NHL to unveil protected and available player lists for expansion draft

Confetti streams above the crowd during an event to unveil the name of Las Vegas' National Hockey League franchise. (John Locher/AP)

Call it a victory for the people.

The NHL has decided to change course and publicly release the list of protected and available players during the June expansion draft.

The decision was made after "further consideration of views and feedback we received on the subject," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Sportsnet. "Not from the Clubs, but from media and public."

What he’s referring to is the public outcry that surfaced earlier this month when the league suggested those lists would likely remain private. That was the overwhelming preference of general managers when polled during their meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., and Daly said afterwards he was inclined to agree with them.

However, the notion of a 72-hour dark period between when teams were scheduled to submit their protected lists on June 17 and the Vegas Golden Knights would finalize their selections on June 20 didn’t sit well with many fans and observers.

Worse still, some of the information was bound to get out during that window. Perhaps a team’s list would leak here or there, and maybe there’d even be errors in reporting about the availability (or not) of a specific player.

It could have been messy.

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Now the NHL will impose uniformity to the process – with the public finding out which players are on the protected and available lists simultaneous with the existing 30 teams. That is expected to occur on June 18, although the timing hasn’t been finalized.

Under the expansion rules, teams can either protect seven forwards, three defencemen and a goalie or eight skaters (forwards/defencemen) and a goalie. At least two forwards, one defenceman and one goalie meeting specific experience and contractual requirements must be exposed by each team.

The decisions made by the 30 GMs are certain to be scrutinized closely once the lists are revealed.

It could be an uneasy time for any players made available who haven’t been previously informed of their fate – especially with the volume of speculation bound to be set on high.

The task facing Golden Knights GM George McPhee and his staff in the expansion draft is anything but straightforward. They will be piecing together a complex puzzle.

While they are required to select a player from all 30 teams, only 20 of them need to have a contract for 2017-18 – meaning Vegas will almost certainly take free agents, some of whom they may not even intend to sign.

Others could be claimed and flipped for futures in trades, with the Golden Knights having little use for 30 waiver-eligible players in a league that uses a 23-man active roster.

Then there are the trades Vegas can make in the intervening months to stockpile assets by either promising to take a specific player in the expansion draft or not take a specific player. McPhee has had numerous conversations along those lines and is already believed to be unofficially lining up some deals.

"I think we’re going to get a little bit of everything in this experience," McPhee said earlier this month. "I can’t tell you what it’s going to look like when we’re done. We’re just going to go in really well prepared and do our best."

Fortunately, the public is going to get a much better view into the process than originally expected.