Our strategy for this 1999 expansion draft is simple: accumulate what little actual NHL talent there is, and don’t throw it away on longshots. We plan to come out of this draft with five goalies taken, and if we could add another in a trade that would be great. They’ll have plenty of value for whoever needs one and is willing to trade actual players and prospects instead of the 90% slop that’s available in the expansion draft.
1st – Dave Manson from Chicago. He’s 32, has close to 1,000 NHL games, and has a ton of mileage. He’s also still able to log big minutes (over 22 a game in Chicago), be a physical force in his own zone and produce a bit of offense on the power play. Chicago frankly has no other reasonable options on their unprotected list.
Yes, Manson had an up-and-down season with Chicago and was not claimed despite being waived close to the trade deadline. For those who weren’t alive during this time period, or at least weren’t hockey fans, it almost defies logic how bad the Blackhawks were. The franchise made the playoffs 29 consecutive seasons, then began to fall apart in 1996-97 after Jeremy Roenick was traded to Phoenix. They missed the playoffs completely in 1997-98, leading to coach Craig Hartsburg being fired and replaced with Blackhawks legend Dirk Graham. In 1998-99, the season in question, the Blackhawks bumbled along for ¾ of the season before Graham was fired and Lorne Molleken took over. 47 players would suit up for the team in 1998-99, and every single one of them suddenly faced serious questions about their dedication and work ethic.
Now, this isn’t necessarily shocking. A team that’s 19 games under .500 and regularly outshot and outscored is going to face these questions. But for those of us who grew up in a time period where the only thing that was constant about the Blackhawks was that they were ferocious and absolutely relentless no matter what the talent looked like, it was stunning. And quite a few players were exactly the same type of heart-and-soul guys that the team had always had. Manson, Chris Chelios, Bob Probert, Doug Gilmour, and so on. That these players were accused of coasting regularly speaks more to the depths to which Chicago had fallen more than being an indictment on them.
Graham was fired, Molleken took over, and suddenly guys started playing better. A lot better, in fact. They would be 13-6-4 under Molleken compared to 16-35-8 under Graham, and all these players who’d been written off as washed-up and going through the motions were suddenly playing like they always had.
Manson still has it. He showed it when he was acquired from Montreal early in the season, he definitely showed it late after the coaching change, and he had flashes in between. That he faced these types of questions in that period in between speaks more about the franchise and the way that it was run than it does about Manson.
Of course, this doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Manson is being taken first because he’s, without question, one of the two best defensemen available in this expansion draft and the only one who’s signed beyond June 30, 1999. And Chicago has little else to pick from.
2nd – Trevor Kidd from Carolina. First goalie taken! Kidd is 27 and has been a starter for most of the past five seasons. There’s an offer on the table from Florida to provide us with three more of their unprotected players (Gord Murphy, Daniel Tjarnqvist, and Herberts Vasiljevs) plus a 6th-rounder for Kidd; this doesn’t do anything for us, so we’ll be happy to shop Kidd around and see what we can find elsewhere. And if not, we’re still in a good scenario.
3rd – Geoff Sanderson from Buffalo. The deal on the table from Buffalo is for us to pass on Sanderson and take Darryl Shannon, with Buffalo tossing in Dean Sylvester for good measure. Shannon was the Sabres’ 7th or 8th defenseman and was buried in the press box during their just-finished run to the Stanley Cup Final, and Sylvester is 26 and hasn’t stuck for any period of time in the NHL. Shannon and Sylvester together isn’t the equal of Sanderson, who has two 30-goal and two 40-goal seasons in the NHL and is still just 27 years old. The proposed deal from Buffalo is therefore rejected. It would be reconsidered if 23-year-old (unprotected) prospect Domenic Pittis were part of it.
4th – Nolan Baumgartner from Washington. The only other option is Mark Tinordi, who would easily be the best player on the board from the Capitals if not for the fact that he’s missed 25+ games each of the last three seasons. Baumgartner will add a little bit of everything to our defense, and if it doesn’t work out he should net a nice asset in the trade market. Baumgartner has had shoulder problems and hasn’t developed as hoped, but Tinordi is ten years older and on the downswing of his career in addition to having his own injury troubles. Tinordi is also a pending Group III free agent, and although we would get a compensatory pick if someone goes nuts and offers him a huge contract, it’s also possible that his recent injury history will scare almost everyone off, so we can’t take him and bank on the pick. We may go after Tinordi ourselves as a free agent; he could be our first captain and a stabilizing force on the back end if healthy.
5th – Daniel Tjarnqvist from Florida. Yes, I said in 1998 to avoid unsigned European players, and Tjarnqvist is one. Yes, I’ve said to make trades where possible, and Tjarnqvist is in on a trade offer from Florida (him, Gord Murphy, Herberts Vasiljevs, and a 6th-rounder for Trevor Kidd), and I’m suggesting avoiding it completely.
Why? Well, first consider that these first five picks are all one big chain.
