Don't assume the top players left exposed ahead of the expansion draft are heading to Vegas, because Golden Knights GM George McPhee has made it abundantly clear he'll offer up additional protection for a price.
Sunday morning, Golden Knights GM George McPhee finally got a peek at the official lists of protected players ahead of the coming expansion draft. But now that the lists are set, McPhee said he’s more willing than ever to talk deal with his team-building counterparts. So willing, in fact, that he has come out and said that if a team doesn’t like what it has left exposed, he’s open to hearing how they can make it worth his while not to pluck a certain player away.
“We're going to go to that club and say, 'We have interest in this player. There's another club that has interest in this player. How do we want to do this? And how can we protect your roster?’ ” McPhee said, according to NHL.com’s Mike Cranston. “You can negotiate your way out of this if you wish. Every team in this league has a chance to protect their roster. We will not make a claim with any club before we talk to the club.”
McPhee is making it awfully clear that he’s not dead-set on what player he’s going to select from any team. There are some players who have been left exposed — namely Marc-Andre Fleury — who seem like locks to head to Vegas, but beyond those certain few, it doesn’t seem as though McPhee is looking at many lists of unprotected players knowing full well who is coming to the Golden Knights via the expansion draft. And that he’s open to being dissuaded with picks, and possibly prospects, gels with everything he has said thus far.
Throughout the expansion process, and well before fans had even the faintest idea what the rules would be surrounding the draft, McPhee made it clear that the Golden Knights would be built with drafting and developing as their primary focus. McPhee said as much at his introductory press conference, has continued to hint at it leading up to the announcement of the protection lists, reportedly has picks-for-protection deals in place and again reiterated that he’s willing to listen to offers when it comes to keeping players protected ahead of Wednesday’s official selections.
There are several teams who have players who will need protecting, too. While there has been speculation about side deals that are already in place, there’s no knowing quite yet who has paid up in order to protect a player, and with the likes of Sami Vatanen, Josh Manson, Calvin De Haan, Thomas Hickey, Matt Calvert, William Karlsson, Jack Johnson and James Neal available, it seems likely that at least a handful of additional draft picks are going to be Vegas-bound once the expansion draft shakes out. That’s exactly what McPhee and Co. want, too.
“We think we can accomplish two things,” McPhee said, according to NHL.com. “We can put a good team on the ice and accumulate draft picks and be in a surplus situation here in the next couple of years. So we can start with a real good team and build it with these draft picks to a team that can win [the Stanley] Cup.”
In saying that, though, it makes it fairly clear that McPhee’s goal isn’t to add another roster player in any deal. There may be some deals that bring an NHL-ready talent to Vegas, such as the reported deal that would see a pair of Chicago Blackhawks, Marcus Kruger and Trevor van Riemsdyk, end up as Golden Knights, but the primary goal for McPhee and Co. is to use this opportunity — almost inarguably the richest expansion draft in league history — to build for the future with picks and prospects.
Don’t think additional protection is the only way McPhee is going to go about acquiring those picks, however. As interesting as McPhee’s clearly stated willingness to give additional protection for picks is that he noted another team may have interest in a player who is eligible to be taken in the expansion draft. That could set up a draft-and-trade scenario with the Golden Knights selecting a player only to flip him in the days following the draft.
That could make for some increased prices for protection, too, which could greatly benefit the Golden Knights. Let’s say for example the Florida Panthers wanted to protect Jonathan Marchessault — which would make sense given he scored 30 goals this past season and has one year left on his deal at less than $1 million — by way of trading a draft choice. Well, McPhee is clearly going to listen, but if another team were interested in the draft-and-trade, it could drive up the price of protection, landing Vegas a higher draft pick.
So, while the protection lists are available and the mock drafts are flowing, don’t go assuming certain players are set to land in Sin City. McPhee is listening to his options and things could get crazy over the next week as the Golden Knights seek to build an unrivalled stable of picks and prospects with an eye toward the future.
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