Golden Knights might just be best expansion team in NHL history

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LAS VEGAS (AP) Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley has repeatedly said he wants to win the Stanley Cup within the first six years of his new team’s existence.

After Vegas came away with a jackpot from the expansion draft, Foley’s franchise goalie is even bolder.

“Let’s do it earlier,” Marc-Andre Fleury said Thursday. “Why wait six years? I don’t know where I’ll be in six years. Right away our goal has to be to get good, to improve and to go out there.”

Vegas shouldn’t start blocking off the Strip for the parade just yet, but Sin City’s new team is holding a remarkable hand after general manager George McPhee’s 37-player haul from the expansion draft and several subsequent trades.

Nashville general manager David Poile is among many hockey observers who think the Golden Knights have the ingredients for the most competitive expansion team in league history. From Fleury on out, Vegas already has a solid NHL roster with a sturdy blue line and four lines of capable forwards.

What they don’t have is the game-changing playmakers and goal-scorers that separate decent teams from great ones, but they’ve got a plan for that, too: Vegas will add even more top-shelf talent Friday in the draft in Chicago, where McPhee holds three first-round picks, including the sixth overall.

The players who have already arrived in Vegas realize that although they’re starting over, they aren’t starting from scratch.

“They put a great group together,” said forward Reid Duke, who became the Golden Knights’ first player when he signed as a free agent in March. “You never really know what to expect, but they made some big splashes. Got a lot of good players, a lot of good picks. It’s nice to see that they are not only building for right now, but the future, too. They’ve got some smart guys up there, and they know exactly what they are doing.”

McPhee continued his moves Thursday, swinging two trades to add draft picks in place of claimed players who might not have made the Golden Knights’ roster. Vegas shipped defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and a seventh-round pick next year to Carolina for Pittsburgh’s second-round pick this year, and then traded David Schlemko to Montreal for a fifth-round pick in 2019.

After Foley paid $500 million to the league as an expansion fee, the Golden Knights were given favorable franchise-building terms explicitly designed to give them a better chance to be competitive more quickly than the new teams of the previous 25 years.

Instead of forcing Vegas fans to watch several years of plodding franchise-building, the NHL wants the Golden Knights to be decent from the start.

Can they be the best expansion team ever? It’s quite possible.

The NHL added nine franchises between 1991 and 2001, and no team did better than the Florida Panthers, who went 33-34-17 and racked up an expansion team-record 83 points in the 1993-94 season. The NHL still had ties in 1994, so teams didn’t pick up extra points through shootout wins.

All but four teams in the Western Conference recorded more than 83 points last season. An 84-point season would have put the Golden Knights in sixth place in an eight-team Pacific Division last season, ahead of Arizona and Vancouver.

The Golden Knights aren’t ready to make any predictions yet, but once they get together in Vegas for the first time under coach Gerard Gallant, they’ll start to figure out just how good they can be.

That transition to the desert will be easier for some Golden Knights: Deryk Engelland has lived in Las Vegas in the offseason for a decade.

“We’ll get our numbers out there for guys to reach out if they need anything, if it’s a place to crash, to see outside the Strip and come look for places (to live) or whatnot,” Engelland said. “Definitely ready for that part of it.”

The milestones will keep coming for the Golden Knights throughout the summer while they build toward the first game in franchise history in Dallas on Oct. 6, followed by their home debut Oct. 10 against the Coyotes.

Vegas’ first player development camp starts Tuesday.

“It’s a different situation for everybody in here to come into a team where there is no team,” said defenseman Jason Garrison, claimed from Tampa Bay. “It’s the first team. You just want to establish a friendship and a culture right away, and it starts right now and leads into training camp and continues forward to the first game.”

 

2017 NHL Draft especially big for Devils, Golden Knights

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CHICAGO (AP) The NHL stage belongs to Ray Shero and the New Jersey Devils. Then it goes right back to George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights.

In the wake of Vegas’ expansion draft, New Jersey is on the clock with the No. 1 pick of the amateur draft beginning Friday night at the United Center. The only other time the franchise had the first pick was in 1979, when the then-Colorado Rockies selected Rob Ramage.

