Written by: Tanner Henkel – Staff Writing Intern (@thenkel)
For the first time since 2000 the NHL has added another franchise.
It’s been official for nearly five months, but on Tuesday the Vegas Golden Knights unveiled their team name, logos and colors.
And just like that they’re ready to go for the 2017-18 season at T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas.
Not so fast.
There’s twenty games gone in the 2016-17 NHL season, which means the Golden Knights and their G.M. George McPhee have about 10 months to ice a roster from scratch.
So how will McPhee ice a complete NHL roster and hire a coaching staff in such a short period? The answer is, a couple different ways.
Like any team, Vegas can build through free agency and the NHL entry draft, but additionally the NHL will have an expansion draft for the Golden Knights.
Each current NHL team can protect exactly seven forwards, three defenseman and one goalie, or eight total skaters and a goalie. The current franchises will have until June 17th at 5 P.M. EST to submit their list of protected players, and the Golden Knights have until June 20th to pick from the unprotected list of players.
Without access to the list, McPhee and his team will have to speculate on what players might be available.This is speculation, but here are three players that might be available when it comes time for the June expansion draft.
Marc-Andre Fleury (G) Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins find themselves in the desirable situation of having two goalies that are both capable of taking on the number one role. But, because of his age (31), his cap hit (5.75 Million with two seasons remaining) and the fact the Pens just resigned 22 year-year old Matt Murray, Fleury could be on his way out.
This is a good fit for the Golden Knights. Fleury is the winner of two Stanley Cups, meaning he has an abundance of experience and could be a great leader for a new team. You can’t take anything away from Fleury, but the writing was on the wall as he played second string to Matt Murray for much of last year’s cup run. A fresh start in the desert might be what’s in order for Fleury.
Dustin Brown (RW) L.A. Kings: Another veteran with a Stanley Cup pedigree, Brown would be a great fit in Vegas. He was stripped of his captaincy with the Kings this past offseason, but Brown responded by starting the season red hot. He’s since tailed off with nine points in 20 games, Brown has returned to his offensive form of the past three seasons.
Even when he’s not scoring, Brown contributes in different ways, but with back-to-back 28 and 27-point seasons his cap hit (5.875) has started to outweigh his value. That being said Browns’ intangibles make him more valuable to a young team looking for an identity, as opposed to Los Angeles who needs the cap space. Brown could emerge as a leader for the new franchise.
Evander Kane (LW) Buffalo Sabres: Kane is an interesting player. He’s capable of being a 30-goal scorer, but he seems to get in his own way.
This season Kane has two points in eight games, and for a Sabres team that is desperate for offense, that simply isn’t enough. A notorious partier, Kane might be motivated by a move to Sin City. The Golden Knights would get an electric scorer, and Buffalo can offload his bloated salary (5.25M).
Now what about a coach?
McPhee said on Tuesday he’ll wait until the spring to see what coaches are available but here’s two candidates not currently employed by NHL teams that might be ready.
Travis Green: The current coach of Vancouver’s AHL affiliate the Utica Comets. Green has quickly climbed the coaching ladder going from an assistant with Portland in the Western League in 2013 to a head coach in the AHL. He’s spent the past two seasons in Utica and preformed particularly well. Green might get an audition in the NHL if Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins is let go before the seasons’ over.
Marc Crawford: The former coach of Auston Matthews with Zurich in the Swiss league, Crawford has a ton of NHL experience, and he wants to return to the NHL. Crawford was with Colorado as they transitioned from Quebec in 1996, and eventually won a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche. If Crawford wants to come back to the NHL Vegas is his best bet.
What does a team in Vegas mean for the rest of the league?
While Sin City has played host to several minor pro teams, the Golden Knights will be the cities first major pro team. The idea of a major pro team in Vegas has been bounced around boardrooms of all the major sports leagues, but the image of Vegas as a party city is likely what held other leagues back from expanding.
But with this move the NHL took the first bold step into Nevada, and they’re about to reap the rewards.
Since becoming commissioner, Gary Bettman’s M.O. has been to expand into the United States and more specifically, the southern United States. He expanded aggressively in the nineties adding or moving teams to Anaheim, Arizona, Carolina, Florida, and Nashville among others.
The validity of Bettman’s moves into the Sunbelt was confirmed this past summer when Auston Matthews was drafted first overall.
Matthews grew up in Arizona, and was first exposed to the NHL at a Phoenix Coyotes game. Matthews has credited the team, saying that if there wasn’t a team in Phoenix he might have never picked up the game.
Despite the slow, and sometimes debatable success of his previous expansion moves, Vegas can become Bettman’s magnum opus. It will be Phoenix on steroids. With 40 million visitors travelling to Las Vegas every year, the visibility of the league and the sport itself will sky rocket. With solid ownership and an experienced hockey operations team in place, this franchise could thrive in the desert, surpassing its expansion predecessors.
But adding one team means there will be an uneven number of franchises in the NHL. So would it be smart to add a 32nd franchise?
Maybe. And the idea of further expansion has been discussed, but it doesn’t seem like anything more than hear say at this point. The most serious location was thought to be Seattle, but Bettman shot that down last week. For now Vegas is the only expansion team on the horizon, but either way that’s great for the NHL.