Friday September 11th, 2015

Ah, mid-September. For NHL fans, the wait for next season has been excruciatingly long. The glow of the June entry draft and July free agent sweepstakes has worn off and training camps are opening. It’s a time to fantasize a little, maybe dream up the perfect roster for your fantasy league or envision a way for your favorite team to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug next year.

Whatever the case, we’ve dreamt up a scenario of our own with the NHL’s possible moves into Las Vegas and Quebec City: what the new teams’ rosters could look like if an expansion draft were held today.

Yes, we understand that Las Vegas (the Black Knights, as rumored) and Quebec City (which will now be referred to as the Nordiques, because, duh) probably won’t enter the league until the 2017-18 season if their expansion bids are approved. But let’s have a little fun with this anyway.

Rules:

A. Each of the 30 current NHL teams is allowed to protect either one goaltender, five defensemen and nine forwards, or two goalies, three defensemen and seven forwards.

B. At least one defenseman left unprotected by each team must have appeared in a minimum of 40 games during the 2014-15 NHL season or 70 games during the ’13-14 and ’14-15 seasons combined. At least one unprotected forward must meet the same requirements.

C. Players must meet the same requirements above in order to be protected. If a team wants to keep seven forwards but only has seven that meet the requirements of Rule B, it must leave at least one forward and defenseman unprotected.

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D. Players with No Trade or No Movement clauses must be protected by their teams. This rule prevents them from ditching weighty contracts as a form of a free buyout. (All salary information is according to General Fanager.) If a player agrees to waive his NTC/NMC and is selected by the Black Knights or Nordiques, his new team must forfeit its third round pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. 

E. A total of 60 players will be chosen in the draft. No more than one goaltender and one defenseman can be selected from each existing franchise. The Black Knights and Nordiques must use their first 24 selections on three goaltenders, eight defensemen and 13 forwards. The final six picks for each team can be for any position.

F. Las Vegas and Quebec City will draft in a “snake” style. The Black Knights were granted the first pick, therefore the Nordiques will receive the second and third selections. The Knights will then draft fourth and fifth before the Nords select sixth and seventh, etc.

The draft: first round

 

#

Player

Drafted From

Drafted By

1

Craig Anderson (G)

Ottawa Senators

Las Vegas

2

James Reimer (G)

Toronto Maple Leafs

Quebec City

3

Ben Scrivens (G)

Edmonton Oilers

Quebec City

4

Anton Khudobin (G)

Anaheim Ducks

Las Vegas

5

Jonas Hiller (G)

Calgary Flames

Las Vegas

6

Chad Johnson (G)

Buffalo Sabres

Quebec City

7

Brooks Orpik (D)

Washington Capitals

Quebec City

8

Jason Demers (D)

Dallas Stars

Las Vegas

9

Mike Ribeiro (F)

Nashville Predators

Las Vegas

10

Carl Gunnarsson (D)

St. Louis Blues

Quebec City

11

Andrej Sustr (D)

Tampa Bay Lightning

Quebec City

12

Ron Hainsey (D)

Carolina Hurricanes

Las Vegas

13

Jon Merrill (D)

New Jersey Devils

Las Vegas

14

Johan Franzen (F)

Detroit Red Wings

Quebec City

15

Tom Gilbert (D)

Montreal Canadiens

Quebec City

16

Matt Greene (D)

Los Angeles Kings

Las Vegas

17

Patrick Maroon (F)

Anaheim Ducks

Las Vegas

18

Mikhail Grabovski (F)

New York Islanders

Quebec City

19

Nikolai Kulemin (F)

New York Islanders

Quebec City

20

Matt Bartkowski (D)

Vancouver Canucks

Las Vegas

21

Steve Ott (F)

St. Louis Blues

Las Vegas

22

Cody Hodgson (F)

Nashville Predators

Quebec City

23

Alex Petrovic (D)

Florida Panthers

Quebec City

24

Brad Richards (F)

Detroit Red Wings

Las Vegas

25

Brian Boyle (F)

Tampa Bay Lightning

Las Vegas

26

Nathan Gerbe (F)

Carolina Hurricanes

Quebec City

27

Mark Borowiecki (D)

Ottawa Senators

Quebec City

28

Matt Irwin (D)

Boston Bruins

Las Vegas

29

Trevor Lewis (F)

Los Angeles Kings

Las Vegas

30

Brandon Prust (F)

Vancouver Canucks

Quebec City

Highlights

• Like previous GMs of expansion teams, the front offices of the two franchises believe in building from the back out and thus chose goaltenders early. 

