A quick note: I had a file mishap that resulted in losing quite a bit of my individual 1998 draft boards. Those are being re-compiled and will be uploaded as they’re finished. I recognize that it looks a bit weird to have this 1998 draft ready to go while a bunch of player profiles aren’t up yet, but it’s necessary to get this up as quickly as possible.
And so without further ado, the 1998 NHL Expansion (Re-)Draft. The strategy is simple: accumulate whatever talent there may be that’s out there, try to finish with at least 72 points (10 games under .500) in the first season, and build for the future in all ways. But it all starts here.
1st – Mike Dunham from New Jersey. Dunham is the unquestioned best player available overall. No one else on New Jersey comes close, and drafting Dunham means having an upper echelon goalie right off the bat for the next five years. No trade offer could entice us to move away from taking him.
This is a very rare opportunity. We have the chance to begin our franchise with a 26-year-old goalie who’s not only NHL-ready, but is universally regarded as a possible Vezina-caliber guy in the very near future.
2nd – Andrew Brunette from Washington. He’ll be 25 when next season begins, he’s broken through in a big way, and no one else on Washington really came close. The rest of the unprotected players are either too old or too ineffective to seriously consider, and there aren’t enough prospects in the system to consider anyone else.
This doesn’t diminish Brunette’s ability in any way; rather, it simply amplifies how far above the rest of the unprotected Capitals he is. He had 23 points in a 28-game callup this past season and performed very well on a power play that was below the league average at around 15%. The only negative to Brunette’s game is his lack of speed, which really won’t make any type of a difference considering that the game as a whole is getting slower. Someone with Brunette’s uncommon ability around the net, and his ability to play a very methodical game, makes him perfectly suited for us.
3rd – Doug Brown from Detroit. The other two players on the board from Detroit are defenseman Dmitri Mironov and forward Mike Knuble. Mironov isn’t different enough from other options Fredrik Olausson (Pittsburgh) and J.J. Daigneault (NY Islanders) to consider. Knuble looks like a career AHLer to this point who might be able to contribute on the 3rd or 4th line, and there are plenty of those guys available elsewhere.
Brown had a big rebound year from injuries and was a major part of Detroit’s second straight Stanley Cup winner, and his skill and experience make him a more valuable piece than the others. They’ll hate to lose him, and we’ll love to have him.
4th – Greg Johnson from Chicago. Not a lot to choose from off Chicago’s unprotected list, and Johnson adds a lot of speed and some skill in multiple facets of the game. We could have taken goalie Chris Terreri, but there were better options available. In addition, Chicago didn’t want to lose Terreri so badly that they’re sending us Sergei Krivokrasov in exchange for passing on him. That’s fine for us; it’ll give us more goaltending options, it gives us another skilled young forward to work with, and we get the guy that we want anyway.
5th– Murray Craven from San Jose. Tony Granato would be a stronger consideration if not for recent injuries, but San Jose decided they’d rather give us Ville Peltonen than lose Granato. That’s fine; we didn’t move Granato to our draft board at all, we get the guy we want, and add another very skilled forward in Peltonen. Niklas Andersson was our other option, but his offensive skill hasn’t really carried to the NHL except for a year with the Islanders on a line with the sublime Ziggy Palffy.
Besides the fact that he’s still productive and can slot in on the second or third line, play the power play, and kill penalties, Craven is the ultimate professional. And he’s tough as all hell, playing through a lot of painful and serious injuries despite spending most of the last eight years on bad teams. I think it’s possible to overstate “veteran leadership”, since it’s normally used to prop up a player who’s no longer productive; this doesn’t apply to the still-productive Craven. Since we’re going to try to move up in the draft and take David Legwand, and since we’ll have a lot of young players who are going to be in desperate need of professionalism and leadership, I can’t think of a better player to take. Craven is someone who’s had to remake his game completely during his career, and does anything that is asked of him.
The important consideration is that Craven is a pending Group III free agent. He’ll count against our free agent limit, and there’s the chance that he won’t actually sign with us. If this happens then we may be able to get a compensatory draft pick out of it. But if he does sign, we’ll have a very valuable piece of the puzzle. It’s a worthwhile gamble.
Sidebar – There are several trade offers on the table, and possible compensatory picks to acquire. We have the good fortune of being in a year that has some very strong players becoming UFAs, and we can pick some of them up and turn them into high draft picks.
Let’s knock those out so we can get a better idea of what our team is actually going to look like.
6th – Mike Richter from New York (Rangers). There are three premier goalies who are available in this expansion draft: Richter, Curtis Joseph from Edmonton, and John Vanbiesbrouck from Florida. All are pending UFAs, and we need to figure out what we’re going to get the most from.
