We’ve now reviewed the odd choices made by the NHL’s general managers regarding their goalies and their defencemen. Today, we look at the forwards. By this morning, Golden Knights GM George McPhee will have finalized his list of picks since he needs to submit that list by 10am. But, since we don’t get to find out who those picks are until this evening, it gives us a chance to take this last look at what was made available.
The question everyone has been asking since the protection lists were released is, “What was St. Louis thinking?” This kind of confusion blooms when a team chooses a career fourth liner with 13 points last season over significant members of their own top nine forwards. Reaves is the kind of player you might sign for a bargain deal to provide some of that proverbial “grit” and “sandpaper” NHL teams seem to be fascinated with. But, he’s not a guy you would group with your team’s core players. Yet, there is Ryan Reaves, essentially placed on the same level as Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Pietrangelo by the expansion draft process. I’ve talked about some bizarre choices in this series. Arguably, none is more strange than this one.
The players that St. Louis left available make this decision appear even more odd. First, there’s David Perron. His exclusion from the protection list is only a mild surprise due to his age and contract. Sure, he had a strong, 46-point season in 2016-17, but he was non-existent in the playoffs and he’s likely due for some regression this coming season. Second, the exclusion of Jori Lehtera is a little surprising only because of his role as the team’s second/third line centre the past few years. Still, he had a terrible 2016-17 season and is grossly overpayed for what he contributes. Nonetheless, it was expected that one of these two would be protected.
When the Blues decided not to protect either Perron or Lehtera, one would have expected the open protection slot to be used on a young forward with upside. One option might have been Dmitri Jaskin. While he’s not yet put it all together in the NHL, he is someone many expected the Golden Knights to select and probably would have been a more sensible protection option for St. Louis. Another name that can’t go without mentioning is Nail Yakupov, though it’s safe to say that Blues management may have been hoping, after yet another terrible season by the former first overall pick, that he would be the one headed for Las Vegas.
From a career 51-point scorer to a player who exploded for 51 points in 2016-17, the idea that a team would expose a player who scored 30 goals this past season is absurd. And, yet, that’s exactly what the Florida Panthers did in failing to protect Jonathan Marchessault.
The 25-year-old centre was a bargain signing last off-season. After years of being unable to get a legitimate shot at an NHL job due to his small stature, Florida’s analytics-focused front office took a chance on him for the very low price of $750,000. Marchessault took advantage of that opportunity to the tune of 30 goals and 51 points. One has to think that the shuffling that occurred in the Panthers management last off-season drove the signing of Marchessault while the reshuffling was the cause of his exposure in the expansion draft. It’s odd to see a single management team be so mercurial about one of their players in such a short period of time.
Only Three Forwards
The bizarre choice by the New York Islanders to protect only three forwards could have been a topic in yesterday’s look at the available defencemen. In fact, the possibility exists that it will be a defender the Islanders lose, despite having protected five of them, as a result of the reported side deal they have in place with The Golden Knights. Though, the terms of that side deal, as reported by insiders, have seemingly changed every day since the protection lists were released, though the consistent element has always been the Islanders’ first round pick going to the Golden Knights.
Whatever he may have engineered in terms of side deals, though, whether New York GM Garth Snow intended it or not, he has essentially communicated to his team that almost everyone is expendable. Players like Ryan Strome, Josh Bailey, and Brock Nelson were still left exposed and, for three days, at least, belonged – for all intents and purposes – to the Vegas Golden Knights. It’s not a likely scenario due to the (almost overly) collegial relationship among NHL general managers, but by leaving these players unprotected, Snow left the choice up to McPhee to adhere to the deal. If a side deal was being made anyway, doesn’t it make more sense to protect the as many of your most valuable assets as you can? At worst, Snow would still be spending his first round pick, but with fewer players to tempt McPhee (and, more to the point, other NHL GMs who might have offered the Las Vegas manager a package worth enough to back out of the deal with New York) he might have also got away with paying less. It’s possible that the personal relationship between McPhee and Snow played a role in this scenario.
Other decisions by the league’s general managers might not be seen universally as strange, but are still surprising on certain levels. I mentioned in a previous installment the use of Eric Staal as a distraction intended to steer McPhee away from the Wild’s excellent defencemen. Considering Minnesota’s lack of a first round draft pick, which appears to be the currency being used for all side deals in this round of expansion, finding a creative way to redirect McPhee’s focus was essential. Kudos go to Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher for his moxie. Eric Staal, after the strong season he had and with his cost-effective contract and the fact he’s still not completely over-the-hill in hockey terms, would bring to Las Vegas the kind of offensive punch that few expansion clubs get in their first years. A one-two combination at centre of Vadim Shipachyov and Staal would provide a depth that many established teams don’t have at the position. Still, Matt Dumba is just as attractive a prize on Minnesota’s list of exposed players, so it remains to be seen if Fletcher’s tactic pays off.
Many other teams have exposed quality forwards to the Golden Knights due to the fact that they could only protect a maximum of seven (technically eight, I guess, but that was never going to happen on any team) from their rosters. In fact, if there’s anything that’s made clear by the strange choices I’ve looked at, it’s that the expansion rules set by the NHL were very generous, to the point of putting the league’s general managers in very difficult circumstances. But, for $500 million dollars, I think it’s fair that Vegas owner Bill Foley expect to get a head start on building his franchise.