The NHL expansion draft for the team in Las Vegas will take place on June 21, 2017 with the new team selecting 30 players made up of those that are left unprotected by each of the other 30 NHL franchises. Many hockey pundits are assuming this will be the first opportunity for the Vegas NHL team to add players, but they would be wrong to assume so. It says here the Las Vegas NHL team needs to add players well in advance of the expansion draft. There are many methods of adding NHL players that are being overlooked by everyone but shouldn’t be overlooked by GM George McPhee and the Las Vegas NHL group.
Here are three ways for Las Vegas to add players before the expansion draft:
1) Sign College Free Agents: The college season starts winding down in March of every year with the Frozen Four tournament coming to an end on April 8, 2017. As teams get eliminated the players that are unsigned with an NHL team become available as free agents. Any team can sign these college free agents. In the last few years some notable college free agents include Tyler Bozak, Danny DeKeyser, and Torey Krug. The drawback for Las Vegas is that most college free agents will prefer to sign with an existing team so they can start their NHL careers immediately, even though there is usually less than two weeks of play before the end of the season. However, many college free agents will see Las Vegas as a long-term opportunity to earn a spot on an NHL roster since there won’t be many other prospects ahead of them like there would be with an established NHL team.
2) Sign European/KHL Players: Unlike the NHL most European leagues, such as the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), have their seasons end by April of every year. Similar to the situation with college players, any player whose rights are not owned by an NHL team is free to sign with any team as a free agent. We’ve already seen the likes of Artemi Panarin (2016 rookie of the year), Joonas Donskoi, and Alex Radulov come to the NHL as European free agents. The benefit here is that the player you sign will likely have a few years of professional, albeit European, hockey experience under their belts. This upcoming year there will surely be some good possibilities of players for Las Vegas to sign out of Europe including Vadim Shipachyov who was highly touted to come here this season before deciding to wait another year.
3) Sign Overlooked Free Agents: This is more of a long-shot but worth looking into. Every year there are many players that, for one reason or another, don’t end up signing free agent deals with an NHL team and don’t go to play in Europe. Last year the Washington Capitals signed Mike Richards halfway through the season to help with the stretch run. Some of these players may be unsigned because their demands as a free agent was too high, others because of injuries or because teams dismiss their ability to impact rosters. You might need to take a chance on a Christian Ehrhoff, Tomas Fleischman, or even Richards himself. You may even need to dig deeper and look into someone like Stephen Weiss, who was once a good player who was sidelined with injuries but may be looking into a comeback. At worst these overlooked free agents can provide leadership for an inexperienced NHL/AHL roster. At best, you nail one of these signings and get a motivated top player for your expansion team.
There is no guarantee that Las Vegas will be adding any impactful players with these methods but there is little for an expansion team to lose by doing so. As it now stands, in addition to the 30 players they will get from the expansion draft, Las Vegas will add 7 prospects from the NHL entry draft and whoever they can sign as a free agent after July 1, 2017. It would be optimistic to suggest the Las Vegas team will have more than 40 players signed to a contract throughout their entire organization, which means they won’t be able to ice a full AHL roster. It’s always better for NHL teams to have their own AHL team rather that sharing one with another team and the only way to have your own team is to have enough AHL players.
Supplementing players using whatever means available just gives the team more options as it goes along. NHL teams are allowed to have a maximum of 50 contracts in their organization and it would be in the best interest of an expansion team to have as close to that number as possible. So Las Vegas, and the hockey world, should not circle June 21, 2017 as the date the team gets its first players. No, hopefully by then the team has signed several players to their roster using the above methods or they will have blown a great opportunity to hit the ground running.
What do you think? How should Las Vegas go about building its NHL roster? Let us know in the comments below.