Let’s take a look back at five fairly big names that have been called at expansion drafts and how they managed to avoid ever actually playing for those teams.
Now that the Vegas Golden Knights have a name, a logo, and a future head coach, everyone is turning their attention to June’s expansion draft. Who will the Knights end up with? Matt Murray? Jakob Silfverberg? Trevor van Riemsdyk? Maybe even an established veteran who waives a no-movement clause, like Dion Phaneuf or Rick Nash?
Those are all reasonably big names, and if the Golden Knights wound up picking any of them, you’d think it would make for a memorable moment.
Then again, maybe not. You see, sometimes NHL expansion teams end up taking big name players, and everyone just kind of forgets about it. That’s because there’s no guarantee that any player taken by an expansion team will ever actually play for that expansion team.
So today, let’s take a look back at five fairly big names that have been called at expansion drafts of the past, and how they managed to avoid ever actually suiting up for the fledgling franchises that chose them.
Tim Kerr, 1991
Early NHL expansion drafts of the 60s and 70s were fairly standard. A handful of good players were picked, including names like Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall and Bernie Parent. But for the most part, the established teams didn’t offer much in the way of talent, and the expansion franchises patched together a team with whatever they could find. That’s why most of the early expansion teams were awful.
But by the time the second wave of expansion had hit in the 1990s, the new teams were willing to get a little more creative. Oh, they’d still be awful. But they realized that just because they drafted a player didn’t mean they had to keep him, and it became common to see trades worked out as soon as the expansion draft was over (and sometimes even sooner).
Take the 1991 draft, for example. That was the weird expansion/dispersal hybrid that featured the San Jose Sharks and the Minnesota North Stars, which we covered in some depth over the summer. The most famous weird pick from that draft was the very last one, in which the North Stars picked quasi-retired Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur because they didn’t want any Quebec Nordiques and the rules wouldn’t allow them to pass. But another well-known sniper was also taken that day.
That would be Tim Kerr, a four-time 50-goal scorer for the Flyers who’d been slowed down by injuries. By 1991, he hadn’t put together a full season in four years. But he was still scoring at well over a point-per-game pace when he did play, and seemed like the sort of guy who could be a good gamble for a contender.
The Sharks weren’t a contender, but the Rangers were. And so the Sharks grabbed Kerr off of the Flyer’s unprotected list, and then immediately flipped him to the Rangers in exchange for Brian Mullen. It was a smart deal for San Jose; Mullen ended up being their second-leading scorer in their debut season. It worked out worse for the Rangers, as Kerr struggled through another injury-shortened year before being dealt to Hartford.
Daren Puppa, 1993
Here’s a fun way to confuse hockey fans of a certain age: Ask them how Daren Puppa ended up with the Lightning back in 1993.
Chances are, they’ll tell you some version of the same story: Puppa was splitting time in Buffalo with newcomer Dominik Hasek, then was traded to the Maple Leafs in the big Grant Fuhr/Dave Andreychuk blockbuster. He backed up Felix Potvin in Toronto for their epic playoff run, then went to the Tampa Bay Lightning in that summer’s expansion draft.
Just about everyone remembers it that way. But there’s a slight problem: The Lightning were already in the league in 1992-93. Their expansion draft had been the year before, when Puppa was still with the Sabres.
That glitch in the matrix can be explained by an oddity of the 1993 expansion draft: There were actually two of them. The first stocked the two new teams, the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Mighty Ducks. The second allowed the three most recent teams, the Sharks, Senators and Lightning, to pick players from those two newcomers.
That’s what happened with Puppa. It was actually the Panthers who snagged him from Toronto. Then the Lightning took him off of the Panthers’ hands.
Fellow goaltender Glenn Healy followed a similar path, but with an additional stop. He went from the Islanders to the Mighty Ducks to the Lightning over the course of the double draft. But he didn’t stop there. The Lightning turned around and flipped him to the Rangers in exchange for a third round pick.
Not too many players get to be the property of four teams within a few hours, but it all worked out well for Healy. He won a Stanley Cup in New York the next year, backing up superstar Mike Richter.
Speaking of whom…
Mike Richter, 1998
As every Rangers fan knows, Richter played his entire 14-year career in New York, debuting in 1989-1990 and sticking with the franchise until 2003. Once a Ranger, always a Ranger.
That’s why it may come as a surprise to see Richter’s name show up as one of the picks in the 1998 expansion draft. But indeed he was, taken by the Predators and becoming an inaugural member of the first NHL team ever put together in Nashville.
For six days. Then he became an unrestricted free agent. Then he re-signed with the Rangers.
That sounds ridiculous, but what the Predators were doing actually made perfect sense. This was back when the NHL had a weird draft pick compensation rule for teams that lost free agents. The Predators knew that Richter would never play for them, but when they technically “lost” him to the Rangers, they got a free draft pick from the league for their troubles. They did the same with another one of their expansion picks, Uwe Krupp.
(By the way, that same rule led to Richter departing New York a second time, this time in a trade to the Oilers in 2002. Once again, he simply re-signed with the Rangers a few days later.)
Mathieu Schneider, 2000
In addition to being a very good defenseman for most of his career, Mathieu Schneider is one of the great “played for everyone” guys of his generation. He had a 20-year career, during which he played for a staggering 10 different teams. He was traded seven times, in deals involving everyone from Kirk Muller to Wendel Clark to Sean Avery. He got around.
So you’d assume that he must have suited up for an expansion team at least once. Nope. But he was drafted by one in 2000, when the Blue Jackets joined the league.
Schneider had finished up the 1999-2000 season with the Rangers, because apparently they need to be involved in every one of these things. He was scheduled to hit UFA status, so you can probably see where this is going. Yes, it’s another one of those shady compensation pick deals, in which the Blue Jackets wound up claiming a fourth-rounder in the 2001 draft after Schneider signed with the Kings later that summer.
The Blue Jackets probably didn’t mind too much, since Schneider was already 31 at the time and only had a few years left in him. “A few” ended up being a full decade’s worth; he played until 2010.
As a side note, the Blue Jackets ended up flipping that fourth-round pick to the Panthers in a deal that brought Ray Whitney to Columbus. So in a sense, Whitney and Schneider were sort of traded for each other. I’m not sure how many trades in NHL history involve two players who could account for 42 seasons and 18 teams, but I’m guessing it’s not many.
Mike Vernon, 2000
We’ll close with yet another goaltender, since there’s something about the position that just seems to attract expansion draft shenanigans. Marc-Andre Fleury, keep your head up.
By the time the 2000 offseason rolled around, Vernon had just about done it all over the course of a long career. He’d won a Cup with two different teams, been a Vezina finalist, won the Jennings and the Conn Smythe, and pummeled Patrick Roy. He had a good run.
The one thing he hadn’t done was get picked in an expansion draft. The Minnesota Wild took care of that, plucking him from the Florida Panthers in a move that made everyone go “Wait, Mike Vernon once played for the Florida Panthers?”
He did, for a few games at the end of the 1999-2000 season. But he never played for the Wild. They turned around and traded him that same day, sending him home to Calgary to finish his career. Other familiar names that were picked by the Wild and then immediately traded include Joe Juneau and Chris Terreri.
As for Vernon, he played parts of two more seasons in Calgary before retiring as a Flame in 2002.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.