The Rangers Expansion Draft Primer
On June 20, 2017, the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights will draft 30 players left unprotected by the rest of the teams in the NHL. The next day, the results will be announced during the NHL awards show (unless they are leaked earlier, of course). There promises to be a lot of player movement in two high-stakes games, chess and “chicken”. Golden Knights GM George McPhee could bluff his way into a treasure trove of draft picks and prospects, by claiming to be picking a player he may or may not have any intention of taking. He could tell Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton that he is deciding between Michael Grabner and Anti Raanta. If Gorton feels strongly about keeping one or the other, he may have to pay a price to dissuade McPhee from taking the player he would like to keep.
There are other scenarios that may also take place. With a few teams across the NHL seeking a goalie, like the Jets, Flames, and Flyers, Vegas could take Raanta from the Blueshirts and start an auction between the 3 teams. Whoever makes the best offer gets him. McPhee could also get a very nice return for taking a high priced player with a term that an opposing team leaves unprotected, thus doing that team a favor. A favor that will cost quite a bit, certainly. For example, Gorton offers McPhee defenseman Ryan Graves to take Kevin Klein. McPhee gets a young player in Graves that he couldn’t have drafted, plus an experienced defenseman that could play on their second pair, and could be traded for a draft pick at the trade deadline. The Rangers would lose a player that takes up cap space, and just as importantly, would not lose a player they feel is more important to their club.
The Rangers Protected List
There aren’t many secrets as to who will be on the Blueshirts protected list.
Seven forwards – Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, and Mats Zuccarello.
Three defensemen – Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Ryan McDonagh.
One goaltender – Henrik Lundqvist.
And fortunately for the Blueshirts, rookies Brady Skjei, Pavel Buchnevich, and Jimmy Vesey are exempt and cannot be taken.
The Rangers are going to lose somebody they value. While any of the above possibilities could happen, the most likely scenario is the straight forward one. That is, Las Vegas just takes a player they want from the players left unprotected by New York. The players the Golden Knights would most likely consider, are Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Nick Holden, Michael Grabner, and Antti Raanta.
Starting with the least likely, Nick Holden. Holden had a strong first half and then trended down sharply. Through January, I thought he would be the most likely player lost. But, his second half play will probably scare McPhee off. Holden’s appeal at this point is his cap hit of 1.65 million and the fact that he is a defenseman. The Las Vegas franchise must select the following number of players at each position: 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders. And remember, NHL caliber defensemen aren’t easy to come by.
Grabner would have more value as a player taken and traded immediately by Las Vegas. If you look at his years in Toronto and Long Island, he was not nearly as productive. He is not a top line player, nor is he effective on the power play. His last three years, before scoring 27 with the Rangers, he scored 12, 8, and 9. He wasn’t even a player that could fetch a draft pick at the trade deadline. The bottom line is Grabner is a good player on a good team. But, history tells us he is not effective on a lesser team, which the expansion Knights are. His 1.65 million dollar cap hit wouldn’t be a deterrent, for sure; but, in my opinion, there are three other Rangers that the Golden Knights may find more to their liking. Also, he has only one year left on his contract, which could mean him only being a one-year asset for Las Vegas.
Fast has been a solid ladder player for the Blueshirts. He goes up and down the ladder of the lines depending on situations, and what his coach needs. He has shown plenty of guts and is a smart heady player. Being on the small side, he would probably be exposed if asked to play a top six role. He is a restricted free agent, and the Golden Knights would have control over him for several years. He would be a solid choice if McPhee decides to take him.
Rumors are rampant that the Penguins will trade goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to Las Vegas before the expansion draft. Regardless, Raanta is very much at risk to be taken. He is definitely of huge value to a number of teams that are seeking a goaltender because he had a very solid year, is a great locker room guy, and makes only 1 million dollars this upcoming season. Despite the fact that he has only one year left on his deal, he would have appeal to McPhee. Goaltenders are always looking for the security of a job and a guaranteed contract, and there will only be 62 jobs for goalies next year. We have already seen two goalies, Ben Bishop and Scott Darling, traded to goaltender needy teams, before becoming unrestricted free agents, and were immediately signed. For the goalie community, it is a game of musical chairs, and any seat in the NHL is a good seat. If McPhee grabbed Raanta with the intent to keep him, I could easily see an extension being signed in short order. Even if he was a backup to Fleury, he would get a good amount of games.
To me, this is the guy I think will be taken. Lindberg plays a valuable position, center, and has two years NHL experience under his belt. Oscar was a first line center in the Swedish Elite League and in the AHL. In his last year in Hartford, he scored 28 goals and 28 assists in 75 games. He followed that by notching 3 goals and 13 assists in 15 playoff games. In his rookie year, he started with a bang and finished with 13 goals and 15 assists in 68 games. He also played with a hip impingement, that required surgery after the season, during the second half. As this past season went on, Lindberg got stronger and better. His best play came in March and April. This is a player that has upside and can play in all situations, as a second or third line player.
If I were Jeff Gorton I would offer a deal to protect Lindberg and Grabner. Raanta is very good, but backup goalies are replaceable, and not hard to find. Fast is a fine player, and like Raanta, I would prefer to keep him, but the Rangers may have an in-house replacement, in Nicklas Jensen. They also may seek to add more snarl to their fourth line in the trade or free agent market. In the end, it depends on how the Golden Knights scouts and management evaluate the Rangers personnel. This will be a very interesting offseason, which has the potential to have a major roster shakeup on Broadway.