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Punts, Draft And Discards, Throw Aways; Whatever You Call Them, They’re McPhee’s Secret Weapon

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.


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  1. cody

    But why would you throw away a pick you could use on a tradeable asset? Even a late round pick or futures…at worst Vegas can load up on #4 dmen and swap them for 3rds or 4ths. Every team is going to have SOMEONE available who isn’t Dustin Albatross Brown.

    • Because you have to pay those players and they count against your cap. Look at how many deals have been made thus far. There are going to be plenty of teams out there without even a single player with a talent/contract ratio worth taking.

      Stocking up makes sense in principle until you realize that even the guys not on the 23 man NHL roster count against your cap.

    • RJ

      Are #4 Dmen with a poor contract usually tradeqble for a 3rd or 4th rounder? If GM can find value in a pick or a contract I expect him to, that is literally his job. But what this article is about using the draft rules to prevent Las Vegas from taking a valueless contract.

      • James

        ‘Are #4 Dmen with a poor contract usually tradeqble for a 3rd or 4th rounder?’

        What’s your definition of a poor contract? #4 Dmen are valuable, but generally speaking teams aren’t looking for poor contracts. The Toronto Maple Leafs were fortunate to shed the bloated contract of Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf is a fine player, but he isn’t worthy of a $7 million cap hit.

  2. Willy702

    Important clarification needed here however. Is this players contract value in his last season included in the 60% of the cap must be picked rule? So if they pick a guy they won’t sign who had a $6m contract last year and never sign him, are they going to get credit for picking close to 10% of the cap right there? If so that’s a really good deal for VGK because we had been working on the assumption they would have to take on an overpaid vet or two just to hit that salary floor rule.

    • I’ve asked that question multiple times and always get the same answer. “We don’t think it counts toward the 60%.” But the word think is always in there so I’m still not sure.

      I didn’t want to put that in the article because I thought it would have bogged down the point, but you are spot on. If it counts it’s MASSIVE. If it doesn’t, it’s still pretty important.

      I promise, by the time the draft comes up, I’ll have all these answers. (Planning a super duper in depth Expansion Draft rules podcast)

  3. Phisig150

    I’m all for taking short term bad contracts of say 2-3 years if there’s a draft pick coming back. Is this possible during the expansion draft or does McPhee have to wait until later and do some bogus trade? We need picks, picks, and more picks. Not that concerned with the cap just as long as it clears up in 3 years.

  4. 006

    For me, the players to watch aren’t those who are throwaways or trade-bait; they are the players who simply don’t make the team and then have to clear waivers before they can be assigned to the AHL.

    There are only 23 roster spots with 30 players in the draft. If 2 are trade-bait for picks and 2 are throwaways, 3 are going to be cut. And those numbers don’t even include the ’17 draft picks, where you have to think the 1st round selection has a decent chance to make the roster.

    It will be interesting to see how many Expansion Draft players actually end up on the Knights opening day roster.

    • Waivers is another topic I’ve yet to completely dive into because there are still some inconsistencies in my knowledge of the rules. It’s going to be a huge topic, and we are definitely going to cover it as in depth as possible when the time comes that I’ve got all the facts.

    • Willy702

      I think a lot of players they may pick could be in this category of not quite NHL players who can start out in the AHL and still have options to be sent down without clearing waivers. Take Malcolm Subban, a lousy goalie so many think will be interesting to VGK. No way no how he starts the season on the roster, he’s as sure as can be AHL bound. There will be enough of those guys that getting the 30 down to 23 shouldn’t be hard to do even if a draftee or two make the roster opening night. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if 3 draftees got a shot at the NHL since the team can play them 9 games and then send them back to juniors with no contract implications.

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