In real life, Atlanta took Sylvain Cloutier from Chicago, and made a side trade to draft Trevor Kidd from Carolina and then trade him to Florida for multiple players. The primary part was Gord Murphy, with add-ins of Herberts Vasiljevs, Daniel Tjarnqvist, and a 6th-rounder; Atlanta then took Johan Garpenlov from Florida with their expansion draft pick. Obviously this isn’t as simple as picking Manson over Cloutier, it’s about Manson, Kidd, and the Florida expansion draft pick compared to Cloutier, Murphy, Vasiljevs, Tjarnqvist, Garpenlov, and a 6th-rounder. And with this being both a pre-salary cap landscape and an expansion team, there’s not necessarily an easy answer. But even this isn’t really even that simple, since Manson’s playing style was that of a physical defensive guy who could contribute offensively, which now runs parallel to another top defenseman available in the expansion draft: Mark Tinordi of Washington. So as you can see, there’s really a lot of different ways to go about this.
More to the point: there is a lot of ways that a GM can really damage his team right off the bat. He can get indecisive and then settle for something, he can charge right in and either construct an unbalanced team or go way over budget, or he can get himself completely turned around. And in this very specific case in 1999, there’s another huge issue, which is player bias.
First things first. To be generous, Chicago’s unprotected list in 1999 consisted of a lot of garbage. My own draft board from there consists of Manson and David Ling, who was 24 and had just three NHL games to his name at this point. Ling was (generously) listed at 5’10”, but had scored and been a physical presence at every level. I got to see him play plenty when he was briefly in Columbus in the early years, and was the embodiment of a fourth-line buzzsaw. He would hit anything and everything, he would fight guys way outside of his weight class, he’d crash the net, and he was just always moving. He’d do all of this whether it was a 2-2 game late in the 3rd, late in a 5-1 blowout win, or late in a 5-1 blowout loss. In his last year in the OHL, he scored 61 goals and 125 points in 62 games, then added 7 goals and 15 points in 6 playoff games; this was with his penalty minutes barely half of what they had been the previous two years. He had 24 goals and 56 as a 20-year-old in the AHL, the first of four years that he would play in the AHL or IHL by the time he was left unprotected in the expansion draft. Each year he was around 25 goals and a point per game. Ling also gets a boost from Scott Walker, who was taken by Nashville in 1998 and went from fourth-line fighter in Vancouver to second-liner in Nashville with 15 goals and 40 points on an expansion team. If anyone in this draft class could do that, it’s Ling. Well, him and Steve Webb, but Ling is who we’re talking about here.
Cloutier was around a month younger than Ling, and had produced less every step of the way. Ling outscored him in the OHL, the AHL, and the IHL; Cloutier had trouble staying in the top six on his various teams. It’s entirely possible that Cloutier had a premium attached to him because he was a center and Ling a wing, but that only goes far enough as to (possibly) explain Cloutier over Ling. Cloutier was praised for his ability in the faceoff circle and in his own zone, which certainly makes sense as a different skill set and considering the premium placed on these skills in the lower-scoring NHL of the late 1990s. It doesn’t explain Cloutier over the myriad of actual NHL players available from Chicago. And it doesn’t explain Cloutier over Marc Bureau of Philadelphia, who was unprotected and was a proven shutdown center in the NHL. Bureau had just finished a stellar playoffs with the Flyers in a shutdown role. And this now brings another team into the mix.
I’ll pause right here for a moment. I would have no problem filling another five or ten pages with this specific set of computations, but I’ll try to keep it slightly more brief than that. My underlying point here is that everything in an expansion draft is a chain. In this case it’s a chain that has 26 links, one link for each team and draft pick from it. Now, I grew up on a farm and handled more rope and chain than I really care to recall, and have a sense of what it can withstand. Try to forge a chain out of spare links and see what you get. You’ll have some pretty good links to work with, a handful of unknowns, and some that can just be discarded as soon as you see them. I know that if you take your chain of 26 links and have a weak link in a spot, it will break and take everything after it down with it. The majority of what is available in expansion drafts is weak links that cannot sustain anything in the middle, but they may be fine once you get toward the end of the chain when there’s not much to go on and not much past it. It is imperative to not mess up the chain as it’s being built in the expansion draft; it can have catastrophic consequences that go well beyond those first few years.
We all know that the overwhelming majority of the time, players taken in the expansion draft are gone within three years. They’re either too old, too worn down by injuries, too undisciplined off the ice, too inconsistent, too unskilled, or too lazy to sustain a lengthy NHL career from the point that they’re claimed. But to simply shrug this off as an inevitability undercuts the ability to construct a team. Ideally, the new team is never left holding the bag on anything. Every player is an asset somewhere to someone, and that expansion teams tend to lose these guys either for downgrades in the trade market or for nothing in free agency hurts the team.
I study history; it’s just what I do. But you don’t need to take the word of any historian (myself included) to know that the further back in time that you go, the greater long-term impact of a certain action or inaction. Dithering around in a team’s 20th entry draft may affect the fortunes of the team from that point forward, but doesn’t erase the first 19 seasons or what’s currently on the team and in the farm system. Dithering around in a team’s first expansion draft can have a devastating impact, and doing so in the expansion draft can be cataclysmic.
In 1999, this Chicago pick begins a length of chain in one of two directions. One is what Atlanta actually did, the other is what I would have done in the GM’s chair.
The problem with the actual chain is that it doesn’t make any sense. Yes, Atlanta had a budget. Yes, there were very few offensive players and a load of middle-range defensemen that were out there. Yes, there were several teams for whom my draft board on them is three players or less. None of this is the point.
