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Expansion Draft 2020: Vegas’ Exemption Creating Anxiety And Drama For Other Clubs

In late June of 2020, Seattle, the 32nd franchise, will have the opportunity to pluck other teams talent at the Expansion Draft like the Golden Knights did on June 21st, 2017. George McPhee and his group masterfully duped 30 other NHL general managers, and whoever is at the helm in Seattle (maybe Kelly McCrimmon) will try to do the same. Okay maybe not all 30, but a good percentage of the league felt slighted, enough that those same general managers may just reach out to McPhee this time so it won’t happen again.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun was on Montreal radio this week and brought up how teams are very concerned with next year’s expansion draft. Teams aren’t in the business of giving away good players… again.

It’s also created I think a bit of a unique situation… because Vegas doesn’t have to worry about a protection list and all of that jazz. I think they’re going to be a team that some clubs are going to look to as a safety valve in trying to navigate the waters around the Seattle expansion process. -Pierre LeBrun, TSN Radio Montreal

LeBrun explained that the way McPhee and his staff maneuvered the expansion rules has teams running to protect themselves this time around. LeBrun used Nashville as a team that could find themselves in a protection problem and may be forced to expose one really talented defenseman. In the scenario, this is where McPhee gets a call.

It would behoove them to try and send them to Vegas for a first round pick or a top prospect. As opposed to losing them for nothing to Seattle. I don’t know at this juncture how the league feels about that kind of trade. -LeBrun

Another twist to the expansion process is the side drama from other clubs. LeBrun noted several general managers are upset Vegas is protected from the expansion draft and won’t be losing a player.

There are GM’s I think who felt that once Seattle’s start was delayed by a year, that Vegas should be subject to lose a player like everyone else. There are definitely GM’s grumbling behind the scenes. But as Bill Daly said because Vegas is not getting a piece of the pie from Seattle, they’re the only one not getting a check, then they’re not losing a player… so that’s created some tension for obvious reasons. -LeBrun

What makes GM’s mostly worried, with good reason, is that McPhee could take advantage of franchises with protection issues, or get a jump on adding players.

Because Vegas doesn’t have to worry about a protection list they’re more willing too add players during that particular time then any other team. -LeBrun

Bill Daly told league officials not too fret about Vegas abusing their exemption. Other teams want to be reassured that the Golden Knights wont be making unfair trades during that small window before the 2020 Expansion Draft. The league will be keeping an eye on Quick Draw McPhee.

Daly hears that Vegas can’t interfere with the Seattle expansion process. The league will pay close attention to the type of trades the involve Vegas around that… Bill Daly says he’ll know when he sees it as far as something that doesn’t pass the smell test. -LeBrun

One scenario that clearly makes sense for Seattle is hiring Vegas Assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon. Obviously, as McPhee’s right-hand man he’s fully capable of handling the pressure and creativity of an expansion draft. However, if McPhee is whispering to 30 other compadres it’ll make McCrimmon’s job much tougher the second time around. Any other Seattle general manager would be at even more of a disadvantage.

All along we’re always under the assumption that Seattle will have a bit of a tougher time this time around. Teams are more familiar with the rules and the process, saw what happened with a couple of teams overreacting and overpaying on side deals with Vegas. -LeBrun

Teams like Anaheim, Columbus, Dallas, Florida, Minnesota, and Washington gifted Vegas a core to win with immediately. I’m sure most teams would like a redo. Well, they’ll have their chance in the summer of 2020. With McPhee watching on with a bowl full of Crunch ‘n Munch.

The Game’s In Great Shape … But Is It?

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s twice-weekly column publishes every Wednesday and Sunday during the Golden Knights season.** 

Is hockey in a good place?

The NHL’s 31 general managers seem to think so, as do the league’s top officials.

The annual GM’s meeting in Boca Raton, Florida wrapped up two days of congratulatory back-patting Tuesday as they declared the sport is healthy and there’s no need for radical change at this time.

