How expansion is throwing a wrench into the NHL trade deadline

How expansion is impacting trade deadline

Members of the Calgary Flames’ front office have all been asking general manager Brad Treliving how expansion will affect the NHL trade deadline.

His answer: “It adds another layer” to an already complicated process.

The Las Vegas Golden Knights won’t play their first game for another seven months, but their presence is already causing disruption to Wednesday’s trade deadline. Clubs across the league have to consider the June 20 expansion draft when it comes to adding or subtracting players before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline.

Vegas choose 30 players, including at least 14 forwards, nine defencemen and three goaltenders at the draft.

“I don’t think it’s going to necessarily stop moves, but I think it has an impact and I think it’s going to make it a little bit stickier,” Treliving said in an interview with the Canadian Press. “I think there’s going to be deals that potentially could’ve gotten done or may have gotten done in another situation that may not get done because of the expansion implication.”

It’s the protection list for the expansion draft that really throws a wrench into the process. Teams can either protect seven forwards, three defencemen and one goaltender on June 17 or eight skaters and one goaltender. That makes trading for a player with term on his contract more complex, as teams need to consider loss of assets â€” draft picks, prospects etc. — but also the possibility of losing an unprotected player in the expansion draft as a result of the trade.

Said Treliving: “It’s going to impact what you do in your protection list one way or another because either you’re just bringing this guy and you’re going to expose him — so now the assets you gave up are gone (and) the player could be gone â€” or is he an upgrade on somebody you would’ve protected otherwise and that person’s out?”

Treliving’s prediction of a largely rental-driven market has borne fruit with expiring contracts â€” highlighted by Ben Bishop and Kevin Shattenkirk — dominating the early shuffling. 

Blockbuster trades might have to wait until the summer.

Take Matt Duchene for instance, the speedy Colorado Avalanche forward with two years left on his contract (US$6 million cap hit) who’s reportedly available. Any team that trades for the 26-year-old would have to pay a hefty price in assets and potentially a player to expansion whom they might have kept otherwise.

“We’re all dealing with this,” Blue Jackets president John Davidson told the Columbus Post-Dispatch. “So when you make deals, you have to look at who now is going to be exposed, who’s not, and are we going to pick a different format for protection.

“We’d like to do things, for sure,” he added. “But not at the expense for two months as a rental. Not at the expense of pushing one more guy out there, exposed, this summer. With the prices being asked, it doesn’t make sense.”

Teams considering players with term on their contracts might have to consider altering their expansion protection strategies.

“With the expansion thing, I know people are tired of hearing that it’s restrictive, but I think it freezes up the defence market a little bit because you can only protect three guys,” Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters prior to the trade for Shattenkirk, a high-end defenceman. 

“And if you add a guy, you’re going to expose him in the expansion draft, so you’re adding a guy for a period of time and then you might lose someone else on your team.”

Unlike the last expansion draft, which happened in 2000 with the Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild joining the league, there’s a salary cap to consider this time around.

The crunch of the cap already complicates movement at the deadline as do the standings with only a handful of clubs (and thus trading partners) truly out of the playoff mix. That leads to what Treliving calls a “deadline deadline,” where teams on the playoff bubble wait as long as possible to decide if they’re in or out, complicating the market for buyers.

And, of course, there is the price tag associated with making a move at the deadline.

“Now, you’ve added another box to check,” Treliving said. “How does this affect me expansion-wise?”

Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press