The biggest piece of the Kidd-to-Florida trade was Gord Murphy, who was making $1.8 mil per season and had been a healthy scratch a ton of times before missing extended time with a neck injury. Tjarnqvist and Vasiljevs were throw-ins of some type, plus the 6th-rounder. It also meant that there was still an open spot to take Johan Garpenlov in the expansion draft proper, which they did.
If the budget was a concern in taking Manson ($1.65 million), why not more so with the more expensive Murphy? Garpenlov added another $975,000 to the payroll that could have been allocated elsewhere. Tjarnqvist was unsigned, and Vasiljevs was on a two-way contract. That’s $2.775 million coming from Florida (Garpenlov plus the other three), with $2 million (Kidd’s salary) going to Florida. Cloutier was on a two-way contract, so his salary would be minimal if he ended up in the IHL with Orlando.
The problem is that the offer from Florida doesn’t make sense for us. Several teams are running into goaltending issues of one type or another, and simply holding onto Kidd gives us options. Florida is going to lose John Vanbiesbrouck, and will likely fall out of the playoff hunt completely if they can’t replace him. But to give up a five-year starter who’s 27 and signed to a good contract like Kidd in exchange for three unprotected players, a low draft pick, and still be forced to take on another unprotected player who’s looked older than his age the last three years doesn’t help. Murphy might be as good as Manson (it’s debatable as to whether he’s better) and is more expensive, Vasiljevs is a longshot to make even our opening day roster no matter what, Tjarnqvist could easily be the pick from Florida, and Garpenlov looked bad enough at one point to be a healthy scratch for a month on a non-playoff team.
Look around the league; there are ten teams easily that could use Kidd and would pay up the picks and/or prospects to get him. If the budget is that much of a concern, we can still make this work easily. Take Manson ($1.65 mil), take Kidd ($2 mil), take Tjarnqvist (unsigned) from Florida, trade Kidd elsewhere for something that makes more sense. And if the offers aren’t there for Kidd and we have to move, we can move Damian Rhodes. Or Norm Maracle, if we decide to pick him from Detroit. Or we can take Manny Fernandez from Dallas and do something there. We have a lot of options to work with, and there’s no reason to paint ourselves into a corner by agreeing to a bad trade with Kidd and then getting caught if Rhodes or Maracle doesn’t pan out like we expect.
Now, by taking Manson instead of Murphy, we also have that ferocious physical presence. And instead of needing to grasp at Mark Tinordi from Washington and hope like hell that the guy who’s played 70 games one time in his lengthy career can actually stay healthy, we can take a much younger Nolan Baumgartner, who can learn from Manson. Baumgartner’s shoulder is a serious concern, but the chance to get someone with such high potential for free who still hasn’t entered his prime years is too tantalizing to pass up. The other advantage is that while Tinordi is a pending free agent who counts against the cap of six free agents, while Baumgartner is not; we have more wiggle room with Baumgartner.
Of course, there’s also the possibility that Tinordi (a pending UFA who made a shade under $3 million the previous year) would be allowed to walk to free agency and leave Atlanta with a nice shiny compensatory pick. This is also predicated on the notion that Tinordi would be a hotly desired commodity, and not one that teams would be reluctant to go after because of his recent health. And it’s also predicated on the notion that the rapid escalation of salaries for defensemen would continue unchecked, despite the fact that the aforementioned Manson passed through waivers around the trade deadline in 1999 without being claimed specifically for financial reasons. And Manson made over a million less per season than Tinordi.
By being able to count on having Manson in the lineup, we can address the next biggest need, which is scoring. There is almost no actual firepower in the entirety of this expansion draft, and there sits an unprotected Geoff Sanderson. The other options on our board from Buffalo are Darryl Shannon and Domenic Pittis. Head-to-head, Sanderson beats Pittis in every possible way. Shannon is a stable two-way defenseman who paired with Jay McKee for most of the season with Buffalo, then got promptly shuffled into the press box the instant that Rhett Warrener arrived in a trade from Florida. Warrener stayed in the lineup the entire playoffs until a broken ankle suffered at the end of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final required almost immediate surgery, which put Shannon back in for a single game. When the guy who’s led your team in +/- each of the previous two seasons can’t stay in the lineup, it certainly raises the question of why.
Sanderson is 27, Shannon 31. Sanderson scored 175 goals in five seasons with Hartford, then began 1997-98 in the mother of all slumps before being traded to Mike Keenan’s Canucks, from which he was quickly bounced to Buffalo. Buffalo doesn’t exactly play the type of offensive game that would get much out of Sanderson’s tremendous gifts. That’s their loss. We’re an expansion team. He’ll go right onto our first line; his speed alone makes him a threat every time he’s on the ice, and his ability to score and create offense is unmatched by anyone else in this expansion draft. And with his old Whalers linemates Andrew Cassels and Pat Verbeek both hitting UFA status July 1, we could reunite one of the NHL’s best lines of this decade in our first year. That there isn’t a lot of scoring options in the expansion draft hardly means that we can’t draw plenty more in, and it begins with Sanderson. Take him, and Cassels may well follow. And if Verbeek, who’s eight years older than Sanderson, either retires or doesn’t feel like coming, we can still go after Nelson Emerson. A Sanderson-Cassels-Emerson line could be a nightmare to deal with as well, and would still be one of the best top lines that a first-year expansion team has ever put together. Even if we can’t get Emerson or Cassels at all, there’s still no reason to pass up Sanderson.
