NHL expansion struggles have changed with Vegas and now Seattle


Updated 9 minutes ago

SEATTLE (AP) – When the NHL ramped up its expansion about 30 years ago, it brought hockey to untapped markets, hot destinations and established a footprint in every corner of North America.

It also created some pretty terrible teams and wins have been tough to come by in places like Tampa Bay, Anaheim, Ottawa, Atlanta and Nashville for several seasons.

“In the past, we were in the era of expansion teams, so when Atlanta came along you didn’t necessarily have to be at your best and still be able to win the game because the team you you playing wasn’t like the Vegas expansion team. They were a real expansion team and they struggled, “recalls former Washington Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig.” You had Columbus when they arrived, you had Minnesota when they arrived, so there were a handful of those nights that (you couldn’t) take off but you knew you didn’t have to be your best. ”

Things have changed.

The NHL reworked its expansion draft rules in 2017 and Vegas toppled the league by becoming the most successful freshman franchise in NHL history, reaching the Stanley Cup Final in the inaugural season of the NHL. Golden Knights.

The same rules are in place, which means the Seattle Kraken franchise is in the same situation when they draft their first team next Wednesday. In theory, Seattle general manager Ron Francis can put a competitive team on the ice right off the bat, just like Vegas.

If only that was the case years ago.

“The hindsight is still 20/20, but I really think the NHL was wrong and how they treated the expansion teams all the way to Vegas,” said Nashville general manager David Poile, who Drafted the Predators’ first roster in 1998. “A lot of times, in my opinion, we haven’t done well with the expansion teams, and we’ve made their journey a lot harder than it should have been. ”

Poile is right. The story of expansion in the NHL is a roller coaster of contractions and offshoring, strange partnerships and ultimately very little early success for most franchises.

Teams often went through multiple iterations of the list before success was achieved. For example, when the New York Islanders began their streak of four straight Stanley Cup titles in the 1979-80 season, there was only one player – the Hall of Fame goalie. Billy Smith – still on their 1972 expansion draft list.

“We were dealing with a lot of older guys who were probably on the phone,” said Carolina general manager Don Waddell, who was the general manager in Atlanta when the Thrashers arrived in 1999. “I think that we only had one guy left over the last couple of years with our expansion draft franchise, which isn’t how you probably hope to start with an expansion draft.

After the expansion rush that began in 1991, no team has risen to success faster than the Florida Panthers, who opened the game in 1993 and reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1996. The Panthers had 10 players from their expansion draft on the roster for the 1996 season, including leading scorer Scott Mellanby, but the roster had been rounded out with draft (Rob Niedermayer) and trades (Robert Svehla and Stu Barnes) .

Ottawa is another example of an expanding franchise that was beaten early but created a foundation that led to 11 straight playoff spots starting in the Senators’ fifth season.

At the other end was Tampa Bay, which spent 10 seasons mostly at the bottom of the standings with just one playoff berth. The Lightning are now the defending champions in a row, with three titles in total, but it took time and investment to finally get there.

Waddell was long gone from Atlanta by the time the Thrashers reached the playoffs in 2007, their only playoff spot before moving to Winnipeg. It took six seasons for Poile and the Predators to advance to the playoffs.

“Almost philosophically, we drafted a lot of players who we knew wouldn’t be on our squad for more than a few years,” said Poile.

The NHL had a long pause in expansion, but when the Golden Knights arrived, friendlier rules and Vegas front office cunning transformed the expectations of any team going forward. Vegas found ways to capitalize on salary cap issues, stole teams with bloated rosters, and was ready to hire veterans to be strong early on.

“After the fact, the word I used most often to describe the whole process was fascinating,” said Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon, who was George McPhee’s deputy general manager during the expansion project. . “It was a fascinating process to be a part of.”

It worked, too: Vegas had 109 points in its first season and 93 in its second – 61.6% of all possible points the Golden Knights could have earned in their first 164 regular-season games. Of the previous nine expansion teams, none have scored more than 83 points (Florida, 1993-94) in either of their first two seasons. San Jose and Ottawa failed to score 40 points in their first two seasons.

Francis knows he needs to find some long-term fundamentals for Seattle, but everything the franchise does in its first year will be compared to Vegas.

Is Seattle young and built? Are they absorbing the wages, making deals, and trying to develop a list that can win right off the bat? It’s a delicate balance, but whatever approach the Kraken takes, NHL members believe that Seattle being competitive – thanks to the rules in place – is the best for the league.

“We got there when the league was paying $ 75 million for a franchise,” Waddell said. “These guys pay $ 650 (millions). So they deserve a better opportunity to build a team. ”


AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno and AP Sports writer Aaron Beard contributed to this report.


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