey.
The Islanders instead went the odd route of protecting 5 defensemen and only 3 forwards.
So considering the player that Vegas selected and acquired did nothing...why was this such an important move for them?
Erik Brannstrom was the key piece in the return for Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators. The 2nd round pick was used to acquire Tatar who was then traded for Max Pacioretty. These two players now make up 2/3 of the Golden Knights top line.
TRADE #4 - Columbus Blue Jackets Trade David Clarkson, 2017 1st (Kristian Vesalainen), and a 2019 2nd (Samuel Fagemo) for Expansion Considerations.
The Blue Jackets made this trade to prevent the Golden Knights from selecting Korpisalo, Josh Anderson, or Jack Johnson who were all left exposed. Instead, the Golden Knights selected William Karlsson. Karlsson who posted 6-19-25 in 81 games with the Blue Jackets had a massive spike in his first season with Vegas with 78 points and 43 goals and while he has not been able to replicate those numbers, he remains the top centre for the GK.
TRADE #5 - Anaheim Ducks trade Shea Theodore for Expansion Draft Considerations
Back in 2017 the Ducks had a plethora of young talented defensemen with the likes of Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Shea Theodore, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson. Kevin Bieksa had a NMC so only two of these players could be protected.
The decision was made to protect Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson over Shea Theodore and so the latter was traded on the condition that Vegas would not select either. Manson remains with the Ducks but has continued posting underwhelming numbers and Vatanen has moved twice and while he posts good numbers he is a PP specialist and third pairing option.
Shea Theodore meanwhile not only posts good numbers but is a strong possession force and would have remained on the top pairing this season had the GK not acquired Pietrangelo.
So put in a shorter way, the trades that teams made to prevent the Golden Knights from selecting certain players, ultimately gave the team William Karlsson, Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Shea Theodore, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, and Alex Tuch with Erik Haula being an impact option in the first season.
Alternatively if these above teams did not make any trades, here is my best guess as to who Vegas would have selected.
Anaheim Ducks - Josh Manson
Columbus Blue Jackets - Joonas Korpisalo
Florida Panthers - Mark Pysyk
Minnesota Wild - Matt Dumba
New York Islanders - Ryan Strome
Your mileage may vary a bit on some of these potential picks but regardless this would end up being a far worse lineup for the Golden Knights, and much more what would be expected from an Expansion Team.
Obviously hindsight is 20/20 and these teams felt they needed to make a deal to protect other assets but ultimately it was their decisions, not the system in place which has led to the Golden Knights having the roster they have in place today.
It's another reason I expect the Kraken to be a worse team as I believe teams this time around will be much more apprehensive at making deals to protect alternative players.
Thanks for reading.