• Anaheim has a particularly loaded front end and, given the Ducks’ need to protect both Frederik Andersen and John Gibson in net, they had a lot of options available for Las Vegas and Quebec City. Two Ducks went in the Top 20, including Khudobin, who could challenge Craig Anderson for the starting role with Las Vegas, and hulking forward Patrick Maroon, who was a staple of their first line last season.

• Given that so much of Arizona’s future lies with its young talent, the desert dogs opted to keep veteran goalies Mike Smith and Anders Lindback for some stability in net. Both expansion teams subsequently chose middling Coyotes depth forwards Boyd Gordon (Quebec) and Joe Vitale (Las Vegas) late in the draft.

• Boston continued to move in a different direction, ditching forward Max Talbot (Quebec) with one year left on his deal. New signee Matt Irwin was simply the odd man out on the back end and while the Bruins hoped he might slip through the cracks unnoticed, he could end up on the second pairing with the Knights.

• The Sabres believe in goalie Robin Lehner enough to roll the dice with him as their starter. Thus Chad Johnson’s tenure with Buffalo was brief. The team believes it is on the upswing and will be able to attract more goaltending talent in the future. Oft-injured Jamie McGinn (Las Vegas) felt like a throwaway by Colorado in the Ryan O’Reilly trade and he found himself in Buffalo’s talent-rich forward stable. He didn’t stay there long.

• Calgary couldn’t bear to part with the talented nucleus of five defenseman it has built so the Flames ditched on-again, off-again goalie Jonas Hiller. The journeyman was snapped up early by Las Vegas. Though it probably broke Hockey Ops President Brian Burke’s heart, gritty forward Brandon Bollig was left unprotected. There was just too much young talent and NTCs. The Knights went into the draft knowing they wanted to build a “Salt of the Earth” type of team and Bollig fits that bill.

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• Saddled with NTC/NMC clauses at every position, the Hurricanes were forced to protect Cam Ward in net but they still see 27-year old Eddie Lack as a big part of their future. With plans to flip Ward at next season’s trade deadline, the ’Canes kept their two goalkeepers. Rather than let immensely skilled 23-year old defenseman Justin Faulk be snatched, they approached aging blueliner Ron Hainsey, who has two years left on his deal, and asked him to waive his modified NTC. He accepted and the established leader was promptly awarded with a call from the Black Knights. He’ll finish his career in the desert. 

• With eight players having NTCs/NMCs, the Chicago Blackhawks figured that the productive days of 29-year old forwards Andrew Desjardins (Las Vegas) and Ryan Garbutt (Quebec) were over. The Knights will be Desjardins’s third NHL team and they believe that with more ice time the 195-pound forward can be relied upon to chip in on the offensive side.

• Colorado’s core remains intact, though the oft-injured winger Patrick Bordeleau (Quebec) and defenseman Nick Holden (Las Vegas), a liability in terms of puck possession, did not make the cut.

• With five NMCs/NTCs up front, the Blue Jackets let 31-year old winger Gregory Campbell go to Las Vegas.

• Dallas, man. One of the shockers when the protected lists were released was the Stars’ decision to keep both of their 31-year old goalies, Kari Lehtonen (limited NTC, which he was unwilling to waive) and Antti Niemi. There were rumors of a Lehtonen trade during the draft but nothing materialized and the Dallas roster, including capable 27-year old defenseman Jason Demers, was picked over. The Stars’ thinking was that Demers would probably test the free agent market next season anyway.