So our five-player chain starts with Dave Manson, who will go right to our top pairing and play in all situations. He can work with Nolan Baumgartner, who may finally be ready to go after years of major shoulder problems. Our scoring can come from Geoff Sanderson. Trevor Kidd will provide an additional option in net either in the trade market or if someone we’re banking on doesn’t work out. And Daniel Tjarnqvist provides a nice option on the back end if he signs immediately, and if he waits a year to come over then we save some cash in the meantime.
Instead….what actually happened was that the chain was broken right from the beginning. Atlanta drafted Sylvain Cloutier from Chicago, which addressed nothing. Lacking a higher-end defenseman like Manson, they would proceed to take Mark Tinordi, who would retire after failing to garner any interest in free agency (thus costing the Thrashers a possible compensatory pick, plus the roster spot, plus the chance to get Baumgartner). They took Darryl Shannon from Buffalo and picked up Dean Sylvester in the process; Shannon was traded partway through the first season, and Sylvester played two years. They took Kidd, but traded him to Florida for the package I’ve mentioned several times. Garpenlov would play one season and retire, and both Murphy and Vasiljevs were gone before Tjarnqvist arrived two seasons later. The 6th-rounder was traded for Per Svartvadet.
This underscores part of the problem with treating players as interchangeable assets. Yes, there are very few players in the world who can make a living in the NHL for a long period of time at a high level. This hardly means that everyone else is interchangeable. Darryl Shannon plus Dean Sylvester plus Sylvain Cloutier does not equal Dave Manson plus Geoff Sanderson no matter how hard one may try, and an actual tangible player in Dave Manson is quite a different story from a theoretical asset in Mark Tinordi. I’m all in favor of taking pending UFAs in these expansion drafts because of the compensatory picks, but you’d damn well better make sure that you’re getting a worthwhile pick out of it (like Nashville did last year, with two 2nd-rounders for two picks from teams from which there was little else to choose).
Yes, there are concerns with budgets and roster balance and a myriad of other things, but this is what I cannot emphasize enough: failure to address issues at the right time leads to further problems down the road. We see it every single year in all sports. The team that has poor depth at a position sees their best guy go down with an injury or an irresistible trade and no way in the world to compensate for it. And the only way to fix it is to then overpay, possibly turning a position of strength into a new weakness in trying to patch the old one. Atlanta actually drafted almost no scoring, but was able to pick up short-term options with Ray Ferraro and Nelson Emerson in free agency.
Of course, we all know that hockey is a business, and that players are still liquid assets. The beauty of expansion teams is that by the time the team is ready to contend regularly, they’re usually far removed from the players they started off with. And those that have had success are the ones who have been able to turn those starting players into something of value, like prospects and picks and other players. An expansion draft creates an open marketplace, and the team that has the most opportunity to really cash in is the one team with whom everyone can deal.
Way back in the beginning of this write-up, I mentioned player familiarity as a possible negative, and I have yet to actually address it at all. The player that began this whole chain was Sylvain Cloutier, taken from Chicago by Atlanta GM Don Waddell. Cloutier had been a draft pick of Detroit in 1992 and hadn’t been able to break through to the NHL, so he ended up in the AHL with the Adirondack Red Wings. Waddell went from the IHL’s Orlando Solar Bears to Detroit in 1997-98 as their assistant GM…and GM of Adirondack. He was traded with seven games to go in the season to an IHL team, specifically the Detroit Vipers. At the time, Waddell said, “This is a new opportunity for him. He’s been there for four years, and not a lot has happened for him from an NHL standpoint. He goes to a good organization, and he’s going to get a chance to play. We said here in Detroit that we’re going to get a chance to see him more now, and it exposes him to 25 other NHL teams pretty easily.”
Cloutier signed with Chicago that offseason, the same offseason that saw Waddell move to Atlanta to prepare for their expansion draft a year out. Undoubtedly Waddell had become very familiar with Cloutier in Adirondack, and the 21 goals he’d scored in the IHL with the Indianapolis Ice during the 1998-99 season convinced Waddell to take a shot.
The problem, of course, is that this wasn’t just one expansion draft pick that was thrown away. It cascaded through several others, and negatively affected the ability of the Thrashers to be anything close to respectable for years down the road.
Atlanta was irreparably damaged by this. By July 1 of 2000, which is one year plus one week after the expansion draft, the picks of Tinordi, Cloutier, Garpenlov, Kidd, and Shannon had netted them:
- 0 games from Tinordi, who retired after drawing no interest as a free agent
- 0 games from Cloutier, who was traded in November with Jeff Williams and a draft pick for Eric Bertrand and Wes Mason
- 73 games from Garpenlov, who scored 2 goals and 14 assists and then went back overseas. On the other hand, I have his white game-worn jersey from the Thrashers first year, with the NHL2000 patch still attached. Those are extremely tough to find.
- 0 games from Kidd, and if I mention who he was traded for again I might explode.
- 49 games from Darryl Shannon, in which he was a -14. He was traded in February with Jason Botterill for Hnat Dominichelli and Dmitri Vlasenkov (who was in the Russian League at the time).
But wait, you may say, that doesn’t include what these players were traded for!
