Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Conditions were different when the NHL last held an expansion draft 17 years ago. Jay Deogracias takes a selfie during an event to unveil the name of Las Vegas’ National Hockey League franchise, in Las Vegas.

Looming expansion draft turns up trade chatter around NHL

The prospect of losing talent to Vegas is keeping a lot of NHL general managers up at night.

“Sometimes at 3 in the morning I wake up and remind myself of that: ‘You can only lose one player. Go back to sleep,’” Minnesota’s Chuck Fletcher said.

All 30 existing teams must submit their protected list for the upcoming expansion draft by Saturday afternoon, which has made for a week of trade chatter and speculation as GMs jockey for position. Only seven forwards, three defenceman and a goaltender (or eight skaters of any position and a goaltender) can be protected.

Not knowing who Vegas GM George McPhee is going to take has everyone on edge.

“Everyone’s a little nervous, they’re a little reluctant,” Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon said on Toronto’s TSN 1050. “They don’t want to lose two players if you make a deal. They’re not quite sure. So everybody’s in the same boat.”

The Tampa Bay Lightning protected themselves by trading Jonathan Drouin to Montreal and thus can protect another forward. The Washington Capitals acquired Tyler Graovac from Minnesota so they could meet the minimum exposure requirement and protect centre Lars Eller.

“If we don’t do anything else between now and Saturday afternoon, in trading Jonathan he would’ve required protection,” Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said Thursday.

“It changes things, I guess, a little bit or it makes it a little clearer as to what we’re going to do.”

Similar moves are rumoured before the league’s trade freeze goes into effect Saturday. The Wild have too many defencemen, so Jonas Brodin’s name has been bandied about in trade rumours, and the Ottawa Senators will have to do something because defenceman Dion Phaneuf said he won’t waive his no-movement clause.

“It forces us that we’re in a situation that we felt that this could happen,” Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion said. “Is it a trade? It’s a possibility. But trades are way easier talked about than to do.”

The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins avoided making a potentially harmful trade several months ago when they asked veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury if he’d waive his no-movement clause so they could protect 23-year-old goalie of the future and present Matt Murray. Fleury agreed before the March 1 trade deadline, saying it gave the team more flexibility down the stretch.

Fleury and Murray split the duties in the playoffs as the Penguins won a second consecutive championship.

“It certainly took a lot of pressure off of the organization to not pursue a trade and that’s really what we wanted to do,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “We wanted to keep both goalies. Now that we’re at the finish line we can look back and say we’re glad we did. It certainly relived a lot of the pressure thinking I had to get him moved so we wouldn’t get in a jam here for our list.”

The positive for Pittsburgh is that if Vegas takes Fleury to be the face of the new franchise next season, it doesn’t have to worry about potentially losing a valuable young defenceman like Olli Maatta. There’s a similar concern from the Western Conference champion Nashville Predators, who will most likely expose a few intriguing forwards to protect defencemen Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm.

Nashville GM David Poile said he has spoken with McPhee and that the Predators “will do the best we can to protect as many assets as we can.”

He’s not alone. The New York Rangers and Colorado Avalanche did that with buyouts of aging defencemen.

New York bought out the final three years of 33-year-old Dan Girardi’s contract, and Colorado the final year of 37-year-old Francois Beauchemin’s deal. Girardi and the Rangers bid an emotional goodbye after 11 seasons, but it was a necessary move as many of these are with Vegas about to poach 30 players for its inaugural season.

“This expansion draft, it’s complicated things a little bit, I think everyone is gradually working through and ultimately we all know we’re going to lose one player and you accept that,” Yzerman said.

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