• Detroit took the opportunity to bid farewell to the mule, Johan Franzen. The 35-year old winger still has five years left (with no strings attached) on his deal but concussion issues have cast doubt on his ability to make a full comeback. The Wings gladly opted to protect young forwards Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan. Franzen was seen by Quebec City as a gamble worth taking.

• Unwilling to protect only seven forwards (and thus slow down all the progress they’ve made) the Oilers made goalie Ben Scrivens available. It was likely going to be Cam Talbot’s team in Edmonton regardless.

• The Panthers didn’t fare too poorly, all things considered. They lost marginalized veteran Shawn Thornton (Las Vegas), who wouldn’t have had much of a role with the team this season. As defenseman Brian Campbell was unwilling to waive his NTC, Florida had to let backliner Alex Petrovic go to Quebec after he’d re-upped with them.

• With the Kings’ recent signing (and subsequent NMC) of defenseman Christian Erhoff, 32-year old Matt Greene became expendable. Trevor Lewis is a nice piece but the Kings already have enough invested in 30+ forwards Dustin Brown, Marion Gaborik and Jeff Carter.

• Minnesota had to beg and plead to get 37-year old keeper Niklas Backstrom to waive his NTC since recently-signed Devan Dubnyk also has a NTC. At the 11th hour he relented, but both Quebec City and Las Vegas passed on the Swede, leading to what could be an uncomfortable season in Minny.

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• No one said that playing in Montreal was easy. Once a playoff hero in the city, Dale Weise’s up-and-down play last season wasn’t enough to earn him protection and so he was taken by Las Vegas in the second round. Tom Gilbert’s first season with the Habs was close to a disaster and since he doesn’t fit in Coach Michel Therrien’s system, he was shown the door.

• Nashville GM David Poile, shrewd move-maker that he is, opted not to keep forwards Mike Ribeiro and Cody Hodgson. Ribeiro ended up as the Black Knights’ scoring threat. Hodgson will be given an opportunity to finally reach his potential in Quebec City.

• NMCs/NTCs hurt New Jersey. The Devils were forced to leave 23-year old defenseman Jon Merrill (Las Vegas) available as others on the back end did not meet the necessary games-played requirements. Jersey sees more potential in 24-year old defenseman John Moore.

• With an array of young talented forwards, the Islanders opted to drop former Leafs Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski. It wasn’t long before the pair were reunited in Quebec City, though, as the Nordiques chose them back-to-back with the 18th and 19th picks.

• Three defensemen with NMCs on the Rangers’ roster forced the Blueshirts to let 30-year old Kevin Klein go to Quebec City. Are we sensing a trend here?

• Defenseman Nick Schultz, 33, was a little too old for Philadelphia’s young core but will settle in nicely with the rest of the veterans in Las Vegas.

• Forward Matt Cullen (Quebec City), a 38-year old recent signee, did not last long with Pittsburgh. But the arrival of Phil Kessel will more than make up for the loss of Cullen.

• Not only do the Ottawa Senators believe in their future goaltending tandem of Andrew Hammond and recent signing Matt O’Connor, they were unwilling to budge on protecting less than five defenseman so they let 34-year-old Craig Anderson, who still has three years left on his $4.2 million annual cap hit contract, walk. A risky move, perhaps, but the Black Knights were ready to gamble on him as their centerpiece in net.

• With not enough defenseman to fit the games-played requirements, the Sharks had to let Justin Braun, 28, go to Quebec City. It was a choice between Braun and 24-year old Brenden Dillon, and the Sharks like what the younger, larger model can do.

• The Black Knights have opted for a tough, physical brand of hockey to appeal to newcomers to the sport and were pleasantly surprised when the St. Louis Blues left 33-year-old pest Steve Ott unprotected. 

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• Having four defensemen with NTCs hurt Tampa Bay, so towering 6' 7" backliner Andrej Sustr, 24, was left unprotected. Quebec City gladly snapped him up.

• In a strange sign of faith, the Maple Leafs protected only goalie Jonathan Bernier and left James Reimer available. He'll join Ben Scrivens, who was exposed by Edmonton, to form a strong tandem in Quebec City.