Since we can only select one player per team, the other big consideration isn’t simply who we’ll get the highest compensatory pick out of, but what we’ll be passing on at the same time. We have three players from Edmonton to consider: Joseph, Andrei Kovalenko, and Zdeno Ciger. The Rangers have Richter and Bill Berg. Florida has Vanbiesbrouck, Terry Carkner, Jeff Norton, Kirk Muller, and Johan Garpenlov. And although our payroll isn’t being micromanaged, there’s no sense in carrying high-priced dead weight if we can avoid it.
Joseph has a price tag that will vastly exceed what Edmonton could pay to keep him, and there is no question that the compensatory pick acquired for him will be a 2nd-rounder. Vanbiesbrouck is four years older than Joseph (35), and although the compensatory pick will most likely still be a 2nd, there was some chance that it wouldn’t be. With Richter, he’s the youngest of the three goalies and has spent his entire career with the Rangers. There’s the chance that he’ll ultimately end up taking a hometown discount of sorts, pushing the compensatory pick down to the 3rd round. So there’s certainly some risk no matter what we do. If we go in order by compensatory pick, it’ll probably go Joseph/Richter/Vanbiesbrouck, but there’s the chance it goes Joseph/Vanbiesbrouck/Richter. If Richter signs early with the Rangers, it could create a bidding war on Vanbiesbrouck that pushes his compensatory pick to a 2nd and Richter’s down to a 3rd. Or it’s possible that Vanbiesbrouck takes the best available offer early so that he at least has the contract security instead of running the risk of teams engaging in a Joseph/Richter bidding war and stringing Vanbiesbrouck along.
The other consideration is that, although neither one of Florida nor Edmonton have much else available to choose from, they have something. The Rangers do not. I’m not going to sit here and criticize guys who have dedicated their lives from a young age to playing hockey simply for lacking high-end skill. But the simple fact is there that, of 23 players that the Rangers left unprotected, only one makes any type of sense for us to take.
7th – Blair Atcheynum from St. Louis. The Blues have some nice players, including pending Group III free agent Brett Hull; Hull will likely return a compensatory pick in the 2nd round. The temptation is strong to take goalie Jamie McLennan, who will be a long-term backup and spot starter.
Rather than lose McLennan, St. Louis has offered us a nice trade. If we take Atcheynum and thus pass on McLennan, Hull, and other pending UFA Steve Duchesne, they’ll give us Darren Turcotte and the higher compensatory pick that they get from Hull and Duchesne. And if neither Hull nor Duchesne return a 2nd-rounder as compensation, they’ll give us their 2000 2nd-rounder.
This deal is simply too good. We get speed and skill with Turcotte, we get a guaranteed 2nd-rounder in one of the next two drafts, and we get a very valuable 3rd-liner who was a big part of one of the best 3rd lines in hockey last year. It makes no sense to consider anything else outside of this.
8th – Uwe Krupp from Colorado. Krupp is a pending Group III free agent whose likely asking price vastly exceeds what we can afford, and he’s one of the top UFA defensemen out there. This means that we’ll enjoy a nice compensatory pick when he signs somewhere, probably a 2nd-rounder. Ultimately the draft pick is more worthwhile than either of Tom Fitzgerald or Christian Matte, who were the other players being considered.
9th – Tomas Vokoun from Montreal. Sebastien Bordeleau was going to be our pick from Montreal, but Montreal wanted to eliminate any chance of losing a goalie next year by losing one this year. So the deal is that if we officially take Vokoun with the expansion pick, they’ll give us Bordeleau as well. This gives us an additional goalie to work with plus the guy that we wanted anyway.
Yes, Vokoun was a disaster in his one NHL game and has been passed up by the other goalies in Montreal’s system. He wasn’t even on our draft board for serious consideration as a result. At the same time, he’s not yet 22 years old and with the right coaching, we might be able to get a decent backup out of this. Bordeleau is the real prize; he can anchor the top line in the AHL, but we’re more curious to see what he can finally do with good ice time in the NHL.
10th – Frederic Chabot from Los Angeles. If he stays with us, he’ll be our top AHL goalie. If not, he’s not really NHL-caliber at this point. We don’t have a lot of interest in Chabot, but Los Angeles doesn’t want to risk losing a goalie next year and thus are giving us two additional defensemen (both of whom were unprotected as well).