- Eric Bertrand played 8 games in 1999-00, putting up 0 points and a -5 before being traded to Philadelphia for future considerations.
- Wes Mason played 0 games, and was not qualified after the 2000-01 season and became a free agent.
- Dmitri Vlasenkov played 0 games; he played one year in the IHL before heading back overseas.
- Herberts Vasiljevs would play 7 games with Atlanta in 1999-00, then 21 in 2000-01 before being lost as a free agent.
- Daniel Tjarnqvist was still in Sweden and wouldn’t come over until the 2001-02 season. He would play three seasons with Atlanta before going to Dallas as a free agent.
- Gord Murphy would play 58 games with Atlanta in 1999-00, then 27 games in 2000-01 before being lost as a free agent to Boston.
- Hnat Dominichelli played 27 games with Atlanta in 1999-00, then another 103 in the next two seasons before being traded to Minnesota for Andy Sutton. Dominichelli would have 29 goals and 61 points in 130 games with Atlanta.
- Dean Sylvester would play 52 games with Atlanta in 1999-00, putting up 16 goals and 26 points. After 43 games in 2000-01, he would retire.
All told, all of these players (thirteen of them) would combine for 274 man-games in 1999-00, with 31 total goals. Geoff Sanderson, who would be drafted by Columbus in the 2000 expansion draft and go onto their first line, would score 30 goals that year alone.
Now, back to our draft…
6th – Murray Baron from Vancouver. There’s a trade offer of a 4th-rounder and a 6th-rounder from Vancouver to pass on Garth Snow. Baron is 32 and rebounded after an injury-plagued 1997-98 season, and should provide solid defensive play on the third pairing. No one else from Vancouver was on our draft board except Baron and Trent Klatt; Snow wasn’t a serious consideration.
7th – Bill Houlder from San Jose. Our draft board from the Sharks consists of goalie Mike Vernon, Houlder, and forward Jan Caloun. Caloun has tremendous skill and is just 26, but has spent the last two years in Europe and may not fit into the Sharks’ plans going forward. Taking Vernon would leave San Jose without their top goalie, so I’d like to propose taking Caloun off their hands in exchange for leaving Vernon alone, then taking Houlder to inject some offensive skill onto the blueline. If they don’t go for it, Vernon should be a pretty good trade option out there for someone. Murray Craven would be on our list if not for what looks like a career-ending nerve injury in his leg.
Although neither Houlder nor Vernon are pending free agents, both have player options for next year to opt out of their respective contracts and become UFAs. Vernon would likely fetch a higher draft pick, but Houlder has a greater chance of actually staying with us and contributing. All things considered, it makes more sense to take the defenseman than the aging goalie.
8th – Rob Brown from Pittsburgh. Another sparse draft board, consisting of Brown, Tyler Wright, and Maxim Galanov. Wright played 61 games last season and didn’t score a single point, then played another 13 playoff games and didn’t score a point either. Galanov hasn’t done a ton to this point and has an overlapping skill set with our other defensemen. If Brown can’t crack our roster, he’ll at least put up obscene scoring totals in the IHL for us. He’s only 31 and spent a lot of time on Pittsburgh’s bottom six last year, not exactly ideal for a scoring forward.
9th – Sergei Zholtok from Montreal. There’s an offer of a 6th-rounder from Montreal if we take defenseman Brett Clark from them, but it doesn’t do enough for us. Zholtok can score if given the chance, or play down low on the third line and generate offense in addition to his game in the corners. Given the choice between a forward who can play anywhere on the top three lines and not be an anchor and a defenseman plus a 6th, we’ll take Zholtok.
10th – Jamie Pushor from Anaheim. He’s 26, has played well in the NHL on a full-time basis the last three seasons, and we have an offer of a 2nd-rounder for him on the table. Since no one’s offering that for the other picks on Anaheim’s board (Dan Trebil, Ted Drury, and Pascal Trepanier), Pushor is the pick.
11th – Peter Ferraro from Boston. The Bruins don’t want to lose goalie Rob Tallas, so we already have a deal in place to draft Ferraro and flip him right back for Randy Robitaille. Robitaille will have just turned 24 when the season begins, and he had 102 points in 74 AHL games last year in his second pro season; this led his team in scoring by 33 points. No one else was on our draft board from the Bruins.
12th – Marty Murray from Calgary. 24 years old, put up huge scoring numbers in juniors, good numbers in the AHL, and played last year in Switzerland. If he comes back to North America, he may be primed to break through in the NHL, or he can play in the minors on the first line. If he doesn’t come back, it’ll at least save some salary money. We’re getting Andreas Karlsson for not taking “certain players” as well; he’s spent the last seven seasons in the top Swedish league and won’t turn 24 until right before training camp opens.
13th – Tomi Kallio from Colorado. 22 years old, has played the last three years in the top division in Finland, and possesses both serious offensive skill and a large international resume. Has played in two WJCs, captaining one of those teams; one World Championships, one EJC, one U-19 WJC. Will be on the shortlist for Finland’s World Championships teams for the next decade, and is a possible 2002 Olympian. Our other options from Colorado are Serge Aubin and Christian Matte, both of whom are just now getting established as AHL players. There’s a risk that Kallio won’t ever come over, but we should also have enough fourth-line types to pass on the other two options.