• The Canucks had to let the hard working forward Brandon Prust (Quebec) and defenseman Matt Bartkowski (Las Vegas) leave in light of their many NMCs/NTCs. 

• Washington was in tough: The Caps had planned to leave 24-year old defenseman Nate Schmidt unprotected but his requirements fell short by just two games. They decided instead to expose 34-year old Brooks Orpik, thus freeing up needed cap space and providing Quebec City with its new captain.

• Winnipeg kept its core intact, allowing defenseman Adam Pardy, 31, and winger Chris Thorburn, 32, to walk to Las Vegas and Quebec City respectively.

Las Vegas Black Knights Roster

 

Forwards

Patrick Maroon

Brad Richards

Mike Ribeiro

Steve Ott

Trevor Lewis

Dale Weise

Jamie McGinn

Gregory Campbell

Richard Panik

Brandon Bollig

Andrew Desjardins

Ben Smith

Shawn Thornton

Joe Vitale

Ryan Carter

Luke Gazdic

 

Defensemen

Ron Hainsey

Jason Demers

Matt Bartkowski

Jon Merrill

Matt Irwin

Nick Holden

Nick Schultz

Matt Greene

Adam Pardy

Dalton Prout

Ben Lovejoy

 

Goalies

Craig Anderson

Anton Khudobin

Jonas Hiller

 

Results: This is a top-heavy team, both literally and figuratively. The first line of Maroon, Richards and Ribeiro combined for a respectable 123 points last season and the Black Knights front office hopes they can produce something close to it again. This won’t be a team that is easily pushed around. With heavy-hitters like Steve Ott, Shawn Thornton and Luke Gazdic, the Knights will provide entertainment value early and often. It might seem a bit off for a team to buck the trend of reducing the role of fighters, but nothing about Las Vegas’s approach will be standard.

There are a few building blocks on the blueline, including 27-year olds Jason Demers and Matt Bartkowski. They’ll need to find their way sooner rather than later as the Black Knights as a whole are an older bunch. This team might not look like a contender on paper but it could surprise some opponents.

Quebec Nordiques Roster

 

Forwards

Nikolai Kulemin

Mikhail Grabovski

Johan Franzen

Nathan Gerbe

Brian Boyle

Cody Hodgson

Ryan Garbutt

Stephen Gionta

Travis Moen

Michael Raffl

Brandon Prust

Tanner Glass

Max Talbot

Boyd Gordon

Chris Thornburn

Patrick Bordeleau

Matt Cullen

Jay Beagle

 

Defensemen

Brooks Orpik

Andrej Sustr

Carl Gunnarsson

Tom Gilbert

Alex Petrovic

Kevin Klein

Mark Borowiecki

Justin Braun

Nate Prosser

 

Goalies

James Reimer

Ben Scrivens

Chad Johnson

 

Results: The Nordiques’ plan was to hit the ground running and give fans something to cheer about immediately, so they drafted an able mix of young and old, grit and skill, proven and risky. Among the risks, Cody Hodgson will either finally blossom into the offensive talent many have hoped he’ll become or he’ll wilt under the pressure of playing in a hungry new market. Aging Stanley Cup winners Johan Franzen and Matt Cullen will provide direction and leadership in the locker room while feisty Quebec-born forwards Max Talbot and and Patrick Bordeleau will win over the local crowd with their heart and tenacity. The Nords also put former duos James Reimer and Ben Scrivens (ex-Leafs), Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski (ex-Isles, Leafs), and Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle (ex-Rangers) back together.

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 With anticipation high, the hope is that team chemistry will build quickly and this fairly deep squad will provide a challenge in the increasingly competitive Eastern Conference.

Outlook: Fans in Quebec City and Vegas who are hoping for contending teams early on had better be patient. The average age of the 30 players drafted is 29.58 which speaks to a reality of the NHL that any expansion team must deal with: It’s a skilled young man’s league. As drafting and development have taken priority with GMs, expansion teams can expect to have their pick of mostly seasoned role players who are eager for one more shot, but building a Cup-caliber squad will be a time-consuming process.

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