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The Economics of Vegas Expansion (Part 1)

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Timeline, Quotas & Basics

Photo by Ethan Miller
NOVEMBER 22: Majority owner Bill Foley (L) and general manager George McPhee (R) (
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Full 2017 Expansion Timeline

April 30: Draft lottery is conducted, order announced. Vegas receives its first official asset in the NHL, which will be one of the top six selections.

June 15-17?: Pre-expansion buyout window will be available to all thirty teams prior to expansion

June 17: All thirty teams submit a protection list, which must meet the expansion exposure quotas

June 17-20: Vegas has three days to make its thirty selections, which also must meet league quotas

June 21: Vegas’ thirty selections are made public, effective immediately

June 23-24: NHL Entry Draft

June 25: Minimum Qualifying Offers due to outgoing Restricted Free Agents (If RFA is not tendered a MQO, he becomes unrestricted)

June 30: Contracts and clauses expiration

July 1: Free Agency begins, June buyout window ends

July 4: Filing Deadline for salary arbitration (for those eligible)

July 15-August 1?: Salary arbitration appointments scheduled; 2nd buyout window for teams opens

October 4?: All 31 NHL-roster payrolls must be within salary cap ceiling/floor (teams can venture outside the parameters during off-season)

According to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, all 30 NHL teams will in fact have an opportunity to buyout contracts prior to submitting their protected players list on June 17. Generally the buyout window normally opens June 15, so this wouldn’t seem a problem… except should the postseason run “long”, as in Game 7s in each of the four rounds, it will be mighty interesting to see how close the Stanley Cup climax will come to players being placed on buyout waivers.

Remember, the conventional NHL schedule has already been pushed back from the summer World Cup.

To illustrate a little further context on the timeline:

  • Expansion will occur Saturday June 17 through Tuesday June 20, giving Vegas 72 hours to make its thirty decisions, with the public announcement on Wednesday June 21.
  • Expansion will take place before the NHL Entry Draft on June 23-24… however, the draft lottery results will be announced on April 30, so each team’s positional draft pick will have been known for eight weeks.
  • Expansion will take place before the Restricted Free Agent minimum qualifying offer deadline of June 25th. This gives Vegas approximately 120 hours in between Vegas drafting an outgoing RFA and their qualifying offer reception.

Expansion will occur 10 days prior to July 1st. Any expiring contracts Vegas selects will indeed expire July 1.

Expansion Quotas For Las Vegas Golden Knights

  • Vegas will make 30 selections, one exposed player from each team, in a three-day process (assuming there are no penalties for teams that fail to meet exposure quota).
  • Vegas must select at least 14 forwards, 9 defensemen & 3 goalies.
  • Vegas must select at least 20 players under contract for the 2017-18 season (in other words, can only draft up to ten total RFA/UFA contracts that expire July 1, 2017).
  • The 30 selections' cumulative cap hit must be somewhere in the $43.8 to $73 million range (60% to 100% of the 2016-17 salary cap ceiling).
  • Vegas cannot buy out a contract selected in the expansion draft for one full year.
  • Otherwise, Vegas is free to maneuver in any way it sees fit.

Expansion Quotas For Existing 30 NHL Teams

  • Each team must expose two forwards, under contract in 2017-18 season, who have played 70+ games over the last two seasons combined, or 40+ games in 2016-17 season only.
  • Each team must expose one defenseman, under contract in 2017-18 season, who have played 70+ games over the last two seasons combined, or 40+ games in 2016-17 season only.
  • Each team must expose one goaltender. That goaltender must either be under contract in 2017-18 season, or a pending Restricted Free Agent who has been given a qualifying offer prior to June 17.
  • Players with less than three years of “professional” experience are exempt; European leagues like the KHL, generally considered “pro”, are not in this instance.
  • Players with a No-Movement Clause kept intact beyond July 1, 2017 must be allocated a protection spot, unless they agree to waive it.
  • Players who are retired or injured with “lame duck” contracts are exempt.
  • Failure to comply to quotas may result in an NHL team losing more than one player to Vegas in expansion, if not punitive sanction from the league itself.

