Given the staggering $650 million expansion fee paid out by David Bonderman, Jerry Bruckheimer and others members of the new NHL Seattle team’s ownership group, the expectations are there for the league’s 32nd franchise to hit the ground running when the Emerald City starts hosting hockey in 2021.
Similar to the favorable roster-building incentives gifted to the Vegas Golden Knights after shelling out $500 million in fees, Seattle will be able to secure some solid talent right out of the gate with an expansion draft ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.
The rules remain unchanged from the format that allowed Vegas General Manager George McPhee to piece together a team that punched a ticket to the Stanley Cup Final in its first year of existence.
Seattle will select one player from each team for a total of 30 — constituting 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies. The only team exempt is Vegas.
NHL teams in the draft can opt to either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie. Players exempt from the draft include all first and second-year NHL players, all unsigned draft selections with their respective team and all players with no-movement clauses that choose to not waive those clauses.
With this format intact, Seattle is in a better position than most NHL expansion teams over the years — with clubs like Nashville and Columbus taking five and seven seasons, respectively, just to make their postseason debuts.
But Seattle still has a tough act to follow, especially in wake of Vegas’ instant success after some low expectations out of the gate.
Now, give credit where credit is due — McPhee did a masterful job assembling the Golden Knights’ roster, both in terms of maxing out the players available in the draft and capitalizing on a number of trades with teams either fearful of losing a key cog in their lineup or desperate to rid a contract off of their payroll.
Look no further than Vegas’ dealings with the Panthers. Wanting to clear Reilly Smith’s $5 million cap hit off the books after a 37-point season in 2016-17, Florida agreed to trade 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault to Vegas — on the condition that the Golden Knights agreed to draft Smith.
What followed? A combined 135 points between the two wingers in 2017-18 as part of one of the top lines in the NHL.
The man in the middle of that line? William Karlsson — who was picked up from the Blue Jackets after tallying 15 goals over his last two seasons in Columbus. In his first season with Vegas, Karlsson potted 43 goals, while Columbus also gifted Vegas with a first and second-round pick in order to pick up David Clarkson’s contract.
Now, given what teams know about the new format of the expansion draft and having a few years to prepare for it, it seems unlikely that Seattle’s management team could put together an instant contender like Vegas in such a short window.
And while teams might be less willing to do additional deals with Seattle knowing the toll it had on trading partners with Vegas, there’s always going to be a club desperately trying to rid itself of a contract, or looking for leverage in order to keep ahold of another talented forward or defenseman.
Plenty of things can change over the next couple of years — but odds are, Seattle will have plenty of options to build an intriguing roster right out of the gate.
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