In less than a month, the Vegas Golden Knights unveil their inaugural roster during the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 21st.
Last week, I dove into what options might be available for Vegas in the goaltending department. It’s incredibly important for an expansion team to grab a top-flight goalie. However, it’s equally important for the Golden Knights to build a respectable blue line. Why? Because history has shown that expansion teams struggle to score goals. Since 1991, nine teams have joined the NHL. Every single one of those teams finished in the bottom-five in the NHL in goals scored in their inaugural seasons. Four of them (San Jose, Ottawa, Atlanta, Minnesota) finished their debut year with the lowest offensive output in the league.
Don’t expect that trend to stop in Sin City, either. While the rules of this expansion draft are set up to help the Golden Knights out more than past newbies, good talent up front is still going to be difficult to come by. Especially when we can probably expect some side deals to get made where Vegas GM George McPhee agrees to acquire draft picks and prospects in exchange for not taking certain players. As a result, the Knights should look to beef up their blue line to give their goaltending some help. Let’s take a look at some of the defensemen that Vegas could be targeting in the expansion draft.
Jonas Brodin, Minnesota Wild
The Wild are one of a handful of teams facing serious protection issues as forwards, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Jason Pominville, along with defenseman Ryan Suter hold no-movement clauses in their contracts. Forwards Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund are coming off excellent seasons and will be restricted free agents. You can expect them to get raises. Minnesota is very deep on their blue line. They’re going to have to make tough decisions in regards to Brodin and fellow defensemen Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Matt Dumba, and Christian Folin.
Brodin turns 24 in July and has spent time on the Wild’s top pairing with Suter. His salary cap hit is reasonable at just over $4.16 million and ends in the summer of 2021. He could be dealt by Minnesota beforehand in order to avoid losing him for nothing. Or perhaps the Wild could work out a deal with Vegas to ensure the Golden Knights choose someone else. Either way, the Wild are probably going to lose a good player off their roster. While not a superstar, someone’s going to have to play important minutes for Vegas, and Brodin offers more upside than most.
Trevor Van Riemsdyk, Chicago Blackhawks
While Minnesota faces protection issues, the Blackhawks are once again right up against the salary cap. Combined with a deep lineup and a whopping eight players with NMC’s, and there’s not many spots left for protection. Both Van Riemsdyk and checking center Marcus Kruger could be up for grabs. Kruger’s cap hit runs just over $3 million. He figures to be put on the trade market since that’s a pretty steep salary for a third-line center. Chicago would like to keep the 25-year-old Van Riemsdyk, but there’s a very real chance he could end up in Vegas next season. Like Brodin, he still has plenty of good years ahead of him and is currently cheap at a cap hit of $825,000.
Marc Methot, Ottawa Senators
This one is contingent on what happens with fellow d-man Dion Phaneuf. Ottawa is likely to protect seven forwards and three blue-liners. The 32-year-old Phaneuf has a NMC and four years left on his contract at a cap hit of $7 million. If Phaneuf doesn’t waive his NMC, the Sens will be protecting him along with Norris Trophy finalist Erik Karlsson and 23-year-old Cody Ceci. That leaves Methot, 31, on the outside looking in. Methot has size and 579 regular season games of NHL experience. His cap hit of $4.9 million would help the Golden Knights get to the salary floor. However, if Phaenuf waives his NMC, Vegas isn’t likely to pick him due to his age and salary. That would leave the Senators able to protect Karlsson, Methot, and Ceci.
Josh Manson, Anaheim Ducks
Of all the teams in the NHL, none face a bigger conundrum with the expansion draft than the Anaheim Ducks. Four players have NMC’s including forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler, and defenseman Kevin Bieksa. Bieksa is 35 and there’s no guarantee that he waives his NMC for the draft. In addition, the Ducks also have defensemen Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, and Sami Vatanen to worry about. The emergence of forward Rickard Rakell as a 30-goal scorer, combined with forward Jakob Silfverberg’s dominant playoff showing makes things even harder for Anaheim.
The Ducks announced Lindholm and Vatanen will each be out for at least 4-5 months due to shoulder surgery. Vatanen has been the subject of trade rumors. Fowler is eligible to receive an extension this offseason after a fantastic season, and Lindholm is their best all-around defender. Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour are youngsters that have seen NHL action that should be ready to make the jump and stick with Anaheim for good. That leaves Manson as the odd man out. He’s got one more year on his deal, and at 25, he’s a young veteran that could help Vegas out and have room to grow. If Bieksa waives his NMC, his protected spot is likely going to either Rakell or Silfverberg. If not, the Ducks could easily end up losing a quality player to Vegas unless Anaheim works out a trade.
Calvin de Haan, New York Islanders
The Islanders appear to have some tough choices to make as well. Their top three defensemen are Johnny Boychuk, who has a NMC, Nick Leddy, and Travis Hamonic. Leddy is their best puck moving blue-liner, while Hamonic is coming off a season in which he struggled mightily and dealt with injuries. However, one bad season probably isn’t enough to dangle him to Vegas. Thomas Hickey could end up being exposed, but he’s probably not going to be Vegas’s first choice among Isles’ players. Neither is 35-year-old Dennis Seidenberg. That leaves Ryan Pulock and de Haan. Pulock is 22 and has more offensive ability and more of an upside. That leaves de Haan, whose best years are still ahead of him at the age of 26. As a guy that can play a lot of minutes as a young veteran, he’d be a tremendous addition to the Golden Knights’ blue line.
Brian Dumoulin, Pittsburgh Penguins
I wouldn’t be shocked if Pittsburgh chose to protect seven forwards and three d-men due to the fact that they have five forwards that could be classified as guys you have to protect: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, and Bryan Rush. Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel have NMC’s, while Nick Bonino is a UFA that could easily be kept around. That leaves three defenseman being protected: Kris Letang (NMC), Olli Maatta, and Justin Schultz. Of the remaining Pens blue-liners, Dumoulin would be a solid addition to Vegas’s defensive corps, seeing that he’s another guy in his mid-20’s that can play some quality minutes as a second-pairing guy.
Brayden McNabb, Los Angeles Kings
Stephen Johns, Dallas Stars
Carl Gunnarsson, St. Louis Blues
Dimitry Kulikov, Buffalo Sabres
Adam McQuaid, Boston Bruins
Nick Holden, New York Rangers
Josh Gorges, Buffalo Sabres
Patrick Wiercioch, Colorado Avalanche
Ben Lovejoy, New Jersey Devils
Brandon Davidson, Montreal Canadiens
Alex Petrovic, Florida Panthers