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Golden Knights Beat Chicago Blackhawks 4-3

Jason Franson / The Canadian Press via AP

Golden Knights’ Tomas Nosek (92), Shea Theodore (27), William Carrier (28) and Alec Martinez (23) celebrate a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during a first-round NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey series in Edmonton, Alberta, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020.

The Seattle expansion draft is less than a year away, meaning 30 teams in the NHL are already planning to have a player pulled off their rosters.

The 31st team has no such worries. The Golden Knights are exempt from next year’s expansion draft, so they get to kick their feet up and watch as their competition across the league gets weaker.

But what if the Golden Knights were part of the draft? What if, just like everyone else, they had to pony up a roster player to make their new Pacific Division rival a legitimate NHL team?

That’s what we’re going to explore:


First a refresher of the rules the Seattle Kraken will play by, which are the same as Vegas did in 2017.

Teams have the option of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie. Considering Vegas depth at forward and relative lack of it on the blue line, the 7-3-1 option makes the most sense for the Golden Knights.

First- and second-year professionals are exempt, as are unsigned draft picks. So Vegas does not need to use one of their protected slots on Cody Glass, Peyton Krebs, Brendan Brisson or any of their prospects.

All players who have no-movement clauses must be protected and count toward the limit. That means Vegas must protect Mark Stone and Alex Pietrangelo unless they agree to waive their rights and enter the draft.

All teams must expose two forwards and one defenseman who are under contract for 2021-22 and either played 40 games in 2020-21; or 70 games combined between 2019-20 and 2020-21. The exposed goalie must be under contract for 2021-22 or be a restricted free agent. Don’t fret too much about this requirement, as you’ll see Vegas will have no problem reaching it.

The Kraken then have to pick one player from each team. That won’t include the Golden Knights in real life, but it does in this alternate universe.


We’ll start with the obvious ones. Mark Stone has a no-movement clause and must be protected, though he would be anyway. William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault and Alex Tuch aren’t going anywhere either.

Max Pacioretty would almost certainly be protected, although in a flat-cap world it’s worth wondering if the Golden Knights would consider exposing him and the two years and $7 million cap hit remaining on his contract. It’s unlikely, so we’ll add him, bringing us to six protected forwards.

The last spot is an interesting one.

From its NHL roster, Vegas would need to choose between protecting Chandler Stephenson (who would have three more years at a $2.75 million cap hit remaining), Ryan Reaves (one year, $1.75 million), William Carrier (three years, $1.4 million) and Nicolas Roy (one year, $750,000 before restricted free agency).

Tomas Nosek is a free agent next offseason and would not need to be protected.

The Golden Knights would also need to protect Keegan Kolesar, Gage Quinney and Reid Duke if they wished to keep them, based on their experience in the NHL and AHL combined.

Considering they have an aggregate four NHL games, the risk is low Seattle would take one, although Kolesar did play his junior hockey in Seattle. Still, Vegas has more pressing issues on its NHL roster, meaning this trio would most likely be exposed.

Complicating things is that Stephenson, Reaves, Carrier and Roy all signed extensions within the last year, meaning Vegas considers all of them part of its plan beyond this season. Of course, maybe the team doesn’t sign those extensions if the threat of expansion actually loomed, but in this imaginary world we’ve created, they have a minor problem.

The answer is probably Stephenson as the seventh protected forward. He plays either center or wing and has shown an ability to do so at the top of the Golden Knights’ lineup.

Considering the lack of center depth at the NHL level (he’ll battle Glass for the No. 2 center spot in training camp), he’s a valuable piece.

You can make an argument for all of them though. Reaves provides immense value beyond his contributions to the scoresheet, as one trip inside the locker room will show you. Carrier is more than just a classic bruiser with an ability to put the puck in the net, and Roy is a strong defensive option that helps fill out the bottom-six.

Still, we’ll go with Stephenson and take our chances with the rest. That leaves Reaves, Carrier, Roy, Kolesar, Quinney and Duke exposed. Reaves and Carrier both fit the requirement of two forwards with the requisite games played, as would Stephenson if Vegas protected Reaves or Carrier.


Since we protected seven forwards, that leaves us with three defensemen to add to the protected list. Two are no-brainers.

Alex Pietrangelo has a no-movement clause that we would have to agree to waive in order to be exposed. He wouldn’t do that unless his first year in Vegas is a complete disaster, and the Golden Knights wouldn’t want to lose him after just one year anyway. He’s an obvious pick.

