Thursday, June 16, 2016

Las Vegas Black Knights (?) may inflict a flesh wound on Sabres roster

Reprinted with permission from

We all know that Buffalo Sabres winger Evander Kane has thing for Las Vegas and even though he has a penthouse at the Cosmopolitan and seems to enjoy playing high-roller--"Money" Mayweather-style (hello, money phone)-- we're pretty sure he won't end up in Sin City after next year's expansion draft.

Money will be flying around now that Las Vegas has been granted an NHL franchise, so much so that owners will be able to build a money jet--equipped with a money seat in the cockpit for Gary Bettman--as there will be a $500 million infusion of cash for the owners. That's a huge price-tag, one that may have forced Quebec to wait on the sidelines for a team that will be relocated.

The immediate influx of cash is a bonanza for teams, but with expansion comes the expansion draft which the Las Vegas team will use to fill their roster. At that time they will be selecting one player from each team with a minimum of three goalies, nine defensemen and 14 forwards to be selected and because we live in a cap-world, they're required to reach at least 60% of the projected salary cap for the 2017-18 season.

NHL clubs will have two choices as to how they'd like to approach protecting their players. Teams can choose to protect one goalie, three defensemen and seven forwards or one goalie and eight skaters. Players with two years or less of professional hockey experience will be exempt from the process while teams will be forced to protect players with no-movement clauses in their contracts prior to July 1, 2017.

The NHL also closed a few loopholes concerning the players selected as they will be on the team at least one year and they're also requiring NHL teams to expose players with NHL experience in an effort to make the new team as competitive as possible. The "experience criteria" has NHL clubs teams exposing a minimum of two forwards and one defenseman who've played 40 games last season or 70 games the prior two seasons.

It's going to be a high-wire juggling act for organizations as they not only need to navigate the salary-cap for next season and beyond but they'll also need some forward thinking as to how they'll construct their roster with the expansion draft lurking in the shadows.

What it comes down to is that nearly every NHL team will lose a good player to Las Vegas. "I think it means you might lose a No. 4 or No. 5 defenseman, or a No. 6 or No. 7 forward, or a decent goalie," said Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray back in April to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun.

The good news is that Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart along with prospects like Justin Bailey and Hudson Fasching are exempt. The bad news is a player like defenseman Jake McCabe is not because the seven games he played in 2013-14 push him into the third year of pro experience.

With that in mind, and while using the roster we have right now, here's a preliminary look at who the Sabres will likely protect a this early stage of the game using the 1, 3, 7 approach:

Goaltender (1)--Robin Lehner.
Defenseman (3)--Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, McCabe
Forwards (7)--Ryan O'Reilly, Kane, Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Marcus Foligno, William Carrier

Lehner is a given in goal as Murray traded for him to be the starter in net. Ristolainen on defense is a given and McCabe should be protected. According to reports, Bogosian's contract hits no-movement status next off-season and he becomes automatically protected.

The interesting part of that scenario is when we get to the forwards as the 40/70 games clause kicks in. The choice of protecting Carrier over Nic Deslauriers has to do with up-side as well as the aforementioned clause. The Sabres need to expose one defenseman (Josh Gorges) and a forward in addition to Matt Moulson who've played in 40 games last year or 70 games in two years and Deslauriers fits that mold.

In addition to the NHL roster, Las Vegas will be needing to fill the system with players. The NHL also stipulated that prospects who've played three seasons in college or overseas are not exempt. For Buffalo that means a player like defenseman Anthony Florentino (NCAA) or Victor Olofsson might get taken dependent upon how the rules work should they play in Rochester as a pro late next season.

Having watched Murray in action since he became GM in Buffalo a little over two years ago, odds are that things will change over the course of the summer as he tries to bolster his lineup. Buffalo has 24 free agents to decide upon and if rumors are true, Murray's interested in acquiring a forward or two and/or a defenseman, the likes of which will alter the 1-3-7 protection plan. But as of right now, Buffalo will only incur a flesh wound when the Black Knights (preliminary knickname) of Las Vegas pluck one player from their roster next season.

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