One is Jan Vopat, who is 26 and has appeared in both the Olympics and World Championships for the Czech Republic. He can be on our third pairing or anchor the top pairing in the AHL full-time. The other is Kimmo Timonen, a 23-year-old defenseman who’s an unsigned European prospect. He’s played the last six seasons at the highest level in Finland, and he’s had a huge last three seasons in Europe, including an exceptional World Championships and Olympics in the last six months. He could be a gem, and we feel it more prudent to get the bonus players rather than take Vopat or Timonen outright.
11th– Mike Sullivan from Boston. We only have two players on the draft board from Boston: Sullivan and defenseman Barry Richter. We’re not 100% sold on Richter, and Phoenix is offering us a draft pick in trade for Sullivan if we take him. It’s not a great deal in any way, but it gets us a liquid asset that we don’t otherwise have.
12th – Jiri Kucera from Pittsburgh. This has nothing to do with Kucera, and much to do with the real target on the Penguins: Fredrik Olausson. Pittsburgh made a pre-draft move to send Josef Beranek to Edmonton for defenseman Bobby Dollas and forward Tony Hrkac, and although I’m sure they have no problem losing one of those players (since both are unprotected), I’m guessing that they’d prefer not to. Both are still under contract, but Fredrik Olausson is a pending Group III UFA. He’ll be 32 years old when the season starts, but we should make a serious effort to sign him. There’s a big shortage of offensive defensemen in this expansion draft, and he’s got around 500 points and 800 games to his name. Pittsburgh’s other unprotected options aren’t any better than what we could find on other teams, but no one else has someone like Olausson.
Why Kucera, though? Pittsburgh has several other European players who are longshots, but some of them are actual young prospects who might still break through. Kucera is 32 years old, hasn’t played a minute of hockey in North America, and is highly unlikely to ever do so. If the Lemieux-Jagr-Francis Penguins couldn’t convince him to make the jump over, there’s no way an expansion team could. Olausson is highly unlikely to sign in Pittsburgh, and they may be happy to be keeping both of Hrkac and Dollas while losing nothing that they’d have in a week anyway. It’s a simple trade offer that’s very likely to be accepted: we’ll take someone off your unprotected list who won’t ever play here, you kick in a pending free agent who’s not re-signing with you, and you keep all your players.
As for the machinations of taking an unsigned European instead of taking Olausson outright, the reason is simple. Expansion draft rules dictate that the incoming team can select a total of six pending free agents, and specifically no more than one goalie, three defensemen, and three forwards. Olausson counts against that limit as a pending Group III free agent, Kucera does not. Let’s just say that the rest of the draft board is going to be cutting it very close, and working this backdoor around the restriction will save a spot for us that we will most likely need.
13th – Joel Bouchard from Calgary. He’s 24, and just two seasons ago as an NHL rookie was a big part of Canada’s gold-winning World Championships team. This past year was his first in the NHL full-time and he didn’t look out of place.
Another big consideration is that, although goalie Tyler Moss was worth looking at, Calgary was willing to give us center Jim Dowd if we passed on him. Dowd should give us a serviceable third- or fourth-line center for years going forward, in addition to what we get from Bouchard.
14th – Manny Fernandez from Dallas. This isn’t so much a question of why Fernandez from Dallas, but why Fernandez over the others on our draft board. These were Mikhail Shtalenkov from Anaheim, Ron Tugnutt from Ottawa, Corey Schwab from Tampa Bay, or Garth Snow from Vancouver.
First is that Dallas had little else to choose from; we had Dave Reid on the board as the only other option. There were other options from other teams, and it didn’t come down to anything wrong with Reid at all. Shtalenkov is 32 and hasn’t proven to be a big improvement over much of anything; his big advantage is being signed. Schwab will be 28 shortly after the season begins, and is unfortunately too much of a wild card. He got playing time the last couple years in Tampa on some bad teams, but there’s not enough to go on. Snow is about to turn 29, hasn’t been a starter for any real period of time, and hasn’t done enough to excel at a high level. Tugnutt was decent in the regular season two years ago and stellar in the playoffs, then stellar this past regular season and not so good in the playoffs. He’ll turn 31 a couple weeks into the season, but has a ton of mileage and experience.
Fernandez will turn 24 right before the season starts, he’s been the starter the last four years in the IHL, and he looked solid in a brief callup last year. With the other goalies, a good start to the season won’t do anything for their trade value if we decide to move a goalie. With Fernandez, other teams may look at him as a future star being held back only by Dunham and a bidding war could ensue. From an asset management standpoint, there’s no reason to consider anyone other than Fernandez.
15th – J.J. Daigneault from the New York Islanders. We’re currently sitting with the #3 overall pick in the entry draft, and although we’re going to try like crazy to move up to #2 to get David Legwand, there’s a chance that we simply can’t get it done. If that happens, we have several defensemen to choose from.