14th – Kevin Dean from New Jersey. 30 years old, just now in his third year in the NHL on New Jersey’s bottom pairing. Not sure if he’ll stick or not, but the Devils are throwing in Sergei Vyshedkevich if we take Dean. He’s a 24-year-old defenseman who can move the puck at will and may have a good future with us. Sergei Nemchinov, Vadim Sharifjanov, and Sergei Brylin are the other guys on our board, but adding two defensemen is too tempting to pass up, especially since Vyshedkevich was another option we were exploring. Five players on our board, three of them named Sergei. That might be a record.
Sharifjanov is the other most viable option. He’s filled in every possible spot on New Jersey’s roster during his tenure there, whether as a fourth-line wing or a first-line center. It’s tough to pass on him, but the addition of Vyshedkevich to taking Dean pushes the decision that way.
15th – Steve Webb from the NY Islanders. 24 years old, not so much an enforcer as a buzzsaw. Absolutely fearless, and will hit and fight anything that moves. Other options on the board from the Islanders are Wade Flaherty and David Harlock, neither one of whom would stand much chance of cracking the roster. Webb is very reminiscent of Scott Walker, who went from fourth-line NHLer to 15 goals and 40 points on Nashville’s expansion team last year when given a chance to play.
16th – Christian Dube from the NY Rangers. 22 years old, and put up huge scoring numbers in juniors and good ones in two AHL seasons. Hasn’t been given much of a shot in the NHL, and is reported to have a deal in place to play in Switzerland if he isn’t moved. Could certainly use a long look on an expansion team, and our only other option from the Rangers is defenseman Chris Tamer.
17th – Rem Murray from Edmonton. We have four forwards on the board from Edmonton: Murray, Kelly Buchberger, Pat Falloon, and Jim Dowd. Falloon and Murray are younger players, both have put up similar numbers in the recent past, both are pending Group II free agents with arbitration rights. Given how arbitration awards have looked recently, it’s anyone’s guess how this will go. If we get a good number, we get a young 20-goal scorer. If we get a bad number, it’s not like we’ll have passed on a major player to have drafted Murray; although I don’t like the idea of walking away from an asset, it won’t be a huge blow.
18th – Mike Stapleton from Phoenix. He’s 33 and should anchor our third line as a quick defensive forward. Phoenix left us almost nothing to choose from, and we’re getting goalie Scott Langkow for passing on everyone else and taking Stapleton. Which is fine, since Mikhail Shtalenkov is quite literally the only other Coyote on our board.
19th – Norm Maracle from Detroit. As much as it pains me to pass on Igor Larionov, who’s still productive at 39 years old, it’s tough to pass on another goalie who’s widely regarded as a future starter. Maracle is 25 and has excelled in the AHL and looked good in brief NHL action with Detroit. The Red Wings are also tossing in pending Group III free agent Ulf Samuelsson for passing on Larionov, and we should be able to get a compensatory pick out of him if we can’t get him signed.
20th – Manny Fernandez from Dallas. This is a tough call, because Dallas also has a defenseman (Petr Buzek) and forward (Aaron Gavey) who both warrant long looks. Gavey is 25 and just finishing his fifth pro season, but we’re starting to wonder if he’s ever going to be able to put it together at all. Buzek is 22 and was a terrific prospect before suffering major injuries in a car wreck right before being drafted four years ago. He’s a smart defenseman who can do a lot of little things right, but there’s a strong possibility that he won’t last in the NHL long-term because of the trauma that he suffered. His work ethic and dedication are unmatched in this draft class, however. Fernandez is 25, and like Maracle has excelled in the IHL and looked good in spot duty on a contending team. Although it’s not likely that Maracle, Kidd, or whoever we get from Ottawa flops, having someone like Fernandez would help. And if nothing else, someone will pay handsomely to take him off our hands.
I’ll take another pause here. One of the joys of running a simulated expansion draft is how fluid everything is, just like the real deal. There are some obvious best players available, some who are slightly better than others, some who hold no value to the expansion team but plenty to other teams looking to make trades, and some where it’s basically like throwing darts. In this one, we’re 20 teams in before I get to this pick. The six teams that still need players taken are Los Angeles, Ottawa, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Toronto, and Tampa Bay. The common thread is that there are multiple positions available from all of these teams, and dropping the first domino creates a cascade effect that directly impacts the other six.
I’ve gone through 50 or so simulated drafts on these last six picks alone, and in each case I’ve ended up with a different group of six players taken. Any one of these could be “the real deal”, and there’s no way to know who’s going to amount to anything and who will simply wash out of the league.
The draft board from each team is as follows:
Los Angeles – D Philippe Boucher, D Garry Galley, C Ray Ferraro, LW Matt Johnson, LW Vladimir Tsyplakov
Ottawa – G Ron Tugnutt OR Damian Rhodes, RW Phil Crowe, RW Nelson Emerson, C Andreas Johansson
Philadelphia – D Steve Duchesne (pending Group III), D Luke Richardson, C Marc Bureau, RW Jody Hull, C Richard Park
St. Louis – D Marc Bergevin, D Chris McAlpine, RW Blair Atcheynum, LW Michel Picard, C Terry Yake
Tampa Bay – G Corey Schwab, D David Wilkie, D Jassen Cullimore, RW Stephane Richer, RW Alexandre Daigle
Toronto – D Yannick Tremblay, RW Tie Domi, LW Derek King
Right now there are four forwards that have to be taken out of those six teams, and all have forwards available. There is one defenseman that must be taken, and five teams have defensemen. No goalies must be taken, but they can be. There are two open spots as well that can be used for any remaining position. Now, figure out the computations.