You’re always looking and talking and tweaking. But the good news is you don’t have to find a problem. The game’s in pretty good shape right now. Real good shape. -Brad Treliving, Flames GM

The changes they implemented a couple of years ago, such as cracking down on slashing, appear to be working. According to sportsnet.ca, slashing penalties continue to fall and players have adjusted their games accordingly to avoid a trip to the penalty box.

Scoring continues to rise with an average of 6.2 goals per game, the highest it has been since 2006. That may be part and parcel with the fact slashing penalties have been on the decline, thus creating more quality chances for the guy with the puck.

It seems like we’re just about perfect. The game is in a really good place in terms of whatever you want to measure. Goal scoring’s up. Comebacks are up. Fighting’s down. Stoppages of play are consistent over the years. All the various ways we measure the game show us it’s just about as good as it’s ever been, which is great news for all of us. -George McPhee

He has a point. The game overall has more flow. We are seeing more teams rally to create a competitive game. Witness lowly Ottawa taking the Islanders into a shootout Tuesday after trailing 3-1 and 4-2 in the second period. Teams always think they have a shot to pick up a point.

The GMs, to their credit, keep looking to make hockey safer. They are proposing a player whose helmet comes off proceed directly to the bench rather than continue skating. For William Karlsson’s fans who love to see those flowing blond locks, that’s not good news. But better to have Wild Bill safely on the bench rather than suffer a serious head or eye injury because he lost his lid and decided playing without it was the macho thing to do as is the current hockey culture.

And speaking of culture, one thing I wished was addressed at the GM meetings apparently wasn’t. That something is injuries and the clandestine handling of them.

Currently, a guy gets hurt and the league leaves it up to the team to decide how much information gets disseminated. Some teams will tell you everything, a few just enough and most nothing more than a “lower-body” or “upper body.”

We all know how the Golden Knights operate in this department. McPhee divulges so little when it comes to injuries, you thought he worked in the CIA, not the NHL. He has said on more than one occasion that it’s about protecting his players.

Nobody outside the team truly knows what’s going on with Will Carrier. In Erik Haula’s case, GMGM had no choice but to confirm the guy hurt his knee back on Nov. 6 in Toronto. It was clearly evident and in plain sight for everyone to see.

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“Would Have To Go Out And Find Another Better Kelly McCrimmon”

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The hottest name to fill any open position on the GM market is Golden Knights assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon.

McCrimmon stepped away from being the owner, GM, and head coach of the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings in 2016 to join the Golden Knights staff as second in command behind George McPhee. Since then, he and McPhee took what was supposed to be a bottom of the barrel expansion team to the Stanley Cup Final and have them headed towards the playoffs and potentially another run in year two.

Now, with Seattle entering the league and in need of a GM and the Edmonton Oilers parting ways with Peter Chiarelli, McCrimmon’s name is at the top of the list of potential candidates to fill either role.

Speaking on a recent episode of the NHL Executive Suite podcast, The Creator sounded like he and McPhee are prepared to be without McCrimmon in the near future.

I certainly wouldn’t want to lose Kelly, he’s helped build a great team here along with George. He’s a different kind of personality than George so they are great together. But you know you can never stand in someone’s way. -The Creator

McCrimmon is a laid back, cerebral person who always comes across as the smartest guy in the room, probably because he is. According to reports, he masterminded “the pledge,” which forced teams engaging in an Expansion Draft trade with the Golden Knights to pledge not to make any other moves that could effect Vegas, thus limiting the roster distribution McPhee feared.

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Assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon Spills Some Truth On Flames Pregame Show

Deep down, I’m sure they’re panicking a little too. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s been a tough start for the Golden Knights and everyone is aware. Players are scratching their heads, fans are panicking, and some are flipping their lids. Heck, I can’t even keep Ken under control (but honestly, he’s not wrong in his premise).

With only 19 points in 22 games, the pressure is starting to build, but the Golden Knights front office remains cool and collected despite the sluggish start.

