With the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas having just opened its’ doors for business, Bill Foley recently spoke regarding his bid for an NHL franchise, discussing both a hypothetical team name and logo for a future Las Vegas. With an established arena and season-ticket sales, the future looks bright for NHL hockey in Las Vegas which, while making Mr. Foley undeniably happy, is likely giving other NHL teams headaches. During the NHL General Managers meetings this March, a hypothetical format for a potential expansion draft was discussed. While nothing regarding the format has been finalized, it’s clear that many teams could face the risk losing valuable player(s) in a future expansion draft. Lyle Richardson of The Hockey News speculates that the thought of losing players for nothing, in a future expansion draft, could lead to a rash of trades as well as changes in the way mangers handle their players in the lead up to expansion. Each NHL team faces the prospect of losing at least one player under the proposed format, and as such teams will likely seek to ensure that they gain value for players that they cannot protect, instead of seeing them shipped to Las Vegas for nothing. The threat of Las Vegas, or another expansion team, being able to take players off of a team’s roster for nothing will undeniably affect the way that NHL general managers handle future contract negotiations as well as their player development decisions in the near-future.
Again, it is important to remember that none of the actual format of the expansion draft is set in stone, but as far at it has been discussed there seems to be a general understanding of what an expansion draft would look like. According to NHL.com, teams would be able to protect 11 skaters and one goalie, meaning that certain teams could face a difficult choice as to which players they will choose to expose. The bright-side of this format is that teams would only risk losing one player per expansion team, meaning that should Quebec City not be awarded a franchise, teams only run the risk of losing one player. However, while the number of players a team can protect is reasonably understood, which players will be eligible to be selected by an expansion team has not yet been decided. Currently it is thought that players in their first and second year as pros, as well as prospects yet to sign their entry-level deals will be ineligible for an expansion team to select. There has also been discussion on whether players with no-move, and no-trade clauses will be exempt, but again nothing has been finalized, nor has a team been announced in Law Vegas, so this is purely speculative. However, the rules around eligibility will be carefully monitored by NHL general mangers as they seek to retain as many players as possible.
So how will teams minimize the risk of losing key established NHL players? According to reports on the discussion by general managers this March, in an expansion draft it has yet to be decided if no-move, and no-trade clauses will require protection in a future expansion draft. Excluding no-move and no-trade clauses will certainly make it difficult for an expansion team to reach the salary cap floor in their inaugural season (set at $52.8 billion for 2015-2016 season); however, players who may have sacrificed salary for security in negotiations deserve to have those agreements respected. An interesting way around this could affect the way teams are able to protect players is whether or not these players, if they have these clauses in their contract, should be required to occupy a protected spot. A decision of this nature would hamstringing general managers somewhat, and make these clauses extremely valuable, as well as potentially exposing more players for potential expansion teams. Currently, however, it looks as though players with these clauses in their contracts, will be exempt from a potential expansion draft, and not require a protected spot. If this is the case no-move and no-trade clauses could become very popular, especially if both general mangers and players choose to prioritize these agreements in upcoming negotiations in order to ensure their security in an expansion draft scenario. Since all group 3 free-agents, or unrestricted free-agents, are entitled to negotiate these clauses, players signing a contract through 2017 should certainly consider the implications that an expansion draft could have on where they may end-up playing out their contract. The notion that general managers might hand out these clauses, in an effort to protect more of their team’s roster, is an interesting one that has the potential to saddle teams with bad contracts, yet if executed correctly could ensure that a team loses very little in a future expansion draft. With protected spots likely at a premium it will be interesting to see if savvy general managers attempt to cheat the system, through offering these clauses to players, in order to retain players without the need for a protected spot.
Another way general managers will seek to reduce the number of players that their team exposes in a future expansion draft is by limiting the games rookies will play in the coming seasons. Again, while not confirmed, it is reported that first, and second year pros will be exempt, along with all unsigned prospects, from being exposed to the expansion draft. This could make already difficult choices, about when a player is ready for the NHL full-time or not, even more complicated as their expansion draft eligibility is now a factor in whether or not to promote them to the NHL. Teams now not only have to consider the cap implications of burning a year of a young player’s entry-level contract, if they allow the player to play past the 9-game threshold; but, also how that affects their ability to protect other players. Concerns of this nature may lead teams to leave players in their respective development programs (CHL, NCAA, etc.) longer than they would have planned, in order to put-off the player’s second NHL season until after a future expansion draft. Because of this I expect there to be a lot of discussion at the beginning of next season at the 9-game mark as teams are forced to decide what they are going to do with their junior-eligible rookies.
An expansion draft poses a lot of challenges for teams, and how they will manage to keep their roster intact, as well as for the league in attempting to ensure that any expansion team is competitive in its’ first season. Until the rules of an expansion draft are firmly established managers will have to work on the assumption that these two groups of players will be exempt. Under this assumption, it will be interesting to see how general managers maneuver through these rule to protect as much of their team as possible. While it will be sad to see players taken from one’s team, especially in order to stock up a potential expansion franchise, general managers, it seems, will have the opportunity to get creative within the format of the expansion draft in order to protect their rosters.
Note: Bill Foley’s comments can be found here: http://www.tsn.ca/las-vegas-owner-chimes-in-on-nhl-expansion-1.467587
Note: Lyle Richardson’s article on the hypothetical challenges of a future expansion draft can be found here: http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/rumor-roundup-teams-could-trade-players-rather-than-lose-them-in-expansion-draft/
Note: NHL.com’s report on the general manger discussions regarding a potential expansion draft: https://www.nhl.com/news/nhl-general-managers-meetings-nhl-expansion/c-279662234