Each day this week, we published mock expansion keeper lists by division: Atlantic, Pacific, Metropolitan, Central. Based on those lists, we've drafted a mock expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights roster.
So here's the thing about the expansion draft: None of us have a damn clue.
We may have a hunch or tip here and there, but we are ultimately oblivious to the exact motives, intentions, and strategies the NHL's 31 general managers will bring to the table when the Vegas Golden Knights piece together a roster in late June.
You can run through the thousands upon thousands of scenarios over on CapFriendly's expansion tool (which is wonderful, by the way), but countless uncontrolled variables could see you easily whiff on all 30 selections. This was even before George McPhee declared that the Golden Knights' intent is to hold an NHL-wide auction for any player left unprotected.
This process cannot be forecast. It makes the event that much more exciting, because it's a genuine opportunity for all teams to make something happen, but also makes it next-to impossible to see in a crystal ball.
So we attacked the exercise this way: In an attempt to eliminate biases and control some variables, we had four editors determine the protected lists from each division, and a fifth, unaware of each strategy, draft the team "blind," while keeping a few key principles in mind:
The upcoming NHL Draft is weak. There should be opportunities for Vegas to accumulate draft picks (perhaps even firsts) in exchange for unwanted contracts. A few of these, preferably short-term deals, will help the Golden Knights reach the salary floor, but more importantly expedite the process of building the foundation of their prospect base. When possible, we'll choose players under the assumption that a draft pick will be tied to it. Ideally these players are talented enough to flip (at half the salary) down the line.
Defensemen will be the Golden Knights' greatest currency, and it only helps that it's the position that's most vulnerable in the expansion process. McPhee must select a surplus of quality defenders to increase the club's flexibility moving forward. So in coin-flip scenarios, we leaned towards the back end.
Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of opportunity to take ostensibly unwanted contracts from teams looking to shed salary. Plekanec and Gorges fill this criteria, perhaps so too does Ward and Sheahan.
By design, it's an impressive defense corps. There are a few foundational pieces locked up long term in Brodin and Maatta, and other 25-and-under rotation pieces to be excited about in Ellis, Gudbranson, and Pysyk. Pulock is a really good prospect, and van Riemsdyk is a nice get as well. Gorges, McNabb, and Schenn will be pending UFAs and potential deadline assets. This group will indeed give McPhee options to help shore up other deficiencies immediately.
As expected, the forward group is fairly weak. Silfverberg has the most term on his deal with just two seasons before reaching unrestricted free agency. Namestnikov, Lowry, Anderson, Ritchie, and Rychel are the other potential core players on the roster. Seven forwards require new contracts over the summer, but most are under control for many seasons. There are a few useful bodies scattered throughout.
In net, Grubauer and Raanta each have a plus-.920 save percentage in supplementary roles this season. This tandem might serve best in a split-duty function. There were other options available, but it's best to be patient in the goaltending market.