Golden Knights hold cards as NHL expansion draft nears

There is a temptation to say there has never been a moment quite like this before in National Hockey League history – where George McPhee, the general manager of the Vegas Golden Knights, is acting as a broker for the mixed bag of talent made available to him Sunday morning as part of the 2017 expansion draft proceedings. Prior to this year, the expansion draft was basically an afterthought and more than half of the players each team chose didn’t even end up playing for them.

By some estimates, Vegas may already have up to eight trades in place with teams prepared to pay a price to the Golden Knights to keep their hands off their unprotected players.

The league began conducting the draft Sunday.

Jason Demers (Florida) – Demers was one of the more sought-after defensemen last summer and signed to a five-year, $22.5 Million with Florida, but with the managerial shift back to Dale Tallon, the Panthers chose to protect youngsters Mark Pysyk and Alex Petrovic instead of the 29-year-old right-handed defenseman.

Canes general manager Ron Francis said Friday that he has had conversations with McPhee, although noting, “Probably not as much as other teams have had”.

“It’s going to take us awhile to pick the team tomorrow”, said McPhee. Fleury waiving his no-movement clause not only possibly saved the Penguins’ 2016-17 season, but it increases their chances of three-peating.

Vatanen was the odd-man out in being left unprotected from a deep and talented group of Ducks defensemen.

The Predators were put in a bind in when exposing Neal, a nine-time 20-goal-scorer, because they elected to protect a fourth defenseman. As for defensemen, Minnesota exposed both Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella, while Buffalo’s Zach Bogosian and Dallas’ Dan Hamhuis are also available. Aside from Fleury, other goalies exposed are Florida’s Roberto Luongo, Detroit’s Peter Mrazek and Philadelphia’s Michal Neuvirth. Calgary traded for Arizona Coyotes’ starter Mike Smith on Saturday, and then protected him, leaving Brian Elliott, an unrestricted free agent, plus Tom McCollum available.

San Jose has two notable veteran free agents in Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. He has played up and down the Penguins’ lineup _ and will likely find himself in a bottom-six role next season _ but could easily be a top-six winger for an expansion team.

The Vegas Golden Knights get to truly start building their roster Wednesday, when the expansion draft takes place.

“Weve got lots of things lined up, but until we see everything, we dont have anything, ” McPhee said.

The NHL announced Sunday the available and protected lists for the 30 teams who will provide players to the Golden Knights. And teams aren’t prohibited from making trades that would keep certain unprotected players from being selected.

Some players left unprotected, such as Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan, carry hefty contracts, which Vegas might shy away from so not to restrict the teams payroll structure under the salary cap. He has one year left on his contract, with a cap hit of $2.1 million.

George McPhee and the Golden Knights, meanwhile have to prepare for two drafts.

“We are still talking to clubs and we are open to doing deals with clubs if they want to protect their rosters” McPhee said. We want to have a discussion with the league tomorrow night about what our team is going to look like and make sure we meet all the requirements, and if everything is OK, I’ll sleep on it and send it in Wednesday morning.

The NHL salary cap has been set at $75 million for this season in a slight increase over a year ago.