Daigneault in some ways is our defenseman version of Murray Craven: we take him since he’s still productive, but there’s the additional consideration that he’ll be counted on to tutor the young kids who are going to be in need of guidance. Daigneault came into the league as a highly-touted offensive defenseman, and has had to re-invent his game over time to carve out a career. He’s up over 800 games played so far and is still going strong, so he must have done something right. Now we’ll have the chance to benefit from it, both in what we get from him in the short term and whatever our possible first-round defenseman pick ends up becoming.
16th – Zdeno Ciger from Edmonton. By taking Mike Richter from the Rangers, we’re not able to take Curtis Joseph from the Oilers. This means that we’re down to Ciger or Andrei Kovalenko. Ciger hasn’t played in North America in two years, but if he comes back we’ll have a solid top-six scoring forward. If he doesn’t, he’s not taking up a roster spot or salary, and could still have trade value if someone else is convinced that he’ll come play for them.
Kovalenko is 28 years old and had a huge 1996-97 season, putting up 32 goals and 59 points. In 1997-98, he fell back with just 6 goals and 23 points in an injury-plagued season. More troubling than the injuries were the same complaints made about Kovalenko’s effort level and overall game that had dogged him previously. 1996-97 had been a contract year, 1997-98 had not been. Reports were that Kovalenko picked up his game in Edmonton shortly after a series of trades that sent a quarter of the Oilers’ roster out of town, which sums up the problem entirely. When there’s something to play for, he’ll be terrific. When there isn’t, which is exactly the scenario we face as an expansion team, there simply is not a lot to be able to count on.
Ciger is also 28, but has no such hangups. The big question mark on his name is that he hasn’t played in the NHL in two seasons. In 1995-96, he had 31 goals and 70 points in 78 games with the Oilers and looked to have broken through. But he would leave North America that summer; rumors were that his wife wanted to return back home to Slovakia. In any case, Ciger has excelled with HC Slovan, including a huge playoff in 1997-98. He was also chosen to Slovakia’s World Championship and Olympic teams.Kovalenko would occupy a roster spot, Ciger (if he stayed) would not.
Kovalenko could pull a vanishing act on the ice and frustrate with an inability or unwillingness to complete, Ciger could not even if he’s an ocean and a continent away. Ciger could come back to the NHL, Kovalenko could be done as soon as he felt like it. Ciger would not take up any salary as long as he was overseas, Kovalenko would. Another team could think that they would be the one to convince Ciger to come back, giving him trade value; Kovalenko may or may not leave his team holding the bag.
With all of this in mind, Ciger is the pick.
17th – Derek King from Toronto. Our other options were defenseman Rob Zettler and forward Wendel Clark. Clark can produce more than King or Zettler when he’s healthy, but he’s been battling chronic injuries for years. He’s also a pending Group III free agent who may want to sign only with a contender, which means that he may be willing to take a discount on a one-year contract to continue his career. This makes any draft pick compensation iffy at best. Zettler has battled injuries as well, and we should be able to pick up a younger option with a similar player in the next nine picks. King, on the other hand, is still productive and has been healthy lately. We can count on him for 20 goals and 40 points even in a bad season.
18th – Vladimir Vujtek from Tampa Bay. A solid international player who missed a ton of his first NHL season with a viral infection. If he’s healthy, we’d like to have him. If not, no big. Tampa didn’t leave us very much to choose from, just a motley collection of either injured or old players. Goalie Corey Schwab is our only other option on the draft board from the Lightning, and we’ll have our goaltending picture pretty well set by the time this draft is done.
19th – Bob Boughner from Buffalo. This is a tough call between Boughner, Rumun Ndur, and Dixon Ward. Ndur is intriguing because of his massive size and mean streak, but may not be able to crack the roster on a full-time basis. Ward had a decent season but played really well in the playoffs. The other forwards that we’ve been able to pick up to this point, and with our remaining picks, would put Ward in an unfavorable situation.
Boughner won’t provide much offense but can be a stable crease-clearing defenseman who can get a lot of PK time. He’ll go nicely as a complement to the offensively-minded blueline we’ve put together so far.
20th – Terry Carkner from Florida. Like Tampa, Florida left us not much to choose from. Johan Garpenlov has had a nice career but had a horrendous 1997-98 season, to the point where he was removed from consideration from the Olympic team from Sweden. Kirk Muller isn’t viable due to the physical beating he’s taken over his long career. Jeff Norton was the other primary option, but ultimately Carkner is the guy. He can still play on a nightly basis and can help along the more inexperienced defenders like Boughner, who has the tools but is still learning the finer points.
