With the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft taking place on June 20, 2017, details are starting to formalize regarding the process the Vegas Golden Knights will use to pick their inaugural roster. They will have a list of unprotected players from each of the existing 30 teams in the league, and will be able to pick one player from each of these lists, picking 30 players in total. There will be certain impositions on both the teams exposing players (certain amount of NHL experience, contract status, position played) as well as on the Golden Knights (salary cap consideration, position played, etc.), and on the surface seems simple enough.
But something that was not addressed by the league, nor will it be openly discussed, mentioned, or even acknowledged, is the clandestine agreements that the Golden Knights will make with the other teams in the NHL to turn a blind eye to certain exposed roster players when making their selections. This practice will certainly not be endorsed by the League, and it also won’t be the first time that this happens.
Over the history of NHL expansion, there have been numerous documented instances of surreptitious deals being made that directly led to a convenient circumvention of common sense.
First expansion draft, first case of collusion
In 1967, the NHL was expanding for the first time in 25 years, putting an end to the Original Six era by doubling the number of teams, to 12. The additions were the California Golden Seals, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and St. Louis Blues.
An expansion draft was to be held to allow these new teams to pick players from the existing franchises in order to build up their rosters. The rules, drawn up by league president Clarence Campbell (with the help of Montreal Canadiens general manager Sam Pollock), were that each team was allowed to protect one goaltender and 11 other players.
Teams would be able to add another name to their protected list after the first, second, fifth, and every subsequent rounds. Junior-aged players were excluded from selection, and first-year pros would only become eligible in the expansion draft after their team had protected a total of two goaltenders and 18 forwards.
The list of protected players was submitted on the evening of June 5, and the expansion draft started on the morning of the 6th.
Montreal’s protected list included goaltender Lorne “Gump” Worsley as well as skaters Jean Béliveau, Yvan Cournoyer, Jean-Claude Tremblay, Jacques Laperrière, Ted Harris, Terry Harper, John Ferguson, Ralph Backstrom, Henri Richard, Gilles Tremblay, and Bobby Rousseau.
The most notable players on Montreal’s exposed list were goaltenders Charlie Hodge and up-and-comer Rogie Vachon, veterans Claude Provost, Dick Duff, and Jean-Guy Talbot, as well as rookies Serge Savard, Jacques Lemaire, Carol Vadnais, Andre Boudrias, and one Claude Larose.
Larose was the type of player that should have been highly coveted in the expansion draft: a four-year pro with scoring ability and the nastiness required to play and succeed in the current NHL. Backstrom had his best career year as linemate with Larose, as did Calder Cup-winner Danny Grant. It was a foregone conclusion that the Canadiens would lose him during the draft.
The selection order for the six participating clubs was determined by placing their names inside the bowl of the Stanley Cup, drawn out one at a time by Campbell.
The first two rounds were used for the drafting of goaltenders, with the draft order inverting in the second round. Goalies selected in these rounds included notable future hall-of-famers Terry Sawchuk, Bernie Parent, and Glenn Hall.
The Canadiens lost Hodge in the first round to the Golden Seals and proceeded to add Vachon to their protected roster. The second goaltender the Canadiens lost was Gary Bauman.
Starting in the third round, skaters became eligible to be drafted, and a new draft order was selected, with the first pick going to the Minnesota North Stars. With this pick the North Stars made the curious selection of Dave Balon from the Montreal Canadiens, passing over Claude Larose. Balon was a six-year NHL pro with very average offensive numbers, making the selection absolutely puzzling. After Balon was picked, the Canadiens quickly added the name of Larose to their protected list.
Adding fuel to the fire was the bizarre relationship developed between Pollock and Minnesota general manager Wren Blair during the draft. They reportedly spent an inordinate amount of time at each other’s table. It was reported in La Presse the day after the draft that it got to the point of becoming an inside joke in the room, causing laughter every time a frequent impromptu meeting were to occur between the two men.
Minutes after the draft was over, the North Stars announced that they had made a few trades with the Canadiens. The first sent Bryan Watson, who they had just drafted from Detroit, to Montreal for Leo Thiffault, Bill Plager, and Barry Meissner. The North Stars also announced that they had traded their first-round pick in the 1971 entry draft for Boudrias, Robert Charlebois, and Bernard Cote. In addition they bought the contract of Mike McMahon for an undisclosed amount of cash from the Canadiens.
There was obviously plenty of speculation after the draft that the two teams colluded with one another, but they never admitted it publicly. The ironic conclusion to this story is that Pollock ended up trading Larose to Minnesota one season later. The relationship between the two teams was quite close for decades afterward.
Will we see similar cases of convenient circumstance this year at the expansion draft? It’s certainly worth watching for clues similar to the ones from 50 years ago when Pollock pulled a fast one on an entire League.
List of players drafted, and subsequent player added to the protection list
- 1st round, 6th overall G- Charlie Hodge (California) > Rogie Vachon
- 2nd round, 9th overall G- Garry Bauman (Minnesota)
- 3rd round, 13th overall LW- Dave Balon (Minnesota) > Claude Larose
- 3rd round, 16th overall C- Gord Labossiere (Kings) > Claude Provost
- 3rd round, 18th overall D- Jim Roberts (St. Louis)
- 4th round, 23rd overall D- Noel Picard (St. Louis)
- 6th round, 34th overall D- Jean-Guy Talbot (Minnesota) > Dick Duff
- 7th round, 39th overall F- Leon Rochefort (Philadelphia) > Carol Vadnais
- 8th round, 46th overall D- Noel Price (Pittsburgh) > Serge Savard
- 9th round, 50th overall C- Joe Szura (California) > Danny Grant
- 9th round, 51st overall LW- Keith McCreary (Pittsburgh) > Jacques Lemaire
- 10th round, 55th overall D- Bob Lemieux (California) > Andre Boudrias
- 10th round, 58th overall C- Garry Peters (Philadelphia) > Mike McMahon
- 11th round, 62nd overall RW- Howie Hughes (Los Angeles) > Bob Charlebois
- 12th round, 67th overall C- Bill Inglis (Los Angeles) > Don Johns
- 12th round, 68th overall D- Jean Gauthier (Philadelphia) > Bill McCreary
- 15th round, 87th overall LW- Tom McCarthy (Pittsburgh) > Bill Plager
- 15th round, 88th overall D- Jacques Lemieux (Los Angeles) > Leo Thiffault
- 17th round, 97th overall C- Bobby Rivard (Pittsburgh) > Jim Paterson
- 18th round, 105th overall C- Bob Courcy (Philadelphia)
With information obtained from Historical Hockey
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