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NHL Explained

So you’ve heard Las Vegas will get an NHL Team next season? And now you wonder how on earth they’ll get the players they need, to… like, play hockey? Great, because I’m here to explain it to you.

By Micha Hofer

The NHL-Expansion Draft is a fairly old concept. It was first introduced in 1967, when the league moved on from the Original Six era and added another 6 teams. The last expansion (and therefore the last Expansion Draft) the NHL has seen was in the year 2000, when the Minnesota Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets were added to the mix. After the Lockout in 2004/05 the Salary Cap (learn about it here) was introduced, so you can imagine that this year’s Expansion Draft will look a little different from the ones we saw in the past.

As a consequence of the Salary Cap, one new rule that the Golden Knights will have to follow is that the total salaries of the players they’ll select has to be somewhere in-between 60% and 100% of the 2016/17 season’s Salary Cap ceiling. However, when they ice their roster for the start of the 2017/18 season, they have to follow the Salary Cap rules for the 2017/18 season. These numbers have yet to be released at the time of me writing this, and there is a fun debate ahead about escalators, which contrary to popular belief can be more than just means of transportation for lazy people like me.

Now let’s look into how Las Vegas will get its players. Each one of the current NHL teams can protect a certain amount of players (I’ll get into that later). Vegas then is allowed to select one (and only one) of the unprotected players from each team. This means they will end up with 30 players, one from every NHL team, at the end of the Expansion Draft.

There are a couple of rules that Las Vegas needs to follow when doing so:

  • They must select 30 players
  • They must select a minimum of 14 forwards, 9 defensemen and 3 goaltenders
  • They must select players with a total value that is between 60% and 100% of the 2016/17 Salary Cap ceiling
  • They must select at least 20 players that are under contract for the 2017/18 season (so no more than 10 players that are bound to become Free Agents this summer)

All of that isn’t very interesting, I know. What you’d probably like to know (besides who will be on the roster…) is how the 30 NHL teams can protect their players and therefore keep that 4th line guy on that favourite team of yours whom you like so much. No, that’s only me? Ok, anyways…

The 30 other Teams can choose either one of the two following options when it comes to protecting their players. Protected players can not be drafted by Vegas.


Protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen and 1 goaltender


Protect 8 Skaters (Forward or Defenseman) and 1 goaltender

Teams with a strong blue line such as Nashville are more likely to select the 2nd option. Most teams will choose option 1 however, as they are able to protect a total of 11 players instead of just 9.

There’s a little trick to this, as all players that have effective “No Movement” clauses in their contracts HAVE to be protected and WILL count towards the total of protected players. This screws over several teams that were hoping to unload some of their terrible contracts they can’t otherwise move. So, good news for Rangers fans: You’ll get to keep the aging defense-pair of Staal/Girardi which costs you 11.2 million dollars a year and about just as many goals per season until 2020! (Unless one of them gets bought out, of course).

It’s also worth mentioning that all players in their first or second year of playing professional hockey cannot be picked by Las Vegas and do not have to be protected by their teams. Again, there’s a little trick to this. As the NHL acknowledges the AHL as a professional league, players that have been playing in the minors for more than two years have to be protected.
Also all unsigned draft choices do not have to be protected and can’t be picked by Vegas. Some other criteria apply as to who is exempt from the draft, but they are extremely boring (yes, even more boring then the boring list above) and I will thus not list them here.

The teams have to submit their protection list by June 17, 2017. The list will be revealed to the public on June 18. Las Vegas then has time to pick their players until June 20. The roster will be announced the following day during the NHL Award Ceremony. Five players will be announced after every award because somebody at the NHL Offices in New York thought that was a great idea.

Another little wrinkle to this whole thing is that Vegas is actually allowed to sign pending Unrestricted Free Agents from other teams between June 18th and June 20th. Let’s say there is a player on an expiring contract that would like to go play in Vegas (Is Jarret Stoll still in the League?), he could sign with the Golden Knights before the Expansion Draft. That player would count as Vegas’ pick from his respective team and as a consequence, Vegas won’t be allowed to pick another player from that particular team during the draft-period.

Look out as well for all the shenanigans that will occur as the Expansion Draft approaches. Some teams will strike deals with Las Vegas GM George McPhee to ensure that an unprotected player of theirs won’t get picked. Others will trade draft picks for “future considerations” to the Golden Knights, and in return they will pick a guy from that team with a terrible contract. There will be teams with “free protection room” and others will have too many players they’d want to protect - weird deals are going to be the consequence. GMs come up with the craziest ideas, trust me.

Now that you know how the whole thing works, I’m sure you’d be interested in a prediction of how the Knights’ roster will look like? No worries, swisshockeyblogs.ch has got you covered! The blog “In The Zone” has revealed their mock draft here. At the end of the article, you will also find my picks.

Well. You’re now all filled in about the 2017 NHL-Expansion Draft. Let me know if I left some of your questions unanswered and what you’d like me to explain next. E-Mail me at or tweet me @EuroCaps.

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About the Blog

NHL Explained

The NHL can be very complicated and scary. But fear not because someone is here to explain it! Ever wondered how the NHL Draft or Salary Cap works? You'll find answers here.

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