In 1998, the incoming Nashville Predators had the chance to accumulate some actual NHL talent and some nice compensatory draft picks. In 1999, the incoming Atlanta Thrashers had the chance to actually accumulate better talent at the top, but nothing in the way of compensatory picks.
2000 is different for two reasons. The first is that it involved two incoming teams instead of just one. And the second is that the incoming Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets were going to be left fighting over the scraps of whatever remained after the previous two expansion drafts, waves of player retirements, and a relatively weak group of prospects coming into the league.
What helped both teams is that each existing team would lose two players instead of just one. And what made things interesting is that they were drafting against each other instead of simply hammering out a list internally and then faxing it to the league.
From a glance at the talent available, there are a handful of things that stand out.
- The goalie class is far and away the weakest of the three expansion drafts. Both teams were able to acquire goalies in the trade market before the draft, which resulted in the top ones on the draft board (Evgeni Nabokov of San Jose and David Aebischer of Colorado) being left untouched. Both Nabokov and Aebischer were NHL prospects anyway; Nabokov had a total of 11 NHL games, all in 1999-00, while Aebischer had never appeared in an NHL game. That says a lot about how weak the goalie class was.
- The class of defensemen is so thin that a reporter referred to the priority coin toss as “the Sean O’Donnell Sweepstakes”. Atlanta had four legitimate top-four defensemen to choose from and ended up with one; Columbus and Minnesota don’t have four top-four defensemen between them. The best were mostly clustered on Buffalo, and Columbus swung a side deal before the draft to make sure that the Sabres didn’t lose any of them anyway.
- There’s not much up front either. There’s plenty of bottom-six forwards, a couple of guys who could slot in on a second line, and a couple of guys who could go on a first line if they could re-discover their scoring touch (Geoff Sanderson and Martin Gelinas).
- A lot of the best players available are pending free agents. This throws a big wrench into things.
- Because there’s so little talent and so many free agents, it’s very possible to just need to burn a pick on an unsigned European or an AHL/IHL player from an existing team just to avoid adding useless salary or having to eat up a free agent spot.
- Defenseman J.J. Daigneault and goalie Frederic Chabot were both left available for the fifth time in their respective careers.
Within the draft itself, a team that lost a goalie could not lose a defenseman or another goalie at all, and a team that lost a defenseman could not lose another defenseman.
Both Columbus and Minnesota would select three goalies, eight defensemen, thirteen forwards, and then two players from any position group.
Because of the relative lack of talent, and the difficulty in picking against another team, both Minnesota and Columbus would need to be more creative than Nashville or Atlanta. Free agency, the waiver wire, and trades would be more likely to net NHL-caliber players than the expansion draft.