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Piecing together the expansion draft puzzle

The Habs are preparing for the Vegas Golden Knights' picks on June 21

by Hugo Fontaine, translated by Dan Braverman @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

MONTREAL - After several months of discussions, the Canadiens' management team is ready to finalize the club's expansion draft plan.

As soon as the NHL's Board of Governors granted a team to Las Vegas on June 22, 2016, the decision-makers on the League's 30 other clubs got to work readying their plans of attack to prepare for the arrival of the Golden Knights.

Although the Knights won't be officially making their debut until October, Vegas' roster will take shape over the course of the next few weeks. It's already started with a few free-agent signings, but the bulk of the lineup will fill out during the expansion draft, which will take place on June 21. On that day, Las Vegas will select at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.

The Canadiens, like 29 other NHL teams, will lose one player to their newest Western Conference foe. Ever since the rules governing the protected lists were unveiled, the Habs brass has been curating their list of players they plan on exposing to their potential poacher.

The Habs have until 5:00 p.m. on June 17 to submit their list of protected players. Two options are available to them: protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or protect eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie. It's still too early to tell which one they prefer.

"We've certainly talked about the different scenarios. I've read the rules quite a few times over the past few months, but there are also so many intricacies in them," indicated John Sedgwick, the Canadiens' director of legal affairs. "There are little nuances in there.

"I've spoken to the League at length about the nuances to make sure the League and I have the same interpretation of the rules. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that we're compliant and that we protect the players we have to protect," he continued. "They don't speak too much about the penalties for teams who failed to expose the correct amount of players, but I imagine they'll be pretty severe."

Among the numerous subtleties is that some players are protected by default, but won't count towards the team's protected total.

For example, all players in their first or second year in the professional ranks are exempt, as are any draft picks who are not yet under contract. That means that young players like Artturi Lehkonen, Michael McCarron, and Charlie Lindgren, or prospects like Mikhail Sergachev and Noah Juulsen won't be in the Golden Knights' sights.

Additionally, any player whose contract contains a no-movement clause in effect at the time of the draft - and who decides not to waive it - must be protected and will count against the limit. In Montreal's case, Sedgwick confirms that the team will not ask the two players with such clauses - Carey Price and Jeff Petry - to waive them.

The process actually started a few months ago, when meetings took place to start planning out the list. Several more meetings are on the agenda over the next few weeks.

"It changed the dynamic this year with trades and how teams went into the deadline to prepare. It adds a big variable to the equation that isn't normally there. I'm interested to see how it plays out," explained Sedgwick, who joined the Canadiens in 2013. "Even with relatively minor moves - like when a team signed a goalie, for example, you know why. In a normal year, a certain player may not have gotten the type of contract he did. Some guys signed earlier last summer because teams needed to have the requisite number of players to be exposed."

Sedgwick is part of an important contingent - including Marc Bergevin, Rick Dudley, Larry Carriere, Scott Mellanby, Martin Lapointe, Trevor Timmins, and Claude Julien - who will decide which Habs players to make available to the Golden Knights for the NHL's first expansion draft since 2000. Back then, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild plucked their inaugural rosters from 28 NHL clubs. 

The NHL's 31st team already comprises two former members of the Canadiens organization who will have a say in who gets picked: Gerard Gallant (head coach) and Vaughn Karpan (director of player personnel). Knowing those two very well, Sedgwick believes they will help the Golden Knights come prepared to the expansion draft.

"The fact that Vaughn and Gerard are working for Vegas now makes it interesting. I don't know if it's necessarily good or bad for us. But they know our players well," Sedgwick said of his former colleagues. "At the same time, we might have a good idea of which players they like as well. It goes both ways. They're both good and bright people. I don't think it will have a huge impact on our decision making.

"If I'm Vegas, I'd try to get to know every team as best I can. I've worked with Vaughn and I know he's very thorough and a very good scout," he continued. "He goes to a lot of games and I trust that's what he's doing. He'll know the players who will be in the mix."

The Golden Knights will be choosing from a relatively wide variety of players, with both veterans and prospects up for grabs. That said, they can't stockpile on affordable youth since they're required to pick up at least 60 percent of the 2016-17 salary cap during the draft, which amounts to $43.8 million. As Sin City's first pro sports team, the Knights will also be looking to come out of the gates hard when the season kicks off in October.

That means several other free agents will be inked in Nevada over the next few weeks, joining Vadim Shipachev among the team's UFA signings. Vegas will be granted an exclusive negotiating window for impending restricted or unrestricted free agents who are left unprotected, something that could alter the landscape of the expansion draft - and have an immediate impact on the affected teams.

"Let's say they talk to Alexander Radulov during this window and they sign him. In that case, he would count as the one player they can take from our roster," posited Sedgwick on Radulov who, like Andrei Markov, Dwight King, Brian Flynn, and Andreas Martinsen, could become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. "Obviously we're still in a position to sign him now before Vegas can talk to him, but if he hits that window, he's free to speak exclusively to Vegas."

On June 18, the protected lists will be announced. Canadiens players will not receive any advance warning about their status, and will probably learn of the draft's outcome at the same time fans do, during the NHL Awards three days later.

With so many decisions left to make and so much uncertainty across the League, the next few weeks will surely be exciting - both for fans and team executives, who will have to adapt to the new reality very quickly after the draft.

"The expansion draft will create a hole on every team. Nobody knows where that hole will be for their organization. We don't know what Vegas will do. I do think it will have an impact on everything after, including the NHL Entry Draft and free agency. It will depend on how teams view their options to fill that hole, either internally or externally," concluded Sedgwick. "It will be interesting to see what Vegas does."

For the full rules governing the NHL expansion draft, click HERE.

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