De­ci­sion time nears

With the NHL ex­pan­sion draft at hand, the Ve­gas Golden Knights fi­nally will have a ros­ter,

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Kevin Allen kmallen@us­ato­day.com USA TO­DAY Sports FOL­LOW COLUM­NIST KEVIN ALLEN @ByKev­inAllen for hockey anal­y­sis and break­ing news.

The Ve­gas Golden Knights are on the clock to have their ex­pan­sion draft list fi­nal­ized by 10 a.m. ET Wed­nes­day. Be­fore then, they are the only NHL team al­lowed to make a trade.

They can sign an­other team’s free agents or make a deal to not select a player from a team’s avail­able list. They also can make a deal to draft a player from one team and trade him to an­other. For ex­am­ple, the Golden Knights could make a deal to draft Marc-An­dre Fleury and then trade him to the Philadel­phia Fly­ers.

The Golden Knights will draft one player from ev­ery team, and those play­ers, plus the Golden Knights’ deals, will be an­nounced Wed­nes­day dur­ing the NHL awards show from Las Ve­gas. The most press­ing ques­tions about the NHL ex­pan­sion process:

When the deal­ing is done, what will the Golden Knights have?

They will be more com­pet­i­tive than ex­pan­sion teams of the past but prob­a­bly not quite as com­pet­i­tive as the NHL hoped they would be.

They could — and that’s a big ques­tion mark — rank in the 1625 range among teams. If ev­ery­thing goes right and the goal­tend­ing is sound, per­haps Ve­gas could com­pete for a wild card.

More likely, Ve­gas will be just out­side the play­off group­ing. The Golden Knights should be able to im­prove at a faster rate than pre­vi­ous ex­pan­sion teams be­cause they will launch the fran­chise with a larger col­lec­tion of fu­ture as­sets.

The pre­sump­tion is they have com­pleted deals with the Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets and Ana­heim Ducks to stay away from spe­cific play­ers. The Colum­bus Dis­patch has re­ported the Blue Jack­ets are be­lieved to be send­ing a firstround draft pick to Ve­gas.

The best guess is that Ve­gas will end up with three first-round picks in Fri­day’s draft and per­haps 12 ex­tra picks over the next three drafts. They will se­cure pre­vi­ously drafted prospects in their trades.

Should we ex­pect the Golden Knights to have a high­qual­ity de­fense next sea­son?

Let’s call it de­pend­able. They could take Paul Martin, Marc Methot, Matt Dumba, Calvin de Haan, Nate Sch­midt, Bray­den McNabb and Trevor van Riems­dyk.

Which teams should the Golden Knights avoid mak­ing a deal with?

The Nashville Preda­tors. Un­less the of­fer is over­whelm­ing to keep James Neal in Nashville, the Golden Knights should draft Neal. He could be a good line­mate for Vadim Shipachyov, the Rus­sian Kon­ti­nen­tal Hockey League star who has been signed to play on the ex­pan­sion team’s top line. Be­cause Neal has only one sea­son left on his deal, the Golden Knights could trade him be­fore the trade dead­line and prob­a­bly ob­tain a strong re­turn.

The Golden Knights also might be best served to not make a deal with the Min­nesota Wild and just take one of their avail­able play­ers, such as Dumba.

Which teams could be talk­ing goalie trades with Ve­gas?

The Fly­ers and Win­nipeg Jets for sure, and maybe the Buf­falo Sabres and Van­cou­ver Canucks. Petr Mrazek, Antti Raanta and Philipp Grubauer are among the most in­trigu­ing goalies.

Which un­pro­tected play­ers are other teams go­ing to ask the Golden Knights to draft and trade to them?

Fleury, Methot, Neal, Dumba, Marco Scan­della and Jonathan Marches­sault are chief among them.

Are there un­der­rated play­ers on the list?

Detroit Red Wings cen­ter Ri­ley Shea­han might be one. Never mind his of­fen­sive strug­gles this sea­son. He could be the Golden Knights’ rugged No. 3 cen­ter for the next 10 years. He is bullish, strong and boasts the skill to score 12 to 15 goals ev­ery sea­son. Colum­bus goalie Joonas Kor­pisalo also might fall into that cat­e­gory. New York Rangers winger Jesper Fest had a strong play­offs (six points in 12 games). Given the right op­por­tu­nity, he could be a pro­duc­tive of­fen­sive player.

Would the Golden Knights con­sider draft­ing Bobby Ryan from Ot­tawa?

Even though teams are al­ways look­ing for more scor­ing, it’s un­likely the Golden Knights would con­sider Ryan be­cause he has five years re­main­ing on a deal with a $7.25 mil­lion cap hit.

The only way the Golden Knights would draft Ryan is if the Sen­a­tors of­fered a deal that the Knights couldn’t refuse. It prob­a­bly would take some­thing such as a first-round pick, a high-qual­ity prospect and re­tain­ing at least $2 mil­lion in salary.

Will Ve­gas be a dump­ing ground for un­wanted con­tracts?

Gen­eral man­ager Ge­orge McPhee told USA TO­DAY Sports he would con­sider it if the price were right. You can pre­sume that the Los An­ge­les Kings have talked to McPhee about Marian Ga­borik or Dustin Brown. Word around the NHL is that teams will have to of­fer a king ’s ran­som to get the Golden Knights to bite.

AN­DREW NELLES, THE (NASHVILLE) TENNESSEAN

With six con­sec­u­tive sea­sons of at least 20 goals, James Neal could pro­vide the Golden Knights with punch.

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