Implied Incentives & Maxims

  • Vegas will be free to speak with any impending free agent (restricted or unrestricted) that is unprotected.
  • Nearly all of the players that will be candidates for expansion will be eligible for waivers in 2017 training camp. This means that even if George McPhee is selecting a 22-year-old “mature prospect” in expansion draft, the retained value is entirely compromised if that prospect doesn’t make the LVGK main roster, but rather exposed on waivers three months later. (The main exception appears to be goaltenders, who have a more traveled threshold for “aging out” of waivers-exemption than skaters).
  • On the goalie note, this is really the only direct way the team can meaningfully build their farm system from the expansion. While any potential “good” young skaters are probably protected or exempt (less than three “pro” seasons), but goalies are available. This means Vegas’ mandatory “3rd goaltender selection” could be adding an AHL goalie directly and safely for the farm. Joonas Korpisalo (CBJ) or Linus Ullmark (BUF), for example, could be selected and exempt from waivers until the 2018-19 season.
  • Unlike expansion in the 1990s, there is no “draft pick compensation” system in place this time. Teams deliberately selected players, who were to be lost in free agency anyways, because there was incentive in the way of awarded draft picks when those selections signed with different teams. There is no such factor this time around.
  • Thus, to the previous point, there seems little benefit in selecting an outgoing UFA contract with one of the ten expiry selections. The only derived utility I can think of would be:

a) manipulating the cumulative salary cap hit of expansion selections to specifically satisfy the 60-100% threshold.

b) selecting a top-tier impending UFA (e.g.: Kevin Shattenkirk) with sole intent of liquidating his exclusive negotiating rights for draft pick(s) {as in Keith Yandle, Alex Goligoski, & Jimmy Vesey last-minute rights’ being traded for 3rd, 5th, & 6th round draft picks last June}.

c) Vegas is intent to re-sign the player, and want his exclusive rights to end up signing him.

d) it’s part of a trade where Vegas selects a pending UFA [in exchange for asset(s), presumably ones of value, rendering the UFA selection in effect a ‘wasted pick’].

Final Thoughts

Even five short months away, it’s still a very murky undertaking to try and project a team. Obviously contracts will change teams between now, the trade deadline avenue, and the last-minute June buyout window, as teams uniform and adapt to the expansion draft quotas. Most teams will offer a few debatable choices in terms of exposed personnel, and Vegas will have to congeal all these choices within choices to that of the rules posted at the top of the page.

However, tinkering with CapFriendly’s wonderful expansion tool many a time, I’ve noticed Vegas is going to have a very tough go of it getting “top-six” quality centers. Eric Staal of Minnesota sticks out frequently (as Wild currently have a ton of exposable forwards on their hands), but mostly it seems to be the weakest position in nearly every permutation.

Needless to say, Vegas stocking up on wingers and defensemen has been the ongoing theme in my mock drafts.

So my inclination at this point is to say Vegas is best off by selecting reasonably-contracted defensemen & wingers, with intent on flipping at least seven bodies to other teams for picks/prospects.

30 selections: most, if not all, will be waiver-bait three months later.

The best “value" in many cases is going to be Vegas flipping selected players later in the summer, or making deals with NHL teams to incur rotten assets, bad contracts and unideal expansion selections for futures. We’ll expand more on this neat concept in Part Two.

In fact, as per any NHL team, Vegas will be able to retain cap hit on any contract it trades (up to three contracts at once). This means there can be up to three instances where Vegas selects a decent player with a horribly overpaid contract in expansion, retain 50%, and suddenly flip said player for a superior return.

I don’t know how much money Vegas will have to burn. Will the team be financially able to absorb unwanted heaps of salary in the interest of harvesting futures for down the road? Whatever the answer, it shouldn’t affect the incentives of the actual expansion draft; you can only protect ~23 (max) of the selections from autumn waivers. So flipping at least seven bodies to secure an equitable gain (of some form) should, likely, exist as the invariable strategy.

Lest we forget, Vegas will be as accessed a participant in 2017 free agency as any of the thirty teams. So when I say seven bodies, that would be assuming 23 expansion selections make the pro roster, and maybe 2 players can be safely put in the AHL. But if we see Vegas signing roster players in July? For every roster-oriented free agent signing for Vegas, that’s another expansion selection they’ll need to flip.

Vegas could very well win the 2017 draft lottery (they will be treated as 3rd-worst 2016-17 team in terms of lottery chances; will pick no later than 6th overall). I tend to imagine a #1 or #2 overall selection easily making their season opener in nine months, no? In such a case, add another expansion selection that needs to be flipped, else potentially lost/waived for nothing.

The 72-hour process of which Vegas has to finalize its 30 selections is going to be absolutely rife for backroom deal-brokering.

I fully expect June 15 - July 15 to be a whirlwind of off-season moves, with the Las Vegas Golden Knights acting as chief catalyst.

Stay Tuned

This is just scratching the surface, as there are a plethora of angles and issues we can break down. This will be a multi-part series, where we can get more specific and engage in conceptual hypotheticals to really have some fun with what might go down this June.

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