Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Ranking the expansion draft screw-ups

So the Vegas Golden Knights are having themselves a bit of a season.

With everyone assuming they’d struggle to stay in sight of the playoff race, if not finish dead last, they came out of the gates 8-1-0. Soon they’d established themselves as legitimate contenders for the Pacific crown. Then the Western Conference. Then the Presidents’ Trophy. They climbed all the way to first place overall. They’ve already been crowned the greatest expansion team ever in any sport. At this rate, we may be days away from the rest of the NHL just conceding the next few Stanley Cups and begging for mercy.

So how did we get here?

Wait, let’s rephrase that: So what the hell was the rest of the league thinking?

Sure, the Knights were gifted with friendlier expansion-draft rules than previous newcomers. For $500 million, they’d better have. But they were still left choosing from players who were each, at best, considered their team’s 10-most-valuable asset. (And that’s not even counting all the prospects and younger players who were ineligible.) You shouldn’t be able to build a contender out of those kinds of spare parts.

Well, unless some of the other teams screw up.

So today, with Vegas riding high and Seattle kicking down the door to get in on this action, let’s look back at the expansion draft and the trades that came around it with the benefit of a half-season’s worth of hindsight. We’ll do this in tiers, starting with the teams that came out OK and working our way up to the worst of the regrets.

Tier 1: Teams that somehow improved

As it turns out, an expansion draft doesn’t represent an opportunity for only one team.

Carolina Hurricanes

Their trades: They traded a fifth-round pick to Vegas to get them to lay off veterans like Cam Ward and Lee Stempniak. Then they traded a second for Trevor van Riemsdyk, who the Knights had plucked from the Blackhawks, and later added Marcus Kruger for a fifth.

They lost: Connor Brickley

No team apart from the Knights themselves did more wheeling and dealing. Kruger hasn’t done much, but the Hurricanes managed to avoid losing anyone of consequence – Brickley was a pending UFA who ended up signing in Florida – and added yet another good young defenceman to an already strong blue line.

Colorado Avalanche

Their trades: None

They lost: Calvin Pickard

At the time, this seemed like yet another misplay by Joe Sakic, who let a reasonably well-regarded young goalie slip away despite Semyon Varlamov‘s struggles. Instead, the move freed up a roster spot for Jonathan Bernier, who’s been fantastic, and Pickard was on waivers (and eventually traded) by week one.

Tier 2: No harm, no foul

Oh, was there some sort of draft? We already forgot.

Winnipeg Jets

Their trades: Flipped first-round picks with Vegas, dropping from 13th to 24th, and threw in a 2019 third-round pick to steer the Knights away from everyone they wanted to keep.

They lost: Chris Thorburn

Dropping 11 spots in the draft isn’t nothing, but given the prices some other teams paid, the Jets seemed to get off easy. The Knights didn’t even bother to sign Thorburn.

Calgary Flames

Their trades: None

They lost: Deryk Engelland

Engelland’s a Vegas local who’s been a nice fit, but he probably wasn’t coming back to Calgary, meaning the Flames basically escaped untouched.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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