Ever since the NHL announced the rules for this June’s expansion draft, a couple of things were clear right away.
The NHL’s 31st team would get the best expansion roster that we’ve ever seen – at least on paper – and most teams would lose a player of some significance.
The Vegas Golden Knights must pluck one player from each of the other 30 teams by 2 pm PT on June 20, with the list being revealed to the public on June 21.
Each team has until June 17 to submit their protected list to the league, which must include either:
- 7 forwards, 3 defencemen, and 1 goaltender OR
- 8 skaters (forwards/defencemen) and 1 goaltender
Players with no-movement clauses must be protected, while first- and second-year pros, as well as unsigned draft choices, are exempt from the process.
Vegas, meanwhile, have some regulations to follow as well. Vegas must:
- Select 14 forwards, 9 defencemen, and 3 goaltenders
- Select a minimum of 20 players who are under contract for the 2017-18 season
- Select players with an aggregate Expansion Draft value that is between 60-100% of the prior season’s upper limit for the salary cap
- Not buy out any of the players selected in the Expansion Draft earlier than the summer of 2018
The Canucks were proactive at this year’s trade deadline, trading away Jannik Hansen, who appeared that he was going to be the odd man out for Vancouver’s protected list.
Barring a trade, conventional wisdom suggests that the Canucks will protect the following 11 players:
- Jacob Markstrom (G)
- Alex Edler (D)
- Chris Tanev (D)
- Erik Gudbranson (D)
- Henrik Sedin (F)
- Daniel Sedin (F)
- Loui Eriksson (F)
- Bo Horvat (F)
- Sven Baertschi (F)
- Markus Granlund (F)
- Brandon Sutter (F)
The Sedins and Eriksson are locks, of course, by virtue of their no-movement clauses. Ryan Miller isn’t on this list because he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
If the Canucks go down this path, Vegas will have the following players available for selection:
- Richard Bachman (G)
- Luca Sbisa (D)
- Alex Biega (D)
- Brendan Gaunce (F)
- Derek Dorsett (F)
- Michael Chaput (F)
- Reid Boucher (F)
- Joseph Cramarossa (F)
- Drew Shore (F)
- Joseph Labate (F)
They’ll also be able to select players like Miller and Anton Rodin, although that is unlikely given they will become unrestricted free agents.
With so many moving parts around the league, it’s difficult to predict what Vegas will need. Will they be on the lookout for a defenceman or a forward from Vancouver? If it’s a defenceman, Luca Sbisa could catch their eye. If it’s a forward, Brendan Gaunce is the most likely candidate to be Vegas-bound.
Sbisa has had a turbulent three seasons in Vancouver, particularly among fans. But the 27-year-old has slowly improved.
He’s not as good as GM Jim Benning must have thought he would become when he acquired him as part of the Ryan Kesler trade in 2014, but he is a bonafide NHL defenceman, albeit in a third-pairing role.
Sbisa, 27, has youth on his side, as well as an expiring contract after next season. That contract carries a $3.6 million cap hit, and that may scare the Golden Knights off. But if they can stomach his hefty salary, perhaps they’ll be intrigued by Sbisa’s toughness on the back-end.
The Swiss defenceman is having a decent season by traditional statistics, as he is fourth in points (12) among Canucks defencemen and second in plus-minus (+2). But by advanced statistics, he ranks dead-last among Canucks defencemen in shot attempt differential (46.17%).
Gaunce, on the other hand, appears to offer everything Sbisa doesn’t.
The Canucks’ first round pick in 2012 is still looking for his first goal of the season, despite appearing in 57 games. He ranks 13th in points in a Canucks uniform this season, which is notable because only 12 forwards play on a nightly basis.
But one look at analytics suggests that Gaunce may be a victim of some bad luck this season. The soon to be 23-year-old has the best shot-attempt differential on the team, for players with more than 20 games played this season.
Gaunce has been used primarily as a winger, but has also played more at centre during his career, and that versatility should intrigue Vegas.
So what is Vegas GM George McPhee to do? It may depend on how much he values advanced statistics versus the eye test. It may also depend on how much his owner values money.