After years of speculation and hand wringing, major professional sports officially arrive in Las Vegas on Wednesday night. The Vegas Golden Knights will announce the roster they have selected through the NHL expansion draft. Now, the NHL is responsible for the affair, so it will surely be an annoying and frustrating event to watch. Between all the picks, the trades, and the promise of what else could happen down the road, though, it is a fascinating and important time for bettors who are interested in the NHL.
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It has been a long while since we have been through this - Minnesota and Columbus were the last teams added back in 2000, but that was a different era for many reasons, and rosters had been picked apart by expansion drafts in recent years. Now we have a new and different NHL, and a far more impactful expansion draft than ever before. As we get ready for the spectacle and the birth of the 31st team in the league, here are three big factors bettors will need to keep in mind now and in the coming months:
Wednesday's roster is far from the final one: Vegas is picking a player from every team, but they only have 23 roster spots and they aren't icing a full AHL squad this year, so the team they pick in the expansion draft will not be the one that plays. There will, for example, likely be far more goalies than the team needs. In some cases they will have picked up multiple players in deals with teams to avoid picking a particular unprotected player. And in many cases they will have picked players not because they want them but because they know that they will be desired assets on the open market. This is just a starting point for the wheeling and dealing that is sure to happen at the draft, through free agency, and into training camps for this team. The Golden Knights are likely going to be very aggressive in their pursuit of draft picks, because that will help them build a strong foundation well into the future. Wednesday will be fun, but don't get too worked up about a particular roster shortage or strength at that point.
Las Vegas isn't going to be terrible: Past expansion squads have been really, really bad. Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Anaheim, Florida, Nashville, Columbus - there have been rough times early for each. Now, some of those squads found their way quickly, but none of them had the roster that Las Vegas is likely to have. Due to a number of factors - the increased number of teams to pick a player from, the generally increased skill level in the league, the impact of the salary cap, and generous draft rules - this team is going to be the best expansion team the league has ever seen - likely by a wide margin. They will likely struggle to score some goals, but they will be a very strong defensive team with very good goaltending. Nashville showed us this past year how far a team can go with a strong back-end and an offense that isn't going to overwhelm anyone, so it isn't entirely outside of the realm of possibility that this team could even flirt with a wild-card spot this year if things all go their way.
The team selected a coach in Gerard Gallant who showed in Florida that he is very good at maximizing talent and getting guys on the same page quickly, so that will really help, too. Bettors will have to be sure not to let biases against expansion teams - biases well founded over years of experience in all sports - get the best of them and cost them money here.
The concerns of other teams are overstated: There is a lot of talk in the media these days about teams and the panic they are feeling around the draft. With few exceptions, that truly isn't the case. When a team can protect three or four defenseman, seven or eight forwards, and a goalie they are mostly able to protect the players they need to. Sure, there are some defenseman that teams would like to keep - and it seems like teams like Anaheim and Tampa Bay have made deals to make sure they can. For the most part, though, media and fanbases tend to inflate the value of the home roster.
There isn't a single team in this league that is going to be significantly worse - or even worse to an extent that bettors need to worry about - because of this expansion draft. Ultimately the guys who are available slot in as a third line equivalent or a second pairing defenseman - at best. Those guys are important to a successful playoff run but are far from irreplaceable.
If a guy was capable of making or breaking a team just by his presence then he would have been protected - simple as that. This is one of those things that fans and bettors can easily attach too much significance too - especially because it comes at a time in the season when there is no actual play to distract them and save them from themselves.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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