Expansion casualties part lll: The league as we now know it

A look at expansion history and what could be on the horizon

With news that the city council of Seattle has unanimously approved a $600M renovation project for KeyArena, speculation has begun to ramp up that the National Hockey League will be more than happy to grant a new expansion franchise to the city.

During the last round of expansion talks that yielded a successful bid from the Vegas Golden Knights (and an unsuccessful one from Quebec City), it was well known that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was very displeased that the no ownership group in Seattle was able to secure an arena deal. It seems now that things are finally moving along in the right direction for the American Northwest to get their NHL team.

The Montreal Canadiens, as one of the oldest teams in the league, have been exposed to each of the previous twelve expansion drafts and have suffered some losses along the way.

This three part series will look at the twelve expansion drafts chronologically, focusing on the losses that the Canadiens have incurred. A big thank you to Historical Hockey Stats & Trivia for providing much of the information on these events.

In part 1, we took a look at the first five expansions, all held in the ‘70s. During the ‘80s, the league was largely stable with 21 teams. Two teams relocated early in the decade as the Atlanta Flames became the Calgary Flames in 1980 and the Colorado Rockies the New Jersey Devils in 1982.

Part 2 saw the league tapping into the sunny coastal states of Florida and California in their attempt to hit up large money markets that have not quite adopted hockey as their go-to sport.

Having established themselves on the coasts, the league’s next wave of expansion was aimed at achieving geographic spread to capitalize as much as possible on regional broadcasting deals. The most lucrative form of income for the league at this point. Prior to the first expansion, some relocation of financially struggling franchises followed the same notion as the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver in 1995, the Winnipeg Jets to Arizona in 1996, and the Hartford Whalers to Carolina in 1997.

Expansion Draft #9- 1998- Nashville Predators

The next batch of expansions were approved by the NHL in 1997, allowing four more teams to be added to the league. These four teams would be rolled out over three years, starting in 1998 with the Nashville Predators. The three expansion draft teams were allowed to protect one goaltender, five defencemen and nine forwards. Or they could choose to protect two goaltenders, three defencemen and seven forwards instead. Every team could only lose one player per expansion draft and if a team lost a goaltender in 1998, they would be exempt from exposing a goalie in 1999.

The Canadiens lost future Predators superstar Tomas Vokoun in their most serious loss of any expansion draft.

But losing Vokoun was all part of a master plan by general manager Rejean Houle. “We had a deal with the Predators. By losing Vokoun we would be exempt from exposing a goaltender next year and we will keep the rights to both Jose Theodore and Jocelyn Thibault. A team cannot lose more than one goalie during the next two expansion drafts, and in return we traded them Sebastien Bordeleau, a player they really wanted from us.”

Expansion Draft #10- 1999 Atlanta Thrashers

As the Canadiens were now exempt from losing a goaltender, they could protect an extra player instead. Again, teams would only be allowed to lose one player.

They chose to protect Patrice Brisebois, Vladimir Malakhov, Craig Rivet, Igor Ulanov, and Eric Weinrich. In the process, the Habs ended up losing defenceman Brett Clark, even though more interesting players like Scott Lachance and Patrick Poulin were available, as was Stephane Quintal whose high price tag made him undesirable to the expansion club.

Losing Clark wasn’t necessarily hailed as a success by Houle. “He made it to the NHL quite quickly. He makes some mistakes, but you have to be patient with younger players, even if they cost us games. Clark had a good vision of the ice and made great first passes. We lost an active member of the roster.”

Clark ended up bouncing between the AHL and NHL for several seasons. It wasn’t until the 2005-06 season with Colorado that he established himself.

Expansion Draft #11- 2000 Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild

For the third expansion draft of the series the same protection rules applied, but this time each team would lose two players. The Canadiens decided to protect two goaltenders, Jeff Hackett and Jose Theodore, meaning they could only protect three defencemen and seven forwards. This meant that defenceman Eric Weinrich was exposed in the draft and very likely to be selected.

However, there was a rule in place that if a team lost a goalie they would not be able to lose any defencemen. A rule that the Canadiens used to their advantage to protect Weinrich. Houle, pulling a bit of a Sam Pollock move, traded a second round pick to the Blue Jackets for “future considerations”, where they ended up drafting goaltender Frederic Chabot from the Habs. Hence, Weinrich became safe from selection.

It would be the second time that Chabot was lost to expansion by the Canadiens, and third time overall, as Chabot was also claimed in 1998 by the Predators from the Los Angeles Kings.

The other player lost by the Canadiens to Columbus was veteran forward Turner Stevenson. Although, the selection was only temporary as the Blue Jackets flipped him immediately to the Devils. “I am sad to leave Montreal, I wanted to finish my career here, but I am thrilled to be joining a great team. I know head coach Larry Robinson very well, and the scout Andre Boudrias. I’m going to find myself in a familiar environment.” said Stevenson after learning of the news. He went on to win the Stanley Cup three years later with the Devils and retire shortly thereafter.

Expansion Draft #12- 2017 Vegas Golden Knights

After that, the NHL maintained their numbers for 17 years. Until the 2017-18 season, when they welcome the Vegas Golden Knights to the fold, increasing the team count to 31.

During the previous year, the expansion process was open to any interested party that could put together a compelling expansion submission. From the start, the process was really designed to gift a team to two cities: Las Vegas and Seattle. However, no group from Seattle was able to meet the submission deadline. The NHL did receive a submission from a group in Quebec City and despite having a new arena, season ticket sales, and a frothing fan base, they were not considered for an expansion team.

For the expansion draft, teams had two options for protecting roster players:

  1. Seven forwards, three defencemen and one goaltender
  2. Eight skaters (forwards/defencemen) and one goaltender

The wrinkle was that any player who was signed to a contract with a no movement clause at the time of the expansion draft, and refused to waive it, must be protected.

All first and second-year professionals, as well as all unsigned draft choices, were exempt from protection.

In addition, existing teams had to meet a minimum exposure requirement for the first time. It went as follows:

One defenseman who is a) under contract in 2017-18 and b) played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.

Two forwards who are a) under contract in 2017-18 and b) played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.

One goaltender who is under contract in 2017-18 or will be a restricted free agent at the expiration of his current contract immediately prior to 2017-18. If the club elects to make a restricted free agent goaltender available in order to meet this requirement, that goaltender must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the club's protected list.

Some of the more notable names that the Canadiens left unprotected were veterans Tomas Plekanec and Alexei Emelin, as well as younger players Charles Hudon, Daniel Carr, and Brandon Davidson. Hudon was the expected name to go to the Vegas franchise, but to everyone’s surprise, it was Emelin who was chosen instead.

Many quickly suspected that General Manager Marc Bergevin swung some sort of deal to guide the Knights to that particular pick, but he confirmed that there was no side deal and that the Emelin pick was entirely up to Vegas. Vegas then tried to trade Emelin back to Montreal, but ultimately no deal was reached. Eventually Montreal grabbed David Schlemko from the Knights instead. Emelin ended up being traded to Nashville.

Listen to Andrew weekly on TSN 690 Radio Sundays at 8:05am on Habs Breakfast, part of Weekend Game Plan.

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