Three-time Stanley Cup champion goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Nashville Predators forward James Neal and Anaheim Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen are among the high-profile players available for the Vegas Golden Knights to select in the NHL expansion draft.
Now it’s on Golden Knights general manager George McPhee to spend the next three days poring over the list of available players as the team selects one from each of the NHL’s 30 teams.
McPhee told reporters Sunday that “there were no surprises” when the Golden Knights received the lists and that he was “really pleased with what’s available.”
“We are now going through the process of trying to put the team together, we are still talking to clubs and we are hoping to do deals with clubs if they want to protect their rosters,” he told reporters, according to SportsNet.
McPhee’s message to teams Sunday was: “You can negotiate your way out of this if you wish. Every team in this league has a chance to protect their roster.”
There’s also nothing barring Vegas from having a deal in place to select a player in order to trade him to another team. McPhee said Sunday that a team must offer the Golden Knights an asset “better” than the player he can claim in the draft.
McPhee said he believes he “can accomplish two things” during the expansion process after selecting players and making trades with other clubs.
“We can put a good team on the ice, and accumulate draft picks and be in a surplus situation in the next couple of years,” he said, according to SportsNet.
Any trades made by the Golden Knights won’t formally be announced until Wednesday.
Fleury was left unprotected by the Pittsburgh Penguins after he agreed to waive the no-movement clause in his contract. The Penguins instead protected Matt Murray a week after the second-year goalie led them to win their second consecutive championship.
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.
Vatanen was the odd man out in being left unprotected from a deep and talented group of Ducks defensemen. The fifth-year player, however, won’t be ready for the start of the season after having surgery to repair a shoulder injury.
Other notable forwards left unprotected were: Minnesota center Eric Staal, a nine-time 20-goal-scorer, Los Angeles forward Dustin Brown, Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec, Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz and Florida’s Jonathan Marchessault, who scored 30 goals last season. As for defensemen, Minnesota exposed both Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella, while Buffalo’s Zach Bogosian, Chicago’s Trevor van Riemsdyk, Dallas’ Dan Hamhuis and San Jose’s Paul Martin are available.
There’s also a wealth of proven goaltenders available given that teams were required to expose at least one. Along with Fleury, other goalies exposed are Florida’s Roberto Luongo, Detroit’s Petr Mrazek and Philadelphia’s Michal Neuvirth.
The unprotected list includes players eligible to become restricted or unrestricted free agents, which the Golden Knights have the option to sign over the next three days. Any pending free agent signed would count as Vegas’ expansion-draft selection from that player’s team.
The Islanders were the only team that protected five defensemen: Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech, leaving forwards Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome and defensemen Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey available.
Some players left unprotected, such as Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan, carry hefty contracts, which Vegas might shy away from so not to restrict the team’s payroll structure under the salary cap. Ryan has five years left on a seven-year $50.8 million contract and represents a $7-plus-million cap hit.
The release of the teams’ protected lists kicks off a busy two-week stretch for the NHL. The annual awards ceremonies will be held in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Then teams will gather in Chicago for the two-day entry draft, which opens Friday.
Then comes the start of free agency, which opens on July 1.
The start of the expansion draft process means a trading freeze is in place through Thursday morning for the 30 other teams.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.