First, the Ottawa goalie situation. In real life, Damian Rhodes was traded to Atlanta for “future considerations”; in other words, a side deal. And around the same time, Nashville traded Andrew Brunette to Atlanta for a conditional draft pick. In the expansion draft, Atlanta took Phil Crowe from Ottawa, then traded him to Nashville for their own future considerations. It’s entirely possible that this was simply a three-team deal with Atlanta in the middle, and Nashville getting a 6th-rounder and an enforcer (Crowe) for a player who hadn’t looked as stellar as they’d hoped (Brunette). For what it’s worth, I believe that this is actually what happened: Ottawa gave up Rhodes in exchange for dictating who Atlanta would take (Crowe), Don Waddell started shopping Crowe, and took Nashville’s offer of Brunette and a conditional pick. Assuming that’s how it happened, Waddell deserves a lot of credit for a very creative set of moves that bolstered the first-year team immediately.
Ottawa got to keep Ron Tugnutt, and then traded Andreas Johansson to Tampa Bay for Rob Zamuner and a 2nd-rounder, which was part of a compensatory trade for Tampa taking Rick Dudley out of Ottawa’s front office.
If, however, these were all separate deals, then I’m not so sure. Lacking any type of inside knowledge of the situation, it’s impossible to say for sure. I’d like to sit here and say that I’d keep threatening to take whichever goalie Ottawa would leave unprotected unless they toss us Johansson and his 21 goals in 1998-99, mostly because that’s what I’d do, but it’s impossible to say.
There is still another issue to contend with, however. The expansion draft rules stipulated that Atlanta could take no more than six pending free agents (restricted or unrestricted), and specifically capped at one goalie, three defensemen, and three forwards. After 20 picks, we’re at five and are capped out on forwards and goalies. Manny Fernandez is the goalie (Group II RFA), Jamie Pushor the defenseman (Group II RFA), and Geoff Sanderson, Rem Murray, and Christian Dube the forwards (all Group II RFAs as well). With six picks to go, this eliminates Tampa goalie Corey Schwab as a possibility, as well as forwards Vladimir Tsyplakov, Richard Park, Blair Atcheynum, and Michel Picard. Those are all Group II. It also eliminates Ray Ferraro and Nelson Emerson, both of whom are Group III UFAs-to-be.
Which brings us all the way back around to how complex all of this is. The original group of goalies on our draft board included four pending Group II RFAs; taking one of them meant eliminating all of the rest (note: Scott Langkow was acquired in a trade and thus does not count against the limit). Had we gone with Chris Tamer instead of Christian Dube from the Rangers, we’d have five forward spots that needed to be filled at this point with no defenseman requirement; we’d also have another available spot to draft a pending free agent forward. To make that simple switch would mean opening back up the chance to take any of Tsyplakov, Emerson, Ferraro, Park, Atcheynum, and Picard.
This in itself has enormous consequences; Tsyplakov is the best option from the Kings for what he brings in terms of skill, but would have one year left until becoming a UFA. Park was known at this point as a very dedicated and hard-working two-way player who just needed some ice time, Atcheynum was a terrific third-liner on a contending Blues team, and Picard could contribute in the NHL or dominate the minors. Emerson and Ferraro both could still contribute, and if they left without signing then there would undoubtedly be a compensatory pick coming. Without Tsyplakov and Ferraro as options, the next-best options are Matt Johnson as a forward or one of Garry Galley and Philippe Boucher as defensemen. Without Emerson as an option, it goes right back to either Crowe (to Nashville?) or Andreas Johansson. Without Park, it’s down to Jody Hull or Marc Bureau, both of whom could play on the third line, or Luke Richardson or Steve Duchesne as defensemen. Without Atcheynum and Picard, the options are down to Terry Yake and defensemen Chris McAlpine and Marc Bergevin.
Of course, if you’re paying close attention or have a really solid grasp of history, you picked on something else. If Steve Duchesne were to be picked from Philadelphia, this would mean hitting the six-FA cap and thus wiping out both McAlpine and Lightning defenseman David Wilkie as options.
This is a great example of why expansion teams really need somebody in the front office to act as an extension of the GM and strictly handle the expansion draft. A new team is trying to get off the ground completely by stocking their minor league affiliate, they’re trying to sign European or college free agents, they’re handling a ton of media requests for the first time, and they’re trying to handle all of the regular entry draft machinations. The last thing that a GM needs is to be swamped with expansion draft duties. This intricate scenario I’ve just outlined involves a total of six teams. The reality is that Atlanta, Nashville, Columbus, and Minnesota all dealt with a 26-way scenario; Columbus and Minnesota also were drafting against each other, which made things infinitely more complicated for both of those teams. The next team(s) coming in will be looking at 30-way scenarios, with a salary cap and floor to work around.
