Rosters scrutinized closer than ever
Intense discussions led to clear picture of players’ values
Mike Heika: With teams needing to decide whom to expose to the expansion draft, general managers, including the Stars’ Jim Nill, have had to look much closer at their rosters.
True introspection is one of the most difficult challenges in life. You can always rationalize your weak spots or filter your opinions to make the picture a little closer to what you think it should be.
That’s why the expansion draft to stock the Vegas Golden Knights has been eye-opening for NHL general managers. While each team is supposed to lose just one player, it has made each front office study every player in its organization.
“One of the benefits is it really has forced honest assessment and strong debate within your group,” Stars general manager Jim Nill said. “We’ve had a lot of time to prepare, and that means you go through every scenario and you look at ways to manage each situation. When you start to do that, you really have to make tough choices on what’s best for your organization.”
The most obvious discussion came on defense, where the Stars have three 20-something blue-liners, each of whom has a unique upside. Jamie Oleksiak is 6-7, 260 pounds, and can skate. Stephen Johns is 6-4, 230 pounds, and has more of a physical edge than Oleksiak. Patrik Nemeth is smaller at 6-3, 215, but might have the best balance of skills.
Oleksiak is the youngest at 24, and also the highest draft pick (14th overall in 2011). Johns, 25, has the least NHL experience, but spent four years at Notre Dame and might have the most room for improvement. Nemeth is the oldest by two months over Johns, and his development might have been slowed the most by injuries.
At least two of those players were expected to be made available to the Golden Knights after the Stars submitted their protected list Saturday afternoon. The protected lists of all 30 NHL teams will be revealed Sunday morning, and Vegas’ selections will be made public Wednesday night.
Nill isn’t going to explain the grading process on the trio — keeping your secrets is another big part of the expansion process — but his decision-making will reveal a good deal of what went on behind the scenes. If the organization chose to protect Johns over Oleksiak, it would be making a statement, a statement it wouldn’t have had to make in any other summer.
“That’s just the way it is this year,” Nill said.
In hoping to give Vegas its best possible team, the NHL has created a pretty intense culling process. Teams were allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie (or eight skaters and one goalie if a team opted to protect more defensemen).
Complicated rules protected younger players (Julius Honka, Devin Shore and Mattias Janmark didn’t have to be exposed), but the bottom line is you have to be willing to lose a player you like.
Some teams, hoping to avoid exposing a desirable player, discussed trades, with the deadline for that passing Saturday afternoon. But while the amount of forwards or defenseman on any roster complicates issues, the bottom line is a team really had to like a player to protect him. That’s where the honest assessment part came in.
“This has created probably the most talk ever between GMs, and that’s been a great thing,” Nill said. “You find out a lot about what they think about their own roster, but you also get a really good view of what the rest of the league thinks about your roster.”
Learning what other teams truly think about your players — and forcing yourself to make a harsh assessment of your own roster — can be significant.
“If you look at the trade deadline or free agency, I’m not really sure you get a clear look at players, because there are so many different factors that change your evaluation,” Nill said. “But this whole experience has been different. I really do think every team has a pretty clear view of who they are right now.”
Defenseman Esa Lindell has played just 77 NHL games, but the Stars consider him a part of their long-term future and were expected to include him on their protected list for the expansion draft.