Since the moment the Expansion Draft rules were released George McPhee found himself on a thin balance beam. One one side there’s the allure of picking the best 30 players available and stockpiling NHL ready talent that can not only win on the ice but also bring in high-level assets via trade. On the other side, there were ransoms being thrown out to lay off certain players, take on bad contracts, or completely give a team a pass in the Expansion Draft.
McPhee knew this was a difficult dance the whole way. They ran mock drafts and they saw what type of team they could put on the ice in year one. They had conversations with opposing GMs to see exactly how rich those ransoms were to turn a blind eye towards certain teams. And every chance he had, McPhee talked about the importance of staying upright on that balance beam.
Well now the Expansion Draft is over, the Entry Draft has come and gone, and free agency begins in less than a week, and at the moment McPhee and the Golden Knights are trying to maintain their balance, but there’s a clear wobble in the direction of taking on too many NHL contracts, specifically defenseman.
On June 21st the Golden Knights selected 14 defensemen. They ranged in talent from clear Top-4 to borderline NHLer, but all 14 were on NHL contracts. Vegas had created a surplus and it was time to start cashing in via trade.
A day after the draft a pair of defensemen were sent away. Trevor van Riemsdyk brought in a 2nd round pick from the Hurricanes and David Schlemko netted a 5th from Montreal. On its face, fine returns to begin trimming off the surplus of blueliners. But like in any form of commerce, demand must meet supply. Initially, it appeared that demand was high and the Golden Knights held the supply to make the most out of their 15 picks. But then Friday came and went, Saturday, Sunday, and it wasn’t until late Monday that the next defenseman was shipped away.
Marc Methot, the undisputed best talent of all the defensemen selected in the draft was sent to Dallas. The return, a 2nd round pick in 2020 and a goalie prospect the Golden Knights chose not to select 12 times while on the clock in Chicago.
The supply suddenly outweighed the demand, and it’s a problem for McPhee and Co. They still have 11 NHL contracted defenseman, and only have room to keep eight or nine at the most come October. The return on Methot, the most valuable chip, proves the demand isn’t as rich as once expected. Luca Sbisa, Alexei Emelin, Clayton Stoner, Colin Miller, Jon Merrill, and Brayden McNabb are all still under Golden Knights control. Yet at the moment, the demand for mid-range blueliners is at an all time low.
McPhee created this problem, and now he needs to find his way out of it, otherwise, he will have thrown away much more in the Expansion Draft than he, or the fans, would have liked. Demand can change, especially as teams win or lose on UFAs after July 1st, but at the moment the Golden Knights are no different than the dudes trying to sell ice after Elsa froze the city.
It was a tough balance, possibly even an impossible one, but the goal was to extract as much out of the 30 picks afforded to Vegas with the loosest rules in Expansion Draft history. Vegas did well in using cap space to acquire first round picks from Columbus and New York, they gave expansion passes to Winnipeg and Tampa Bay and were rewarded handsomely, and they were able to cash in big time on the situations in Anaheim and Minnesota. But in selecting a surplus of defenseman with the belief they can flip them when the draft is over, may have been a bigger bite than they can chew.
There’s still plenty of time for the demand to pick back up, Anna to find true love, and Elsa to unfreeze the city. Maybe it’ll be at after free agency, maybe it’ll come during camp, or maybe it’ll pick back up near the deadline, but if it doesn’t, the Golden Knights are going to be stuck with a box full of Pogs in 2017, and that’s not a good place to be.