The draft board pages include every player who was left unprotected in the 1998 Expansion Draft. The overwhelming majority of players who do not carry over are either old, unproductive, injured, primarily used for fighting, marginal players, minor league veterans, or unsigned European prospects. The majority of pending UFAs (Group III, Group V, and Group VI) will not carry over. Exceptions to these rules are provided if the incumbent team left almost nothing of value available to choose from, in which case everyone gets at least a closer look.
As we are capped by league restrictions to selecting no more than six pending free agents, we must be judicious with our choices.
The Devils dominated the division and conference, finishing first in both and second overall in the league (trailing first-place Dallas by just two points). Then…they were taken out in the first round by Ottawa, who finished one point above .500.
Goalies: Mike Dunham, Rich Shulmistra, Peter Sidorkiewicz(Gr.III – UFA)
Defensemen: Kevin Dean, Geordie Kinnear, Vlastimil Kroupa
Forwards: Dave Andreychuk, Eric Bertrand(Gr.II – RFA), Steve Brule(Gr.II – RFA), Bobby Carpenter, Scott Daniels, Doug Gilmour(Gr.III – UFA), Bobby House, Fredrik Lindquist(UE), Steve Thomas(Gr.III – UFA), Dody Wood(Gr.II – RFA), Nikolai Zavarukhin(UE)
Although there are seventeen players to choose from, the only one who will be considered at all is Mike Dunham. No trade offer from the Devils to convince us to go elsewhere with the pick will be considered; it’s going to be Dunham. Unless they’re offering Stevens and Niedermayer with full salary retention, of course. But since that won’t happen, it’s Dunham.
G Mike Dunham– 26-year-old goalie, originally a 3rd-round pick of New Jersey (1990)
The case for taking Dunham – When looking at the unprotected list of every existing team in an expansion draft, there’s a large debate that inevitably takes place. Besides the question of whether a certain player is worth drafting, there are several other moving parts. What if our primary target isn’t willing to go to an expansion team, leaving us holding the bag? What if the other team offers us a package of players to not take this one guy? What if another team really covets someone else who we’re not considering; is it worth exploring that as a trade instead of taking our guy?
With New Jersey in 1998, there is no debate at all. Dunham is unquestionably the pick, and although there are some other nice players and prospects on the board from the Devils, there is simply not be a debate to be had.
Drafted in 1990 out of high school, Dunham went to the University of Maine and split goaltending duties with Garth Snow on some tremendous Black Bears teams. This included the legendary 1992-93 squad, which finished with a 41-1-2 record and a national championship. Dunham was Team USA’s goalie in the 1992 WJC, backstopping the team to a surprising bronze medal (just the second WJC medal in American history). He’d also play with Team USA in the World Championships that year. In his first pro year of 1994-95, he led the Albany River Rats to the Calder Cup and was also named playoff MVP. He would get into 26 games with New Jersey in 1996-97, which led to a bizarre scenario playing out.
Dunham was a 1990 draft pick and would be 25 years old when his contract expired in 1997. Based on the formula for Group VI free agents, this would have made him an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 1996-97…unless he got into 25 games. Although Dunham played 26 games, he was the goalie of record in just 16 of them (8-7-1). Four of these appearances saw him go in and get pulled back out without facing a single shot, and five more would see him face less than ten shots. All told, he’d finish with ten of twenty-six games playing just one period or less.
No one was happy with the arrangement. Dunham was mad about missing out on free agency as an undoubtedly coveted goalie, incumbent Martin Brodeur wasn’t happy about getting yanked in and out of the crease to get his backup a couple minutes of time (one of which cost Brodeur a credited shutout), and the NHL and NHLPA most likely weren’t happy with New Jersey making a mockery of the CBA.
Supposedly, the Devils staved off further issues by promising Dunham that they would either trade him or leave him unprotected in the 1998 expansion draft. He would get his freedom. And now we get to benefit from it.
New Jersey has 17 players that they left unprotected in the 1998 expansion draft. There is no debate at all on who to take.
(Historical note: Mike Dunham in 1998 is in exactly the same position as Cory Schneider would be in 2011. Both were exceptional college goalies with stout international and minor league resumes, and both were stuck backing up a future Hall of Famer on contending teams. And just as an expansion team in 2011 would never consider passing on Schneider, neither would an expansion team in 1998 even fathom passing on Dunham. There was no question that he’d be a star goalie in the NHL, and there was no reason to consider taking anyone else or working any side deals.
What’s often forgotten because of Tomas Vokoun’s excellence is that Dunham actually was a terrific goalie for the Predators in the early years, and it wasn’t until the team’s 5th year [after trading Dunham] that Vokoun began to emerge as a top-level goalie. Until that point, Dunham was everything that could be expected of him.)
The case against taking Dunham – There is none. A goalie who is universally regarded as franchise-caliber is sitting there available to take, and we will not consider anyone else.