If there was any excitement for the NHL becoming the first professional league in Las Vegas, it was quickly surpassed by the possibility of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders coming to town.
Doomed to assume a second-fiddle role from day one, casino mogul Sean Adelson inadvertently threw the NHL a bone when he pulled out of the Raiders stadium deal on Monday. With Goldman Sachs likely to follow, the Blackhole’s new home is suddenly in financing trouble and the once imminent move to the city could be put off, or scrapped altogether.
“Thankfully we’re still here,” the NHL will clamor. “The Golden Knights will fill your sporting needs!”
But what “need” is this team is capable of filling? That remains to be seen. The Knights will start play next fall, yet they currently have no players or coaches signed. At this point, all they really have is a logo; fans can get behind that right?
People in Las Vegas may be hesitant to jump on this bandwagon, and may want to wait it out until June 21. That’s when a sports team in Las Vegas goes from abstract idea to a list of 30 actual humans via the NHL’s expansion draft. That’s when we’ll know if the team will actually stand a chance.
The Golden Knights will get to select one player from each current team that matches a certain criteria. Basically, the players won’t be too young, they’ll be under contract for the coming season, and they won’t be a high priority for the franchise they’re being plucked from, since teams can protect up to 10 skaters.
The rules for what players are available has been altered slightly from previous expansion drafts, since those expansion teams usually got their teeth kicked in during their first few seasons. But even if the rules have been changed to help Vegas, what exactly can fans expect from their first team?
A competitive one? Sure. Thanks to the NHL’s ridiculous point system, 95-percent of the league is considered “competitive” in a given year.
Good hockey? Since a large portion of the market hasn’t seen a professional-level game before, Knights games will be sold as such. But realistically, a team full of grit and third-line grinders will not produce aesthetically pleasing game-play.
Players who were stars in the league six years ago? With a projected salary cap floor of over $55 million, the Golden Knights won’t be able to go money-balling through rosters looking for value; they’ll have to absorb a few bad deals out of the gate. So a few lucky teams could actually get relief from their past mistakes.
Overall, this team isn’t going to be anything special. But it should have at least a few notable players on the roster in its inaugural season. Let’s look at some of the potential big names this expansion draft will beget you, Las Vegas. Oh, my bad; Vegas.
Dustin Brown has been a natural fit for the team since the parameters of the expansion draft were announced. His offensive numbers dropped sharply since the lockout, making the Kings’ eight-year, $47 million extension in 2014 seem like a truly terrible idea. But what he lacks in scoring these days, he still has in leadership. Brown captained the Kings to two Stanley Cups in his eight seasons with a C.
The expansion rules stipulate that the Penguins have to protect Marc-Andre Fleury because of his no-movement clause. However, nobody thinks that Fleury will remain in Pittsburgh beyond this year. Either he’ll get shipped out at the coming deadline, or be asked to waive his clause before the draft.
Michael Grabner and Jakob Silfverberg represent the upside of this year’s expansion draft format: productive players with solid contracts that probably wouldn’t have been available when the Wild and Blue Jackets were building teams. Whether the Rangers and Ducks will try to deal them or protect them over another young player remains to be seen.
Eric Staal is another former great who could find his way here, but it’s not as likely. Minnesota has a hodgepodge of good young defenseman (Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Christian Folin, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba) and, unless Minny deals one or two beforehand, the Knights would be wise to grab one.
Photo Credit: mark6mauno (Dustin Brown) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
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