So is Shea Theodore, who would have four years left at a $5.2 million cap hit. No debate there, as the Golden Knights won’t be making the same mistakes the Ducks did in 2017. So Seattle won’t be getting the Vegas defenseman who played his junior hockey for the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds.

The last pick is the only one where there is some discussion. Barring an in-season extension to Alec Martinez, who is a pending unrestricted free agent, Vegas’ eligible defensemen are Brayden McNabb, Nick Holden, Zach Whitecloud, and Carl Dahlstrom, who was acquired from Winnipeg in the Paul Stastny trade but nonetheless meets the requirements for protection.

McNabb would have one season left at a $2.5 million cap hit and Holden would have three left at a $2.2 million cap hit before unrestricted free agency. Whitecloud and Dahlstrom both have sub-million-dollar salaries for one more year, but would be under team control as restricted free agents.

There are also the players projected to start the year in AHL Henderson. Among those who hit the three years of professional experience are just two: Jake Bischoff and Dylan Coghlan. Unless one or both makes an impact at the NHL level this season, neither are in major danger of being drafted by Seattle.

McNabb is the likely keeper here. He has the highest salary, but also provides the most value and what is still a below-market rate. He is expected to pair with Pietrangelo next year on the top pairing, where he will continue to be Vegas’ best shutdown and penalty-killing option.

Holden and Whitecloud do at least merit consideration. Holden is cost-certain for three years for $800,000 cheaper than McNabb, who would need a new contract after 2021-22 anyway. Whitecloud came alive in the postseason and looks to be a big part of the Vegas blue line for years. Dahlstrom is unlikely to be considered over McNabb, Holden or Whitecloud.

If McNabb is the pick, that would leave Holden, Whitecloud, Dahlstrom, Bischoff and Coghlan exposed. Holden would need to play just nine games next season to meet the threshold of having one player reach 70 games in the two years preceding the draft, which shouldn’t be an issue. If Vegas does protect Holden, McNabb has already reached the games played requirement.


Vegas has two NHL goalies under contract for the next two seasons: Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Lehner will be signed for four more seasons after this one at a $4 million cap hit, and Fleury will have one year remaining at a $7 million cap hit. Unlike the last expansion draft when he was with Pittsburgh, Fleury does not have a no-movement clause that would require waiving, and Vegas does not need his consent to expose him.

None of the goalies in Vegas’ farm system are eligible for expansion exposure. Oscar Dansk would be, but he will be a restricted free agent at the end of the year.

That means this is the one position there is no debate on who to protect. The Golden Knights would protect Lehner, the future of the position they traded for in February and signed to a long-term deal this summer. Multiple reports even had Vegas trying to move out from Fleury and his contract this summer, but was unsuccessful.

The Golden Knights protect Lehner and expose Fleury.

Who does Seattle take?

So round it all up and the Kraken would get to choose between Reaves, Carrier, Roy, Holden, Whitecloud, Dahlstrom and Fleury off the current NHL roster, plus Kolesar, Quinney, Duke, Bischoff and Coghlan if they wanted to fill out their depth.

The answer seems obvious, but maybe not as much the further in you look. Of course the Kraken would love Fleury, right? He became the face of an expansion team once before, and he helped bring Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final. But there may be other options for Seattle to consider.

Vancouver will expose either Thatcher Demko or Braden Holtby. Dallas will expose either Ben Bishop or Anton Khudobin. Montreal will put up Jake Allen. All are younger than Fleury and signed for multiple seasons. Plucking Fleury, who would turn 37 in its inaugural season and cost $7 million against the cap, might not make the most sense.

So let’s go off the board and say the Kraken take Carrier, making him an expansion pick for the second time. He’s inexpensive and signed for three years, allowing Seattle to lock in a physical forward for years to come as it fills out the rest of its roster. Seattle would at least consider Reaves, Roy, Whitecloud and Fleury as well.

That’s all in our fake world. In the real world, Vegas could still be a player in the expansion because, not despite, not having a player taken. Teams afraid of losing a good player for nothing could strike deals with the Golden Knights, who could become a haven of expansion protection.

The expansion draft will be interesting next year for all kinds of reasons, even as a Vegas fan who has little stake in it. The Golden Knights don’t have to lose a player, which is good for them, because if they did, Seattle would have its choice of plenty of good options.

Article written by #LasVegasSun