As the Seattle draft is finally within sight, the chatter around the NHL turns to protection lists and potential trades to save your favorite player from packing his bags and heading to the Emerald City. The best way to plan for the future is looking to the past and reviewing the 2017 expansion draft to get some bearings as to what to expect the trade market to look like. The Vegas expansion is famous for lopsided trades that look terrible in hindsight, but were all the deals really that bad? There were ten trades made the day of the expansion draft and they go as followed-
Sabres traded their 2017 sixth round pick in exchange for Vegas selecting William Carrier
This ended up being a relatively nothing deal. William Carrier was an AHLer for the Sabres for the first three seasons of his career with just 41 games of NHL action under his belt. Even though Carrier has become a regular in the bottom six of the Golden Knights’ lineup, a sixth round pick (which was used to select goalie Jiri Patera) for, at the time, an AHL forward, is a fine move. Carrier is probably thrilled he hasn’t been in Buffalo all these years.
Panthers traded Reilly Smith in exchange for Vegas selecting Jonathan Marchessault
When people talk about stupid trades during expansion drafts, this is what they’re talking about. Marchessault, whom the Panthers paid Vegas to take, was their leading scorer with 30 goals and 51 points. Smith had 15 goals and 37 points, which was a slight dip from his season before. To make things more baffling, Marchessault still had one year left on a deal that paid him only $750,000 a season. Smith was a wildly inconsistent producer at that point of his career and, to be fair, he was on a $5 million per year contract which seemed excessive given the season he had just had. Regardless, both players have gone on to be pillars for the Golden Knights and the Panthers have nothing to show for it except a fourth round pick in 2018 that they received in the deal. The Panthers did later use that pick to acquire Mike Hoffman from San Jose, so at least a bit of positive was salvaged from an otherwise disastrous deal.
Hurricanes traded a 2017 fifth round pick in exchange for Vegas selecting Connor Brickley
Brickley was an underwhelming forward in Carolina who was struggling to get his feet wet in the NHL after coming over in a trade with Florida the year before. He was a pending unrestricted free agent at the time of the expansion draft and the Canes gave the Knights a fifth round pick to take him off their hands. Brickley did not re-sign with the Knights and returned to Florida in free agency. Vegas got a free draft pick (Jack Dugan) to basically ignore the Hurricanes.
Jets traded a 2017 first round pick and a 2019 third round pick in exchange for Vegas selecting Chris Thorburn (and a 2017 first round pick)
Winnipeg may have been one of the few teams to wheel and deal with Vegas on a big level and walk away in one piece. They essentially traded back 11 spots in the first round of the 2017 draft and lost a third for Chris Thorburn, who was on an expiring contract. Thorburn was nothing more than a depth enforcer for the entirety of his career. The move was made so the Jets could protect defenseman Tobias Enstrom, who wasn’t on their 7-3-1 list. All in all, this was a good move for Vegas, but it also didn’t end up completely lopsided against the Jets either. We’ll just ignore that the 13th overall pick Winnipeg traded back from became Nick Suzuki.
Lightning traded 2017 second and 2018 fourth round picks and Nikita Gusev in exchange for Vegas selecting Jason Garrison
Garrison was an aging defenseman who had one year left at $4.6 million. It was crucial for a team like Tampa to get that cap space off the books. Gusev was a highly rated prospect at that time, though he never played a game for either Tampa or Vegas. The second round pick was later flipped to Columbus in a deal after the draft, and Vegas selected Slava Demin with the 2018 fourth. In hindsight, this was a pretty solid deal for Tampa. They ended up not regretting any of the picks or prospect they gave up and they got a big contract off the books. This could be a blueprint deal for many teams in 2021 who will look to get big contracts off the books due to the flat salary cap.
Islanders traded a 2017 first round pick, a 2019 second round pick, Mikhail Grabovski and Jake Bischoff in exchange for Vegas selecting J.F. Berube
This was pretty much the opposite approach from Tampa. Grabovski had one year left on a deal that paid him $5 million. Grabovski was all but useless at that point in his career and the Isles needed the cap space. Bischoff was a former seventh round pick that ended up having a decent college career after his draft year, but only had six AHL games under his belt. Berube, who was the player Vegas actually selected, was a minor league goalie on an expiring deal. That first round pick became Erik Brannstrom and the second round was flipped to Detroit in the Tomas Tatar trade. This ended up being a textbook scenario of what a massive overpayment in the name of cap space would look like.