We’re working our way through, like a lot of teams go through in different times of the year. We had a tough schedule, we’ve had some injuries, some of the things everybody deals with over the course of an 82-game season. -Kelly McCrimmon, Assistant GM

During the Flames pregame show, Vegas assistant General Manager Kelly McCrimmon discussed his team’s disappointing first quarter of the season. While concerned, the second man in charge wasn’t shocked by the Golden Knights early struggles.

We’ve encountered some bad luck obviously, Nate Schmidt being out of the lineup for the first twenty games was a key loss for us. We’re trying to stay in the pack and give ourselves a chance to make a move here as we get a little bit healthier. -McCrimmon

Of course, it’s not the start the Golden Knights front office expected but they still feel confident in their club, and they are definitely not feeling the heat from the fans and whack-job bloggers writers who cover the team.

Well, when you’ve been to the Stanley Cup Final, teams use that as a measuring stick that following year. We’re getting everyone’s best game, that’s fine in the long run. I don’t think we’ve had any tremendous pressure put on us from our fans or the media. Like you might more so in a Canadian market. We put a lot pressure on ourselves. It’s hard league to win in and we’re working extremely hard to get our share of victories to make sure we’re in the playoffs. -McCrimmon

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Golden Knights Winning/Future “Balance” Determining All Moves

I probably don’t need to remind you the Vegas Golden Knights are an expansion team, but I may need to remind you that as an expansion team, they are going to operate differently than any other team you’ve ever been a fan of before.

Hey Kelly, have you heard about this “waiver exempt” thing? (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The goal is the same as everyone else in every other sport, to eventually win the final game of the postseason and be crowned the ultimate champion of the sport. However, with an expansion team like the Golden Knights, there’s an understanding by the people pulling the strings that it may not be realistic to do that right away.

One of those people pulling the strings used the word “balance” to demonstrate that point in a recent interview with the VGK Insider Show on Fox Sports Radio.

There’s a lot of hockey to be played. There’s a bigger picture to mindful of. There’s a balance that we are going to try to strike where we want to be very competitive, where we want to continue developing players and improving day to day, but at the same time, the goal is to one day bring a championship to Las Vegas, so those are all the different elements of building this franchise. -Kelly McCrimmon, Assistant General Manager

The balance he’s talking about is between being good now and being good in the future. That balance is at the heart of every single roster move the Golden Knights make. It started with the signing of Reid Duke, continued through the Expansion Draft, free agency, Training Camp, and it will affect every trade, signing, waiving, or anything else the front office does to the Golden Knights roster.

The challenge for fans, and writers for that matter, is that the balance is constantly changing. With every day, every move, and every game that goes by, the plan shifts. Sometimes slightly, sometimes drastically.

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Golden Knights Hire Two Assistant Coaches

Before George McPhee fills up the bench with players at the Expansion Draft, Gerard Gallant has begun bringing on a few of the people who will stand behind the bench and coach the Golden Knights.

First, the obvious one, Mike Kelly. Kelly who was an assistant with Gallant in Florida, as well as in Saint John in the QMJHL, has been hired to the same position with the Golden Knights. Kelly had been Gallant’s top assistant the three seasons Gerard was with the Panthers and was always expected to have a place in Vegas once Gallant was hired.

I am very excited to be working with Mike again. We enjoyed success in both Florida and Saint John and I am eager to bring that success to the Golden Knights. Mike is a great guy with a wealth of hockey knowledge and I couldn’t be happier with the decision to bring him to Las Vegas. -Gerard Gallant, Head Coach in Press Release

The next assistant hung up his skates to take a shot at coaching. It’s Ryan Craig, who was most recently the captain of the Cleveland Monsters of the AHL. Craig’s playing career spanned 14 years in the NHL and AHL. Prior to going pro, Craig played for the Brandon Wheat Kings for six seasons from 1997-2003. Vegas Assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon drafted Craig in Brandon.

Craig played 71 games this season with the Monsters before deciding to take on the assistant coaching job in Vegas.

