The wheeling and dealing is about to begin for the NHL’s 31st team.
The expansion Vegas Golden Knights can begin making trades and signing free agents for next season now that owner Bill Foley’s final payment to the league cleared on Wednesday afternoon.
Foley called it “another significant milestone” in the team’s history.
“On behalf of the board of governors, I am delighted to officially welcome the Vegas Golden Knights to the NHL,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Congratulations to Bill Foley, the Foley family, the Maloof family, the city of Las Vegas and the Golden Knights’ fans as the team embarks on its exciting journey.”
The expansion draft is almost four months away, but the Golden Knights soon could get some clarity — and some assets — now that they’re open for business.
“We’ve been talking with teams here for a few weeks now,” general manager George McPhee said. “Teams are looking for some certainty with their rosters and obviously trying to improve their rosters before the trading deadline and they want to talk to us to see if there’s a player that we could agree upon that for a couple months from now to claim, which would make their life easier.”
Most of the talk about the Vegas expansion draft has centered on teams giving up draft picks or prospects to the Golden Knights in exchange for a “hands off” agreement. Maybe it’s worth it a mid-round pick to the Anaheim Ducks not to lose one of their young defensemen or for the Columbus Blue Jackets to guarantee an extra player is safe because they’ll be forced to protect so many with no-movement clauses.
But if McPhee agrees to take, say, Bobby Ryan from the Ottawa Senators, it keeps GM Pierre Dorion from being nervous about losing someone like defenseman Marc Methot. According to the league, any player Vegas agrees to claim or not claim in the June 21 expansion draft must be done playing this season before the trade can be completed.
Preparations for the draft are an ongoing chess match with many pieces in play.
“Ideally we’d like to see the whole universe of who’s protected and who’s exposed before we have to make decisions,” McPhee said. “But there are teams that want to talk now, so we’re listening.”
McPhee has been listening for a while but can now act by agreeing to trades for draft picks or unsigned prospects since the NHL has received the final installment of Foley’s $500 million expansion fee. It will also allow McPhee to talk future deals in person next week at the general managers meeting.