Creativity is messy. Sigmund Freud navigated the competitive terrain of the famous Vienna General Hospital with the help of a cocaine addiction. Adolf Butenandt, one of the fathers of endocrinoloy, had to first isolate steroids by getting a bunch of urine at a police barracks. And George McPhee, the general manager of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, gets to make a hockey team from scratch by taking a scalpel to each current NHL roster.
The effect of expansion is hard to understate. McPhee used to be the general manager of a Washington Capitals club that has been relatively strong for over a decade. McPhee has won and lost in the Stanely Cup Playoff trenches. By his own admission, he's not looking for a scrappy group of ragtags, like some legal drinking age Mighty Ducks. He's looking to compete.
A blank canvas invites ambition and imagination.
"You hope to paint a masterpiece," McPhee said.
...When the season's over, then all bets are off, and there's going to be a redistribution of players”.
As a result, teams are adjusting to expansion like a babadook beneath their bed. So much so the trade deadline itself has felt the shockwave. Make no mistake. McPhee isn't going after your team's third favorite second cousin. He's going for blood, not water.
To that end, Jim Nill is in a tough spot (though perhaps less tough for teams like Anaheim, with their wealth of no movement clauses).
First, the cliffsnotes. Nill has two protection options: seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender, or eight skaters and one goaltender. Anyone with a no movement clause must be protected. First or second year professionals are exempt, which means fans don’t have to worry about losing favorites like Mattias Janmark, Julius Honka, or Devin Shore.
Thinks get a little murky with the 25 percent rule. As Elliotte Friedman noted:
...a couple execs warned the "25 per cent rule" did not get enough play. If you spend to the projected ceiling of $74 million, you’ll have to expose at least $18.5 million of unprotected salary.
The reason this rule is murky is because it’s still unclear if the projected cap includes pending unrestricted free agents (like Hemsky and Sharp). After all, the league year ends June 30th, but the expansion draft will take place June 23rd. Teams like Pittsburgh, with a bunch of cheap pending unrestricted free agents, might have to get creative depending on how complex the 25 percent rule actually is. Which begs the question: why not simply push the expansion draft to July 1st, and free agency shortly thereafter?
Regardless, Dallas is in a good position both ways. However, that still leaves one player Dallas will ultimately lose for nothing. Sean Tierney put together a projected Las Vegas roster, given the cap rules, roster regulations, and quality of player, ultimately coming up with this:
Thanks for all of the feedback. I've tweaked where it was required and most of where it was suggested as well. pic.twitter.com/hxJTDIxExt— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) February 17, 2017
That’s Antoine Roussel, future Golden Knight.
This is par for the course in Dallas media circles. Mike Heika, for example, has Dallas protecting the following: Benn, Spezza, Seguin, Faksa, Ritchie, Nichushkin, Eakin, Klingberg, Lindell, Johns, Lehtonen. Sean Shapiro, over at Wrong Side of the Red Line, has the exact same list save for the goalie (Sean, in a rather clever but vulgar display of wit, has elected Maxime Lagace as the protected goalie in the hope that Vegas takes one of either Niemi or Lehtonen to hit the $54M cap floor).
This leaves a unique wrinkle to the trade deadline: if Roussel is on the list of expendables, why not trade Roussel for assets now while his value is at his highest than lose him for nothing on June 23rd? To fans, as far as optics go, it makes no sense. But beneath the shadow of expansion, it’s the kind of shrewd move GM’s might want or must consider.
I wouldn’t leave Roussel unprotected, personally. Even though I agree with the Dallas media that Cody Eakin is likely worth more in trade than any potential unprotected winger, it doesn’t change the fact that someone will be lost for pennies on not a single dollar. At that point, it’s just a cost-benefit analysis of loss within Dallas’ snowglobe. Who can Dallas afford to lose the most for absolutely nothing? Even setting aside Roussel’s year, where he has outperformed Ritchie and Eakin by every conceivable metric. What position is most redundant in Big D? I would argue center, where Dallas already has a solid center depth tower in Seguin, Spezza, Faksa, Shore. This isn’t even counting Mattias Janmark, who already has experience at center, and promising young prospects like Jason Dickinson and Roope Hintz.
If nothing else, the disastrous 2016-2017 season has helped serve as a stark reminder that their depth at wing will be tested again next season. Losing Hemsky, Janmark, Nichushkin and Sharp for lengthy stretches was critical to the team’s failures, and only Janmark is a guarantee to come back (and even that poses its own challenges given that he did not go down due to injury, but a condition). Roussel, Ritchie, and Nichushkin (should he return) represent the front lines beyond Benn for better or for worse.
Perhaps Nill knows that if Eakin is left unprotected, he’s a lock to go to Vegas. McPhee has a history with Eakin, having helped draft Eakin, traded him for Mike Ribeiro, and by all accounts would have liked a takebacksy on the trade itself.
But as I said before, creativity is messy. Nill will have to find in the ashes what he loses in the fire. It won’t be pretty, but it’s a necessary evil; a fitting scenario for accommodating the place they call Sin City.
P.S: My list for protection is Benn, Spezza, Seguin, Faksa, Ritchie, Nichushkin, Roussel, Klingberg, Lindell, Johns, and Lagace (on the off-chance McPhee finds himself needing to hit the cap floor after enough cheap, quality wingers and defensemen, and thus could use an expensive veteran goaltender on an expiring contract, you take that chance everyday of the week and twice on Sunday).