21st – Drew Bannister from Anaheim. 24 years old, solid pedigree, and the bad fortune of playing on three terribly-run organizations in Tampa Bay, Edmonton, and Anaheim. He’s not going to score many goals, but is a decent enough passer to produce a little bit of offense. He’s a nice middle-of-the-road option who can pick up a lot from the older defensemen: offense from Olausson and Daigneault, physical play from Carkner and Boughner. He already has the leadership down pat, with captaining some excellent Soo Greyhounds teams in the OHL. Bannister is taken over fellow defensive prospect Nikolai Tsulygin and forward prospects Richard Park, Craig Reichert, and Bob Wren, all of whom may end up as little more than minor leaguers.
22nd – John Slaney from Phoenix. We don’t know if he can stick in the NHL full-time, but he’s the easily best minor league defenseman available. If nothing else, he’ll be a force in Milwaukee. The only other major considerations are Murray Baron, who’s a Group III free agent and is redundant with who we’ve drafted already, and Mike Stapleton, who’s not far enough separated from several other forwards we can pick up. Slaney will be a difference-maker in at least one level.
23rd – Paul Ranheim from Carolina. If nothing else, Ranheim can be a third-line type who could work well as a complement to the already-drafted Blair Atcheynum. The other options from Carolina are limited: Kevin Dineen is 34, Sean Hill has only played 60 games the last two seasons combined and is a big gamble, Marek Malik played last year in Europe after a full NHL season the year prior and might not come back, and Jason McBain hasn’t done enough in the minors to justify being selected.
24th – Sergei Zholtok from Ottawa. Zholtok showed a decent amount on resurgent Ottawa, although his scoring ability was mostly relegated to the power play since he got primarily bottom-six minutes. He’s also solid below the faceoff circles and could work well on the top two lines doing the little things to keep offense going. Denny Lambert looked decent during the season, but had one point in 18 playoff games with Ottawa. Per Gustafsson would be a solid option if we knew with certainty that he was staying in North America, and Ron Tugnutt would be the pick if we could select one more goalie.
25th – Scott Walker from Vancouver. This is a big gamble, since Vancouver had some other decent options. Brandon Convery is 24 and has put up big numbers in the AHL the last four seasons, and he looked good in a brief callup with Toronto when they were decent. They shuffled him down, he didn’t score, and they dumped him on a bad Vancouver team that has no direction except down. We could definitely regret passing on him if he gets a chance and his offense emerges. Our other options are Dana Murzyn, who has a lot of mileage and has battled injuries but has still been effective; and Adrian Aucoin, who’s raw and missed a lot of time with injuries last year. Walker plays like a buzzsaw, but has shown a lot of skill when he’s not fighting.
Taking him here is conditional: he’ll be a fourth-liner or in the minors if he doesn’t tone down the fighting, but he could be a productive player someday if he focuses on playing instead of pummeling opponents. An additional consideration is that he’s a converted defenseman, so if we get into a pinch we can move him back there in the short term.
26th – Craig Darby from Philadelphia. Paul Coffey was the only other player being strongly considered, and Philly didn’t want us taking him and is throwing in goalie Dominic Roussel and defenseman Jeff Staples to pass on him. We should get enough offense out of Olausson (if he signs), Daigneault, and Slaney (if he can stick in the NHL). Either one of Darby or Jim Montgomery could be a top-line guy in Milwaukee, but Darby is three years younger and might have more value.
So there you have it: the first 1998 expansion (re-)draft. The roster looks like this:
- Mike Richter – will not be signed
- Mike Dunham
- Frederic Chabot
- Tomas Vokoun
- Manny Fernandez
- Dominic Roussel
- Jan Vopat
- Kimmo Timonen – playing in Europe
- Joel Bouchard
- Uwe Krupp – will not be signed
- Fredrik Olausson – pending Group III, will attempt to sign
- JJ Daigneault
- Jeff Staples
- Bob Boughner
- Terry Carkner
- Drew Bannister
- John Slaney
- Greg Johnson
- Jim Dowd
- Darren Turcotte
- Mike Sullivan – will be traded to Phoenix
- Sergei Zholtok
- Andrew Brunette
- Zdeno Ciger – unsigned, playing in Europe
- Derek King
- Vladimir Vujtek – playing in Europe
- Paul Ranheim
- Murray Craven
- Ville Peltonen – playing in Europe
- Sergei Krivokrasov
- Blair Atcheynum
- Doug Brown – Detroit wants him back already
- Jiri Kucera (won’t be offered a conrtact)