It’s been five years since the last time that NHL teams were added, and things have changed dramatically since then.
The 1994 lockout changed plenty in the business landscape, and a side effect has been that a lot of the old owner/operators are exiting the game as salaries have been climbing. Signing restricted free agents now has a specific draft pick compensation scale, rather than the old days of an arbitration hearing to determine “fair compensation” that had its own set of issues.
The other big change is that, starting in the 1995 offseason, teams that lost unrestricted free agents would receive compensatory draft picks in the next year’s entry draft. This means that the 1998, 1999, and 2000 expansion teams can claim pending unrestricted free agents, not sign them, and get a compensatory pick for it.
This means that the outlook in 1998 is a lot different than it was in 1994. There are several premier pending UFAs out there to choose from, and a decent amount of actual NHL talent. Nashville will have the chance to take an unquestioned young franchise goalie in New Jersey (which has little else to choose from anyway), a lot of middle-six and middle-pairing forwards and defensemen, and some UFAs to get more draft picks next year. There aren’t exactly a group of All-Stars to stock the team with, but there’s the chance to roll two second lines and two third lines, plus three second pairings if they can play things right.
Nashville’s GM is David Poile (who’s still there all these years later). Poile was the Washington Capitals’ GM for 15 years and built a perennial contender, including the majority of the team that just fought through the Eastern Conference and played for the Stanley Cup this month.
Nashville will have 73 unsigned European players to choose from. In my opinion, there’s no point in looking closely at any of them to carry to the main draft board. There’s plenty of existing NHL talent, and too high of a risk of a player not coming over at all, to waste a valuable expansion draft pick on a big gamble.
The mission in 1998 is simple: accumulate NHL talent for the first-year roster, pick up some compensatory picks if possible, and be prepared to finish out of the playoffs for a few years even if everything goes right.