Now that the 30 NHL teams have released their protected lists for the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft, the real work begins.
For Vegas general manager George McPhee, the challenge is to put together a competitive team. The task is easier than before because existing teams have been limited in the number of players they can protect and there are some quality players available.
For the existing teams, the goal is damage control. Each team can only lose one player, but there will be many long-distance phone calls to Las Vegas during the next few days as teams try to influence McPhee’s choices.
The Vegas GM has indicated a willingness to work with teams that want to retain an unprotected player or teams that want to rid themselves of a bad contract.
The model for this kind of deal can be found in the 1998 expansion draft. GM Réjean Houle was anxious to keep No. 1 goaltender Jocelyn Thibault and the promising José Theodore. Houle convinced the Nashville Predators to select Tomas Vokoun and threw in Sébastien Bordeleau as a sweetener.
The Canadiens elected to protect seven forwards, three defencemen and one goalie, and there were no surprises in their protected list.
Forwards protected were Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron, Phillip Danault, Andrew Shaw and Jonathan Drouin. Artturi Lehkonen didn’t have to be protected as a first-year player while Alex Radulov is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and is fair game for any team. Daniel Carr, Jacob De La Rose, Brian Flynn, Torrey Mitchell and Charles Hudon are among the forwards who are available.
Also left unprotected was Tomas Plekanec, who could provide Vegas with solid defence and leadership. He has a $6-million cap, which is a lot for someone whose production declined last year, but Vegas must select players with a total cap hit of at least $45 million.
The Canadiens protected defencemen Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and Jordie Benn. Alexei Emelin is available, but his contract means Vegas probably won’t be interested — though there might interest in Brandon Davidson.
Carey Price was the no-brainer in goal and Al Montoya is available as a backup goaltender. Vegas is expected to select Pittsburgh’s Marc-André Fleury as its starting goaltender.
Fleury is a good start if you’re building from the goal out, and there are potential backups in Montoya, Antti Raanta and veteran Roberto Luongo.
On defence, the list of unprotected players includes Marco Scandella, Matt Dumba, Sami Vatanen, Dan Hamhuis, Toby Enstrom and Marc Methot.
Bobby Ryan, Eric Staal, James Neal, Josh Bailey, Jonathan Marchessault and Josh Anderson are among the available forwards.
Nashville must make its decisions by Wednesday morning and the selections will be announced as part of the NHL Awards show, which will be televised from Las Vegas on Wednesday night.