George McPhee hasn't been on the job long enough to hire a scouting staff. But the general manager for the NHL's Las Vegas expansion franchise is already formulating his strategy for next year's expansion draft.
"Teams will still do their best to not give us anything," McPhee said. "We'll have a better opportunity to build a foundation than in previous expansion drafts. But we're going to have to work hard to find great players."
McPhee figures he will be lucky if he selects one or two players who stick with the franchise for the long term. But that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be staying away from players with long-term deals.
"I think we'll have to evaluate every team on a case-by-case basis and see what they have," McPhee said. "I'll take a longer contract if it's a good player."
Before McPhee got the job, the other 30 general managers were already shuffling their rosters so as to have options entering the expansion draft. With teams allowed to protect one goaltender, that's the main reason Frederik Andersen and Brian Elliott were dealt this summer and why the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings are expected to make similar moves with goalies.
Teams will be able to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie OR eight skaters and one goalie in the expansion draft. They must also protect players with no-movement clauses as well as first- or second-year pros.
In a busy summer of offseason transactions, here are players who were obtained with consideration for being dangled for next year's expansion draft.
Jason Chimera, LW, New York Islanders: A summer of change up front for the Islanders included the signing of Chimera, a veteran providing speed and experience after the offseason exodus of Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen. But Chimera is signed through 2018 on a team cluttered with talented young forwards. With the Islanders likely to keep seven forwards and three defensemen, Chimera could be the odd man out and an appealing option for an expansion team.
Michael Grabner, RW, New York Rangers: In a low-key offseason for the Rangers, speedy forward Grabner was one of the bigger names. That the Rangers gave him a two-year deal seemed curious until extensions were given to forwards Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller, and center Mika Zibanejad, who is a restricted free agent next summer, was obtained from the Ottawa Senators. With their forward core now more established, Grabner suddenly appears less likely to be protected in 2017.
Dave Bolland, C, Florida Panthers: Bolland signed his five-year deal in 2014, but Florida's moves this summer changed his standing in the organization -- especially with a $27.5 million contract that has become an albatross. Bolland's injuries and a lack of production led to speculation last season that the Panthers were prepared to cut ties. Behind a shakeup under new GM Tom Rowe, the hope might be that McPhee will take him off their hands. New contracts for Reilly Smith and Vincent Trocheck gave the Panthers four forwards signed through at least 2021. With Jonathan Huberdeau a restricted free agent next summer and Jaromir Jagr assessed on a year-by-year basis, Bolland will be dangled.
Luke Schenn, D, Arizona Coyotes: On the surface, the Coyotes under new general manager John Chayka bolstered their defensive depth by signing the veteran blueliner to a two-year contract. But a quick look at the Coyotes' anticipated 2017-18 roster indicates Schenn might not spend that second season in Arizona. With defense a major strength, the Coyotes could opt for the eight-skater option when it comes to protecting players. Even if they do that, Schenn could be left out, especially with cornerstones Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski locked up long term and Michael Stone and Connor Murphy both restricted free agents.
Cam Ward, G, Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes have a firmly established core of forwards and defensemen that should fit comfortably within the constraints of expansion rules. But they have a decision to make in net, where they have two veteran goalies -- Ward and Eddie Lack -- signed until 2018. Lack is younger and more durable, meaning longtime franchise goalie Ward could be made available.
Chris Stewart, RW, Minnesota Wild: The Wild currently have four defensemen signed through at least 2020 and Matt Dumba is a restricted free agent. They also have an array of talent up front, including three players with no-movement clauses in Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville. Throw in Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter's impending restricted free agency in 2017, and Stewart doesn't seem to be part of the long-term plan.
Pick a Lightning forward: By many measures, the Lightning won free agency by securing Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Alex Killorn to long-term deals. General manager Steve Yzerman also expressed his intentions to retain restricted free agents Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Nesterov despite having limited cap space. Key forwards Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin will also be restricted free agents in 2017. The numbers simply don't add up, which is why the Lightning could trade goaltender Ben Bishop and hand over the starting job to Andrei Vasilevskiy. It's at forward that the Lightning likely have more great players than they can keep, including Stamkos, Ryan Callahan and Valtteri Filppula, who all have no-movement clauses. Unless Yzerman can make a move or two, Tampa Bay risks losing a great forward for nothing.