Add another wrinkle to June’s expansion draft, as the Las Vegas franchise will have the right to talk with pending free agents well before they hit the open market.
ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that one of the expansion draft rules will see the Las Vegas club, which is yet to announce its name, will be given a 48-hour window in which they’re able to negotiate with free agents, both restricted and unrestricted, who have gone unprotected by their respective teams.
Allowing the Las Vegas team to negotiate with free agents who are left unprotected only makes sense, too. If this wasn’t a provision included in the draft’s rules, it would be entirely possible for Las Vegas to scoop up a pending free agent who goes unprotected — say goaltender Ben Bishop, a legitimate starting netminder who could be hitting the open market come July — only to lose that player come the start of free agency if the drafted player has no interest in playing in Las Vegas.
When the expansion franchise is built, it needs to know that the players it selects will absolutely be staying with the organization following the draft. If that’s not the case, then selections could be wasted and the NHL’s desire to give the Las Vegas franchise a legitimate chance at putting up some wins in their first campaign could go out the window.
This does provide an interesting opportunity for free agents, too. With Las Vegas being able to give the opening offer for those who go unprotected, free agents who go unprotected will be able to see what the market for them could offer, and not landing with the Las Vegas franchise through the expansion draft doesn’t necessarily keep them from signing with the club once free agency opens. Early insight won’t likely be a bad thing for pending free agents.
As for the teams that lose players, LeBrun confirmed that an unprotected player lost through the expansion as a restricted or unrestricted free agent will count towards their overall expansion draft loss. The rules require one player to be selected from each of the league’s 30 existing teams. If Bishop, for example, were to sign as a free agent during the 48-hour negotiation window, he would be the only player the Lightning would need to give up.
That makes Bishop one of the most interesting potential Las Vegas pre-expansion free agent signings and could see Tampa Bay keep him through the season despite rumors the club could trade him at some point this year. Unlike other starting netminders, Bishop could then be had by the Las Vegas organization for nothing more than his free agent worth, and it would benefit the Lightning as well, as Bishop wasn’t in the plans for the 2017-18 campaign and Tampa Bay wouldn’t lose any other players come the expansion draft.
It’s situations like Bishop’s that make the new rule so very interesting, but we’ll have to wait until June to see exactly how the 48-hour window plays out.
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