Unrestricted free agents are going to play a major role in the Expansion Draft in June. We’ve discussed the exclusive negotiating window, the rule that a selected UFA qualifies as the pick from their previous team, and the possibility of “cheating” going on by gaming the NHL’s calendar.
But there was one minor detail that has a chance to become major when the selections are finally being made in the war room in Summerlin. I’ve previously called them “punt” or “draft and discard” picks, and now we’ve got a new name for them. Throw away picks, a term coined by George McPhee and most recently used in an interview on KDWN’s The Coaches Corner. (GMGM interview starts at 25:45)
What we have to be careful of is drafting an unrestricted free agent without having a contract in place. We are not gong to do that unless we are prepared to lose the player. It’s a throw away pick. Let’s assume it’s a team that doesn’t have much, and we don’t want to take on a big contract, you can just take on an unrestricted free agent and not sign him, do no harm to the organization with a bad contract. -George McPhee, GM
That’s right, Vegas can select an unrestricted free agent, or a restricted free agent who has yet to receive a qualifying offer, and never sign the player. It’s essentially a wasted pick, but there’s a massive benefit that comes with it.
In today’s NHL there are two major commodities, talent and cap space. Teams win consistently when they can maximize both at the same time. The Vegas Golden Knights aren’t going to be overflowing with the talent, but they do have the unique ability to control their cap unlike any of the Original 30.
The salary cap was put into place following the lockout in 2005, meaning Vegas is the first team to come into the league since its inception. The rules state the Golden Knights must select 60% of the cap in the Expansion Draft, and that’s before they start shipping players off via trade minutes after they submit the final list.
With the ability to “throw away” selections on UFAs, the team will have much more freedom to maneuver the perils of being required to select 30 players. They must select 20 players under contract for the following season, those other 10 are invaluable.
As much as people want to say the Expansion Draft is set up for the Golden Knights to acquire talent, the fact remains it’s all about the cap. Throw away picks and trades will be the story when the Expansion Draft is over. George McPhee’s goal isn’t to select 30 great hockey players, or even 10 for that matter, his goal is to get the best team and stay as far under the cap as possible, all while avoiding the nemesis of every GM in league, bad contracts.