He is well-respected in the hockey community and has been a tremendous leader throughout his playing career, both on and off the ice. I am confident that the leadership characteristics he exuded as a player will translate well behind the bench in his new role as an assistant coach. -Gallant in Press Release

Most NHL teams have either two or three assistant coaches in addition to their head coach and goalie coach, so it’s possible one more assistant is added in the coming days. The Golden Knights goalie coach, Dave Prior, was hired eight months before Gallant.

“Have To Be Able To Skate, First And Foremost”

All eyes tend to be focused on the Expansion Draft, and for good reason, but there’s another draft two days later that will probably be more influential on the long term success of the Golden Knights.

The NHL Entry Draft on June 23rd and 24th in Chicago will be crucial for George McPhee and his staff if they want to stay on track of The Creator’s “playoffs in three, Cup in six” mantra.

Vegas slipped to 6th overall in the first round, but still maintain the 3rd selection in all subsequent rounds. Plus, with the Expansion Draft before the Entry Draft, it’s almost a guarantee the Golden Knights will be on the clock more than just the seven times they are slated for today.

With the benefit of being able to watch players throughout the entire season and the  knowledge of knowing the Golden Knights will pick among the top six, Vegas scouts should have a pretty good idea what type of player they are looking to make the first draft selection in franchise history.

You have to be able to skate, first and foremost, because you have to play at a pace that seems to get higher and higher every season. These young players are making plays at such great speed, so you have to be able to skate. You need to have the sense and feel for the game. It’s that combination of speed, skill and sense, in addition to having a willingness to compete on a nightly basis, that are important. –Scott Luce, Director of Amateur Scouting

Seems obvious, until you take a look at some of the flaws of a few of the top prospects in this year’s Entry Draft.

Gabe Vilardi (C), the Memorial Cup starlet from the Windsor Spitfires, who The Hockey News has ranked as the 3rd overall, admittedly needs to improve his skating.

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Who Waited For Whom, And Why It Took So Long To Bring Gallant On Board

November 27th is a date that will forever live in the mind of new Vegas Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant. That’s the day he was let go from the Florida Panthers, paving the way for him to make history in Vegas.

But November 27th was 137 days before The Creator and George McPhee announced the knighting of Gerard Gallant. One has to wonder why it took so long, and more importantly, who caused the holdup.

We felt that we had a process that we wanted to go through, Kelly (McCrimmon) and I had discussed how we wanted to do this. I guess there are three issues why we took our time. First of all we didn’t have any players to coach, so we weren’t in a rush to have a coach, and we had so many other things to do. We had to get our priorities in order and take care of some of other things before we got to the coach. The second thing is when you have time in this business you use it. We needed every bit of it. The third reason was there were some people who had requested we talk to them at the end of their seasons. So, we went through the entire process. We did it the way we wanted to, and it worked out very well for us. We got the right person for this team and we did it in the timeline we set for it. -George McPhee

And what did it look like from Gallant’s point of view?

The first time I talked to George about it was probably in mid-December, he gave me a call and asked if I had any interest. I said definitely I had a lot of interest in it. Then I did an interview in mid-January and I flew out here for two days and we met for 3-4 hours with him and Kelly McCrimmon, Misha Donskov, and the owner. From that point on we talked about once every two weeks about the job and the process he was going through to hire his new coach. It was good, it was a long process but it was real good and it was everything I expected when we talked. -Gallant on Hockey Central at Noon

Gallant’s initial interview happened in January. Right around the time rumors started to fly that the Golden Knights may move up their coach hiring. Then, they didn’t, and here we are now, with the same guy that caused the rumors in the first place behind the bench?

When we met him we really liked him and there was an inclination to maybe do this right now because there’s some risk in waiting. But we wanted to be able to come here today and say ‘you know what, we did this right, it was a comprehensive exhaustive process and we took our time and we got the right guy.’ I talked to Gerard about two weeks ago and said when the season ends this is going to happen fast. We have one other person to talk to and when we get through that we will know exactly what we are doing. Throughout the process we kept coming back to Gerard and we felt like he was the right guy, and on Monday night we said, you know what, he’s the guy, let’s go. –McPhee to the Rink Rats

Gerard in the mean time was scooping up interviews himself.

