SIX PICKS FOR LONELY KNIGHTS
Marchessault, Neal, Staal, Methot, Enstrom and Raanta ... not bad for starters
The Vegas Golden Knights have until Wednesday at 10 a.m. to peruse the list of available players for the NHL expansion draft. Each of the 30 teams can only lose one. Vegas must take 14 forwards, nine defencemen and three goalies, then up to four extras at any position. Side deals — with offers of picks or players to avoid certain selections — are allowed. The Blue Jackets, for example, are believed to have a deal in place to ensure Vegas stays away from forward Josh Anderson and goalie Joonas Korpisalo. Here are six players — a solid first line, top defence pair and No. 1 goalie — who could help make Vegas a viable first-year team:
Forward, Florida Panthers At 26, Marchessault scored 30 goals for the Panthers last season and earns just $750,000 (all dollars U.S.). The Panthers are flush with young forwards. The journeyman only got a chance when Florida ran into injury trouble. The small (fivefoot-nine, 174 pounds), speedy, skilled forward could offer a wow factor to the fans in Vegas.
Centre, Minnesota Wild A Stanley Cup winner in Carolina and former captain, the 32-year-old Staal could bring leadership to what should be a young team, and quality centres are hard to find. Staal rediscovered his game (28 goals, 35 assists) last year in Minnesota and is a relative bargain at $3.5 million. If the Wild are offering a side deal to stay away from young defenceman Matt Dumba, Vegas could win both ways.
Forward, Nashville Predators Scoring is probably the hardest thing to do in the NHL, and Neal does it regularly. Barring a side deal to keep him in Nashville, the 29-year-old former 40-goal scorer could light it up regularly in Vegas. Since his 24goal rookie year of 2008-09, Neal is 15th with 238 goals. He has one year left on his contract at $5 million, and would surely command a hefty sum at the trade deadline.
Defenceman, Ottawa Senators The Senators couldn’t convince Dion Phaneuf to waive his no-movement clause, putting them in a position where they will likely lose Erik Karlsson’s favourite defence partner. Loading up on the blue line would be a smart move for the expansion team, and Methot — at six-foot-three and 228 pounds with a $4.9-million cap hit — is a great place to start.
Defenceman, Winnipeg Jets The Jets veteran was one of two players leaguewide to waive their no-movement clause (Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was the other). He did it to help the Jets keep some young forwards, while stating that he doesn’t want to leave. Vegas might have other ideas for the 32year-old puck-moving blueliner who earns $5.75 million a year, including using him as bait later at the trade deadline.
Goalie, New York Rangers Raanta basically saved the season for the Rangers when Henrik Lundqvist struggled. But teams could only protect one goalie, and there was no way The King — even at age 35 — was going to be exposed. The 28year-old Raanta (2.26 GAA, .922 save mark over 30 games) proved he could handle the No. 1 job and his salary is just $1 million. A tandem of Raanta and Fleury could give Vegas some hope.
Notables left unprotected for the expansion draft, the results of which will be revealed Wednesday, include James Neal, top, plus (from left) Marc Methot, Jonathan Marchessault, Antti Raanta, Tobias Enstrom and Eric Staal.