Ducks traded Shea Theodore in exchange for Vegas selecting Clayton Stoner
Here’s another one that looks terrible in hindsight, but but didn’t seem like it at the time. Theodore was a 2013 first round pick that had trouble sticking in the NHL during his first two professional seasons. Stoner was a 32-year-old stay at home defenseman at the tail end of his career with one year left on his deal with a $3.25 million price tag. He had dealt with an abdominal injury that limited him to just 14 games during the 2016-17 season, an issue that once again popped up during Vegas’ training camp and forced him to retire early. Theodore has since found his footing in the NHL and became one of the Golden Knights’ top defensemen. While the Ducks were able to wash their hands clean of Stoner, the gamble to lose Theodore did not work out in their favor.
Wild traded Alex Tuch in exchange for Vegas selecting Erik Haula
Turns out the Panthers weren’t the only really stupid team at the expansion draft. Erik Haula was a pending restricted free agent and Tuch was an 18th overall pick in 2014 and had a bright future, but only played six games for Minnesota early in his career. Haula posted 29 goals and 55 points during his first season in Vegas while Tuch hit the 20-goal, 50-point mark during his second. The trade was originally done to convince Vegas to stay away from the unprotected Matt Dumba, so in one sense it wasn’t as brain-dead as it looks on paper, but it works into the cautionary tale of only losing one good player instead of two. Worth noting Chuck Fletcher was the man behind this deal.
Blue Jackets traded a 2017 first round pick, a 2019 second round pick and David Clarkson in exchange for Vegas selecting William Karlsson
The Blue Jackets followed the Islanders’ lead on this one by paying a high price to lose a bad contract. Clarkson, who had played just five games since the calendar struck 2016, still had three years left on a deal that payed him $5.25 million a season. Just like the Islanders, they included Clarkson in the trade rather than Vegas technically selecting him to get around injured player rules, but it came at the cost of a first round pick (that was later flipped to Winnipeg) and a second round pick (later used to acquire Max Pacioretty) and William Karlsson. At the time of the trade, Karlsson did seem like a harmless pick. He had been through two organizations with only two NHL seasons under his belt with very little production to show for it. Nobody expected him to post 43 goals during Vegas’ inaugural season and garner both Selke and Hart considerations. Columbus did manage to get Clarkson’s albatross contract off the books, but was the price they paid worth it?
Penguins traded a 2020 second round pick in exchange for Vegas selecting Marc-Andre Fleury
Without a doubt the most famous trade during the 2017 expansion happened when the Penguins gave up a second round pick (later sent to Chicago in the Malcolm Subban trade) in order for Vegas to take three-time Stanley Cup champion goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The trade was done for a myriad or reasons, including moving the last two years of his contract, which carried a $5.75 million cap hit, and clearing room for emerging goalie Matt Murray, who at the time was in the process of de-throning Fleury as the starter in Pittsburgh. Fleury was also closing in on his 33rd birthday as well, so ditching an aging, expensive goalie turned out great for Pittsburgh, right? Not really. Fleury had a career renaissance in Vegas when he finished fourth and fifth in Vezina voting, got Hart considerations, won a Jennings Trophy, as well as earning two all-star nominations. Even as his 37th birthday approaches, he’s still the guy in Vegas and the backbone of the team both on and off the ice.
The story of the 2017 expansion draft seemed to be that Vegas was open to pretty much any move and they just let each general manager decide how badly they wanted to shoot themselves in the foot. “What’s that Florida, you want to give us a 30-goal scorer to take a bad deal? Sure!” “Ok, Jets, you came to the table with a fair offer, it’s a deal!” “Buffalo, Carolina, you want to give us assets for AHL bums? Step right up!” “Sure, Pittsburgh, a second round pick and an elite goalie to build a franchise around sounds great!”
The lasting legacy from the draft is highlighted by the two or three really dumb moves, but the overall tale here was that there were smart moves to be made if the GM in charge didn’t show their hand, ironically enough. Tampa didn’t get fleeced nearly as bad as the Panthers, the Jets made a smart trade by being able to get something back in return, The Blue Jackets and Islanders did what they had to do to remove legitimately horrible contracts they were strapped to despite it not looking so great in hindsight.
As we look ahead to the 2021 draft at the end of July, one has to wonder if history will repeat itself. With the flat salary cap taking away breathing room for most teams, will they be desperate enough to pay whatever price Ron Francis and the Kraken ask of them? Or have teams learned their lesson and will just let Seattle pick one player off their unprotected list and possibly lose one really good player, but walking away with assets still in tow? Theoretically, everyone should be smarter this time around and the drama around the moves should be at a minimum, but it’s still the NHL, can GM’s across the league contain themselves when the pressure is on? Time will tell, but one thing’s for sure, there will be a bountiful buffet table lined up when the Kraken feeding frenzy rolls into the National Hockey League.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: NHL.com