“I think it’s been exciting for our franchise, exciting time for our scouts,” said Shero, who was hired as New Jersey’s general manager in May 2015. “In addition obviously to the first overall pick we’ve got the nine other picks, which are going to be very important on Day 2.

“But this is, I think, once the dust has settled now with expansion in terms of Vegas making all the selections or trades, whatever they’ve done, it really puts into focus again OK, the draft itself, which is important for every team.”

After New Jersey makes its pick – Shero said the Devils know who they are going to take, but he was keeping that to himself for now – Philadelphia, Dallas, Colorado and Vancouver round out the top five. Then Vegas makes the first pick in franchise history.

The Golden Knights announced two more trades Thursday, running their total to 13 selections for this year’s draft. Vegas sent defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and a 2018 seventh-round draft pick to Carolina for a second-round selection on Saturday. It also shipped defenseman David Schlemko to Montreal for a fifth-round pick in 2019.

Vegas, which selected 30 players in its expansion draft Wednesday night, has three picks in each of the first two rounds. It also has two selections in the fifth and sixth.

“It’s a hard draft,” said McPhee, the franchise’s GM. “Going through it today, it’s been a harder draft that most so it’s taking some time … three picks, it’s a lot to manage and you really have to focus. When you have one pick in the first round, you’re looking for one guy. When you’ve got three, it’s harder. But it’s a good problem to have.”

Forwards Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier, Casey Mittelstadt and Cody Glass and defensemen Cale Makar and Miro Heiskanen are among the most coveted prospects. Patrick, whose father, Steve, and uncle James both played in the NHL, held the top spot in the NHL Central Scouting Department’s final rankings in April.

Despite missing much of last season with a groin injury, Patrick had 20 goals and 46 points in 33 games with Brandon of the Western Hockey League.

“At the end of the day I don’t care if I go one, two, three, four, like it doesn’t matter to me,” said Patrick, who threw out a ceremonial first pitch before Wednesday’s Cubs game at Wrigley Field. “I’m just excited to get drafted and have a chance to try out for an NHL team. So it doesn’t matter to me.”

Unlike the past two years, when Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews went No. 1 overall and immediately had a huge impact on their new teams, there doesn’t appear to be a transcendent talent at the top of the draft. Led by Patrick and Hischier, the forwards are generally considered the top position group.

“I think this still will be proven to be a good draft,” Shero said. “Especially as they always look back, there’s always one or two Hall of Famers in every draft. Doesn’t matter where, they’re going to be in this draft 20 years from now. And who is it? That’s what the challenge is for any team.”

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

Report: Vegas isn’t interested in trading defensemen Theodore, Schmidt

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The Vegas Golden Knights enjoyed another busy day on Thursday, moving the likes of David Schlemko and Trevor van Riemsdyk. That doesn’t mean that all their defensemen are necessarily for sale, even with some pressure to trade away a few more.

Now, it’s plausible that someone merely hasn’t found the right price to entice Golden Knights GM George McPhee, but TSN’s Pierre LeBrun indicates that he’s shooting down offers for especially enticing young defensemen.

Specifically, McPhee gave a hard “No” to at least three teams regarding Shea Theodore and also stonewalled offers for Nate Schmidt, according to LeBrun.

It’s probably not fair to say that McPhee hasn’t been willing to move younger players altogether. After all, Trevor van Riemsdyk is 25, much like Schmidt.

Even so, one could infer that McPhee would be quicker to trade away a veteran whose value may not ever be higher, such as Marc Methot or Alexei Emelin.

For what it’s worth, let’s break down the Golden Knights’ current defensemen in two camps (30-and-under, 30-and-older) along with their contract situations, with help from Cap Friendly.