What an expansion team needs is something very simple: someone with an unusually dexterous mind who acts as an extension of the GM. He and the GM should be on the same page as far as who and what they want, and the GM should absolutely be kept in the loop for what’s going on, but the person who runs the expansion draft should be a separate individual completely. It’s not even really a job for a regular director of pro scouting, although he would be leaned on very heavily for the information of who should go onto the board and who shouldn’t be.
Now, back to our draft.
21st – Phil Crowe from Ottawa. I’m operating under the assumption that Crowe was a part of the Brunette deal, in which case we’ve acquired Damian Rhodes and Andrew Brunette in exchange for passing on Ron Tugnutt and Andreas Johansson. (Speaking in retrospect here, I simply was never that big a fan of Rhodes in the first place, but other people around the league definitely were. I can’t let my own perception and knowledge of future events taint our timeline here). Since Nelson Emerson isn’t a possibility due to the free agent cap, we’ll go after him in free agency instead.
22nd – Derek King from Toronto. Had a forgettable playoffs for the Maple Leafs, but he’d had 45 goals and 98 points in the last two seasons. He’s 32 and will start slowing down soon, but we should be able to get something in the trade market for him if it doesn’t work out. Ideally he’ll stay with us and pot 25 goals.
23rd – Jody Hull from Philadelphia. Speedy penalty killer who’s been able to produce offense when given the chance to. This will be his third first-year team, having been with Ottawa (1992-93) and Florida (1993-94); more recently he’s been a key part of Cup-contending Flyers teams. Marc Bureau was another option; he played tremendous shutdown hockey in the playoffs, but a combination of age and relative lack of offense steered us toward Hull.
Three picks left. There’s no chance to take any more goalies, but we have five on the roster anyway (Trevor Kidd, Scott Langkow via trade, Norm Maracle, Manny Fernandez, and Damian Rhodes). We have to take one more defenseman, and then there are two open spots left.
24th – Terry Yake from St. Louis. Like Jody Hull, another veteran of an expansion team, and a Whalers team so bad it might as well have been an expansion team. Yake can provide a scoring punch and will be given every opportunity to play on the top six with actual scorers. And we know St. Louis would love to take him back, so that’s a trade option as well if we get into a roster crunch.
25th – Philippe Boucher from Los Angeles. This is a huge, huge gamble. Boucher looked terrific three years ago and two years ago, and terrible last year. He dropped 15 pounds in the span of two days at one point and ended up hospitalized, being run through a battery of tests to determine if he was suffering from something life-threatening. As it would turn out, he had a severe thyroid issue that was draining his strength and stamina. And once that was under control, he needed surgery to remove a nasty bone spur from his foo. His work ethic and determination have regularly been praised every step of his hockey career. If he’s healthy, we have an offensive defenseman who can quarterback the power play and play smart two-way and transitional hockey. But if he’s not healthy, we’ve just cost ourselves a possible big trade piece in Matt Johnson, who we’re passing on to take Boucher.
26th – Alexandre Daigle from Tampa Bay. From 1st overall to last overall in just six years, from the first pick in the history of an expansion team to the last pick of a new expansion team’s draft from among the castoffs. No one has been able to doubt Daigle’s skills, but his work ethic and dedication are another matter. Undoubtedly he’s done himself no favors to this point, up to and including playing his way out of a bad Lightning team, but this offers a fresh chance. He’ll be surrounded by established players eager for a chance to prove themselves in a new situation with more ice time, as opposed to going into a second-year Ottawa team with a lot of non-NHLers just happy to be in the league. There won’t be any room on this team to slack off; there are too many guys fighting for too many positions.
- Trevor Kidd
- Scott Langkow*
- Norm Maracle
- Manny Fernandez
- Damian Rhodes*
- Jamie Pushor
- Nolan Baumgartner
- Bill Houlder
- Dave Manson
- Murray Baron
- Kevin Dean
- Sergei Vyshedkevich*
- Daniel Tjarnqvist
- Philippe Boucher
- Geoff Sanderson
- Derek King
- Phil Crowe (traded)/Andrew Brunette
- Rob Brown
- Tomi Kallio
- Steve Webb
- Alexandre Daigle
- Christian Dube
- Jody Hull
- Peter Ferraro (traded)/Randy Robitaille
- Sergei Zholtok
- Marty Murray
- Mike Stapleton
- Rem Murray
- Terry Yake
Coming out of this draft and going into the entry draft and free agency, there are 29 players who are in the system. Obviously carrying five goalies isn’t going to happen, so the trade market will be explored to see who will offer something of value. That may well include sending out Rhodes, who was just acquired in a trade.
The defense has solid depth, but is banking heavily on the older guys continuing to be productive, the younger guys developing quickly, and Boucher being healthy.
There are three solid actual NHL left wings: Sanderson goes to the first line, and either one of King and Brunette will be able to produce whether they’re on the second or third lines. Right wing is extremely thin in terms of high-end talent, and there are huge question marks on each. Will Dube perform? Will Daigle grow up? Will Kallio sign and play with us this year? There are plenty of centers, but no one who’s really first-line caliber. Or really second-line caliber either, although Zholtok might be.
Based on this roster alone, it’s not playoff caliber. We’ll be lucky to break 60 points with what we have, but we should be able to at least be respectable for a couple years and turn these guys into something more substantial in terms of prospects, picks, or actual players.
In free agency and in the trade market, the obvious need will be scoring up the middle and on the right side.
Total payroll of this team comes in around $20,792,000.