Many NHL GM’s, while impressed with Vegas’ success, are also furious at it. The further Vegas moves into the playoffs, the more articles are coming out bashing how “unfair” the expansion draft was to these GMs. Consider this piece the anti-thesis against this entire movement.
The Vegas Expansion Draft
The expansion draft was a really fun time last summer for NHL fans and not so much for NHL GMs. Golden Knights GM George McPhee brilliantly worked the system to acquire picks and get specific players he wanted for a price from other NHL teams.
By the same token though, NHL GMs acted incredibly foolish in their roster management. Florida gave away Reilly Smith in a salary move so Vegas would agree to take Jonathan Marchessault. Both have ended up being two of Vegas’ best players and NHL circles are now saying it’s unfair because the salary cap forced Florida to move Smith. Wrong. How about Florida’s GM completely underestimated his own roster and actively gave up two good young players for nothing.
— y-The Vegas Roundtable (Round 3 0-0) (@VegasKOTR) April 27, 2018
If Florida’s GM wanted to move Smith for salary reasons why didn’t he try to find a suitor that would’ve given him far more back then what Vegas did?
Why didn’t he just keep Smith and only lose one of Marchessault or Smith? Florida isn’t alone in baffling moves, though. The Islanders gave up Mikhail Grabovski and a 1st round pick so the Golden Knights would take Jean-Francois Berube. Grabovski when healthy is a solid top 9 forward who was traded solely for money reasons. Yet this is the same Islanders team that signed Andrew Ladd to an awful long-term contract, but no one wants to consider that.
NHL GM’s who mismanaged their rosters are of course the loudest complainers about Vegas, yet Nashville, which gave a good player in James Neal, was the NHL’s best team, and Tampa Bay, which gave up a decent defenseman in Jason Garrison, finished third overall in the league.
The narrative right now should be how many GM’s failed to understand their own rosters, not that they were swindled by the expansion draft.
Many NHL GM’s Are Incompetent
This leads to the general issue league wide. Many NHL GM’s are incompetent when it comes to roster management and hate/fail making tough decisions. Vegas should be the demarcation of this problem league-wide.
There are many teams besides Florida and New York that misunderstood their roster and let solid players go rather then make moves to get assets instead. This is the same league of GMs that wouldn’t offer sheet Nikita Kucherov, who just finished 3rd overall in points because it might rock the boat and hurt another teams feelings.
Think about that, an NHL GM instead refused to try improving their roster because they wanted to be nice to another GM. Even when GMs do try to make moves you have Peter Chiarelli trading potential league MVP Taylor Hall for literally an above average defenseman in Adam Larsson and… nothing else.
Part of this is because the NHL has a major culture clash between old school and new school thinking that is playing out currently. But by the same token NHL GM’s are more risk-adverse than any other league and owners grant far too many get out of jail free cards. This only keeps the cycle going rather than forcing a new culture of smart proactive GMs that would be willing to make changes.
Long Term Effects
One of my great fears due to Vegas’ success is when the NHL expands to Seattle, the league will modify the expansion draft rules from what they gave Vegas. Perhaps protecting an additional defenseman or forward wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen, but altering the rules so a future team finishes 21-51-10 in their first season because their roster is a joke would not be a great thing either.
No market does well long-term when they are always a bottom feeder in the standings. Atlanta was awful minus their one playoff appearance before leaving in 2011. If they had a fighting chance out of the gate would they have moved? There probably is a little truth that the expansion draft worked a little too well for Vegas, but lets also see where they stand the next few seasons after the emotion of this year plays out and players are not out there playing with a chip on their shoulder.
When the Sabres started the team was gift-wrapped Gilbert Perreault 1st overall, which really helped to jump start the team and Buffalo was good pretty quickly. Having some success or a competitive roster to start is not a bad thing for a new franchise.
I am not saying I want future expansion teams to be cup contenders out of the gate either, heck as a Sabre fan myself the last thing I want to see is Vegas in year one win when we are approaching 50 years with a no titles ourselves. But the league and new markets like Vegas are better for having a fighting chance out of the gate then a 10-year period of darkness.