Under 30

Luca Sbisa, 27, $3.6 million cap hit through 2017-18
Brayden McNabb, 26, $1.7M through 2017-18
Jon Merrill, 25, $1.138M through 2017-18
Colin Miller, 24, $1M through 2017-18
Theodore, 21, $863K through 2017-18
Griffin Reinhart, 23, RFA
Schmidt, 25, RFA

30 and older

Methot, $4.9M through 2018-19
Jason Garrison, $4.6M through 2017-18
Emelin, $4.1M through 2017-18
Clayton Stoner, 32, $3.25M through 2017-18
Deryk Engelland, 35, $1M through 2017-18

Considering the options at hand, it’s still feasible that someone might convince McPhee to ship Schmidt and/or Theodore over, anyway. The Toronto Maple Leafs have been connected to Schmidt and Colin Miller in rumors, though it’s unclear how likely such moves might be. Vegas isn’t tied to many players beyond this coming season, so they have plenty of flexibility to change their minds.

The Golden Knights may also view the trade deadline as a more fruitful time to move a veteran such as Methot.

Even so, it sure sounds like McPhee would at least prefer to build around his youngsters, and Theodore might be the clearest keeper of them all.

Two fewer defensemen means Canucks less likely to trade Tanev

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CHICAGO — Three months ago, Jim Benning might’ve considered trading defenseman Chris Tanev.

But after the Vancouver Canucks lost Nikita Tryamkin to the KHL and Luca Sbisa in the expansion draft, their general manager no longer enjoys the depth on defense that he used to trumpet.

“I’m going to look at all our options, but for us to move [Tanev] off our blue line, we’d have to get a good defenseman back,” Benning said Thursday.

Among Vancouver d-men, only Alex Edler logged more ice time than Sbisa in 2016-17.

“He provided physicality on the back end,” Benning said of Sbisa. “He was a good penalty killer for us. I thought last year, on a game-to-game basis, he was one of our better defensemen. So we’re sorry to see him go. It’s going to be a new opportunity for him and it gives us a chance to kind of reshape our blue line.”

Of course, Benning’s reluctance to deal the 27-year-old Tanev is bound to make people wonder if the Canucks are truly committed to a long-term rebuild. When they traded veterans Jannik Hansen and Alex Burrows, that appeared to be the direction they were finally headed.

Shouldn’t a rebuilding team be less concerned about next year, and more concerned about four or five years down the line?

“That’s a good point,” Benning said, “but I think we’re going to have a lot of young players in our lineup next year, and we want to be competitive in the games. Chris Tanev is still a relatively young player for a defenseman. We’re going to have him for the next seven or eight years. But like I said, if something makes sense and we can get a player back that can play on our blue line, we’ll look at it.”

The Canucks will draft fifth overall tomorrow at United Center, and most expect them to select a center like Cody Glass, Gabriel Vilardi, or Casey Mittelstadt.

But don’t be shocked if they go for a power-play defenseman like Cale Makar or Timothy Liljegren.

“Anytime you can get a high-end offensive defenseman in today’s game, that drives the play for your team, I think that’s something we’re going to look at,” said Benning.

Habs address blueline, acquire Schlemko from Vegas

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Having already moved on from Nathan Beaulieu, Alexei Emelin and Mikhail Sergachev, the Habs continued to remodel their defense on Thursday by acquiring David Schlemko from Vegas.

Schlemko, who spent last season with the Sharks, was acquired by the Golden Knights at last night’s expansion draft. Vegas will receive Montreal’s fifth-round pick in 2019 as part of the deal.

Signed to a four-year, $8.4 million deal last summer, Schlemko had high expectations in San Jose. GM Doug Wilson trumpeted him as a “solid puck-moving defenseman” and while Schlemko did show it at times, he also had his low points.

He was a healthy scratch midway through the year, and missed some time with a lower-body injury. All told, he had 18 points in 62 games, while averaging 16:45 TOI per night.

It’s unlikely that Habs GM Marc Bergevin is done here. While Schlemko is a decent pickup, he’s only one of five d-men under contract for next season, along with Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Brandon Davidson and Jordie Benn. Andrei Markov is an unrestricted free agent, and it’s unclear if he’ll be brought back.

Related: Vegas has 15 d-men, but won’t keep them all