Three-time Stanley Cup champion goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Nashville Predators forward James Neal and Anaheim Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen are among the high-profile players available for the Vegas Golden Knights to select in the NHL expansion draft.
Now it’s on Golden Knights general manager George McPhee to spend the next three days poring over the list of available players as the team selects one from each of the NHL’s 30 teams.
Fleury was left unprotected by the Pittsburgh Penguins after he agreed to waive the no-movement clause in his contract. The Penguins instead protected Matt Murray a week after the second-year goalie led them to win their second consecutive championship.
The Predators were put in a bind in when exposing Neal, a 10-time 20-goal-scorer, because they elected to protect a fourth defenseman.
Vatanen was the odd man out in being left unprotected from a deep and talented group of Ducks defensemen. The fifth-year player, however, won’t be ready for the start of the season after having surgery to repair a shoulder injury.
Other notable forwards left unprotected were: Minnesota center Eric Staal, a nine-time 20-goal-scorer, Los Angeles forward Dustin Brown and Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec. As for defensemen, Buffalo’s Zach Bogosian and Dallas’ Dan Hamhuis are available.
There’s also a wealth of proven goaltenders available given that teams were required to expose at least one. Along with Fleury, other goalies exposed are Florida’s Roberto Luongo, Detroit’s Petr Mrazek and Philadelphia’s Michal Neuvirth.
The unprotected list includes players eligible to become restricted or unrestricted free agents, which the Golden Knights have the option to sign over the next three days. Any pending free agent signed would count as Vegas’ expansion-draft selection from that player’s team.
What’s uncertain is how many trades the Golden Knights have negotiated with teams to influence which player Vegas selects or avoids.
McPhee has said he’s had contact with all teams and was expected to have several trades in place. In exchange, McPhee was intent on stockpiling draft picks to help spur the franchise’s growth through youth.
Those deals won’t be formally revealed until Wednesday.
There’s also nothing barring Vegas from having a deal in place to select a player in order to trade him to another team.
The Islanders were the only team that protected five defensemen: Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech, leaving forwards Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome and defensemen Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey available.
Some players left unprotected, such as Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan, carry hefty contracts, which Vegas might shy away from so not to restrict the team’s payroll structure under the salary cap. Ryan has five years left on a seven-year $50.8 million contract and represents a $7-plus-million cap hit.
Among players with previous connections to McPhee available are Stars center Cody Eakin, Capitals goaltender Philipp Grubauer, Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov and Neuvirth, whom he drafted in Washington.
The release of the teams’ protected lists kicks off a busy two-week stretch for the NHL. The annual awards ceremonies will be held in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Then teams will gather in Chicago for the two-day entry draft, which opens Friday.
Then comes the start of free agency, which opens on July 1.
The start of the expansion draft process means a trading freeze is in place through Thursday morning for the 30 other teams.