We anxiously anticipate the 2017 NHL expansion draft, wondering which players the Vegas Golden Knights will snatch from their 30 new neighboring franchises. We know Vadim Shipachyov and Reid Duke are already part of the team’s plans going forward, and that’s about it. The rest we find out June 21. The wait is suspenseful.
The Golden Knights did reveal a little piece of the roster puzzle Tuesday, however: their farm system. Vegas will indeed have an AHL affiliate club for 2017-18, as the Chicago Wolves announced their partnership with the Golden Knights this week. Roster runoff now has a place to go and develop.
But the arrangement raises several questions. The Wolves are a long-established AHL team, not a freshly unveiled 31st franchise, leaving their previous parent club, the St. Louis Blues, without an official farm team. The Blues announced this week they would still populate the Wolves’ roster with their players. That move makes plenty of sense from the Knights’ perspective, as they won’t have enough warm bodies after this summer to fill an AHL club yet, but it’s tougher to understand how the setup benefits the Blues. They will not control the Wolves’ operations, meaning they have no say over whether their players get the same ice time and developmental opportunities as the Vegas players will. And it’s only natural to assume a little bias, maybe just an unconscious one, toward Vegas farmhands since the Golden Knights will control the Wolves.
Blues GM Doug Armstrong even admitted to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the agreement wouldn’t be a good idea for the Blues long-term. It’s a one-year pact, with a brand-new AHL affiliate for the Blues all but guaranteed to be in place by 2018-19.
“I expect by the time we get into the summer, or at least by the fall, we will have determined a 31st franchise for our league, which will then give everyone a home,” AHL president Dave Andrews told THN Wednesday. “There are a lot of people involved in working through that over the next little while, and St. Louis is part of that process.”
None of the parties involved in the one-year arrangement with Vegas and Chicago seem worried about the affect on the Blues.
“I think everyone is comfortable with the arrangement in Vegas, including the Chicago Wolves and including George McPhee and including Doug,” Andrews said. “I know Doug has some other options in terms of where to place players, and all of it is really being put together with a view to us being at 31 teams for 2018-19.”
The assumption is St. Louis can lend players to other AHL clubs, too, ensuring proper ice time for everyone. Armstrong told the Dispatch he sees advantages to the synergy with Vegas because the club itself would have two talent pools feeding it and would thus yield a more competitive culture in which the players can develop.
OK. Sure. We can buy these theories. Still, the benefits sure seem to skew more toward Vegas than St. Louis. What if there’s another factor at play here? Armstrong and McPhee have a good relationship, and we know the NHL has greenlit teams to make side deals with the Golden Knights leading up to the expansion draft.
What if, in exchange for sharing the AHL club for one year, the Blues wind up with some cap relief courtesy of their new chums in Vegas? Restricted free agent Colton Parayko’s looming extension puts Armstrong in a real financial pickle. He needs breathing room and would surely love to shed underachieving center Jori Lehtera’s contract, which carries a $4.7-million cap hit for two more seasons. The Knights will inherit plenty of weighty contracts and ask for draft-pick compensation from the teams they help. What if, in the Blues’ case, the gift at the bottom of the Christmas tree was the Chicago Wolves?
Maybe it’s a silly conspiracy theory. But watch for the Golden Knights to make an expansion-draft pick that really benefits the Blues next month.
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