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Gallant’s The Right Man Today, But Will He Still Be In Four Years?

The Vegas Golden Knights got it right on their first coaching hire. GM George McPhee described Gerard Gallant as an honest man and a good leader. The Creator looked like a proud Papa approving who his GM brought home to dinner (I’ll go along with the analogy, but I still think Ken is weird). Yesterday’s introductory press conference was another big moment for the franchise. Gallant’s hiring is a sign in the right direction, but that certainly doesn’t mean there’s room for concern.

My main apprehension with Gallant’s hiring is his strong emphasis on player size. Of course, every team needs to play physical, intimidating hockey but to what extent?

I think it’s harder to build a team that plays a power game the way you built L.A. and the way Boston was. It’s almost easier based on today’s players to build a team that plays faster, that can attack faster offensively but also can attack defensively. -Kevin Weeks, NHL Network

Pittsburgh is the clear example of a team built for today’s pace of game. The Penguins are one of the smallest and least physical teams and yet won the Stanley cup on speed and pressure. And it’s not just the reigning champs. Other teams are evolving to match the speed and pressure of top NHL teams. LA fired Daryl Sutter and his dedication to big, physical play to adopt a more balanced roster. Heck, Florida sent Gallant packing (literally) from Florida for this very reason.

Gallant mentioned multiple times yesterday that size was important to the style of play he coaches.

We wanted to develop a team and build a team that was fast, could move the puck quickly, pressure the puck in all three zones. Gerard and I talked about it. He said he wanted a little bit more size, and we just decided to go in a different direction. Were we on the same page every day of the week? No … philosophy was different. -Tom Rowe, Florida Panthers

If you look at NHL teams average height and weight, you’ll notice it doesn’t necessarily win games. Especially, this season. Scroll through friend of the site and spectacular columnist James Mirtle’s size chart. You’ll notice some of the biggest teams spit the bit this season. Colorado, Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Dallas and Buffalo were all in the top five in either weight or height. Playoff teams Pittsburgh, Chicago, Montreal, Ottawa and Boston are all in the bottom percentile of the league in both body measurements. 

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Nolan Patrick Draft Stock Continues To Slip

Months ago Brandon Wheat Kings star prospect Nolan Patrick was the near consensus first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Through a season of injuries and a fantastic campaign by the Swiss standout, Nico Hischier is starting to find his way to the top of draft boards.

So what do you do if you have the first pick overall this summer? Patrick’s two-way game and 6-foot-3 frame seemed to make him a safe top pick before the injuries, but Hischier’s hockey IQ and elite offensive skills make him look like another Jonathan Drouin. For me, it’s Hischier right now – and he certainly had to earn the distinction. -Ryan Kennedy, The Hockey News

Hischier has been stupendous all season long and has continued his excellent run during the QJHML playoffs. Meanwhile, Patrick has been out much of the season and missed the Wheaties playoff series in which they were swept.

Here’s the good news, the Golden Knights didn’t need the 2016-17 season to know who Nolan Patrick is. While many teams were set to take advantage of another pre-draft eligible season for Patrick (he missed the cutoff by four days last year), they weren’t afforded a wealth of ice time due to Patrick’s nagging injuries. The Golden Knights on the other hand have Kelly McCrimmon on their staff. The current owner of the Brandon Wheat Kings and the former coach and GM of Patrick through his first three years in Manitoba.

Of course the lottery balls still have to have their say (still no official date on the lottery yet), but it’s likely that if McCrimmon believes Patrick is the next Anze Kopitar, he and McPhee will do what it takes to make him a Golden Knight. Therefore, the injuries, the rise of Hischier, and the lack of minutes from Patrick could in fact be a blessing in disguise for Vegas.

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