TORONTO – George McPhee was nowhere to be seen when NHL general managers gathered for their annual November meeting but his presence was certainly felt.
There were plenty of questions about the upcoming Las Vegas expansion process as teams continue to prepare for the construction of the league’s 31st team. The GMs were told that they’re free to speak with McPhee, who is assembling the Las Vegas roster, but won’t be able to complete transactions with him until the last expansion payment is processed.
That’s expected to come on March 1, which also happens to be when the trade deadline passes this season.
The NHL made it clear that there are no “wink, wink” side deals allowed. For example, if the Pittsburgh Penguins wanted to ensure that goalie Matt Murray isn’t claimed, they could trade an asset to Las Vegas to keep it from happening.
“Everybody talks about the Pittsburgh goaltending situation, but [they’re allowed to ask Vegas] not to take someone and we’ll give you ‘X,”’ said New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero. “Sure, those are deals.”
They would be complete with a trade call and the same kind of documentation that accompanies every exchange of players between teams. In the past, some of those transactions with expansion franchises were agreed to on the side.
On Monday, there were also some questions about what is permitted during the 48-hour window after Las Vegas receives the unprotected players list. McPhee and his staff will get a head start on talking to free agents in that period but one GM wondered what would happen if they made a side deal with a player to sign him on July 1 while also claiming someone from his former team in expansion.
The answer? It’s not allowed.
“Everything’s got to pass the smell test with the league,” said Shero.
“There’s circumvention in the CBA and I’m pretty certain what the rules are,” he added. “I certainly don’t want to be involved in that because I actually like my job and can’t afford the fine.”
The NHL and NHLPA have also finalized the list of players that are automatically protected from the expansion draft because of no-move clauses. They went through each case individually because there isn’t one uniform way those were written into standard player contracts.
They may pursue a trade with Las Vegas before the expansion draft to avoid losing a younger asset or simply take their medicine.
“I think we all have a pretty good idea of what’s at stake,” said Wild GM Chuck Fletcher. “I know for our team, we’re going to lose a good player and that’s the price you have to pay.”
McPhee is expected to attend the three-day GMs meeting in March when the expansion topic will take on a little more urgency.
“It’s going to be a situation where George and his staff will have a much better indication what they’re going to be looking at [in March],” said Shero. “We’ll get into some questions with him. It kind of makes it interesting what they can get for not taking a guy, or how it’s going to work, and the first time through expansion with guys with no-move clauses and so forth.
“A lot of things are in play, which makes it exciting.”
The main point of this meeting is to review trends emerging from the start of the season and set the table for the GMs meeting in March, where rule changes are often drafted.
To no one’s surprise, Rule 48 — governing illegal hits to the head — will be looked at again. The issue gained new legs after Leafs forward Nazem Kadri escaped suspension for levelling Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin on Nov. 5. There doesn’t appear to be consensus at this point about whether the wording of the rule needs to be tweaked.
Another potential change that St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong intends to table is switching to international rules for shootouts, which allows a player to take unlimited attempts once the first three shooters have gone.
That’s created some memorable international moments – Jonathan Toews scoring three times in a shootout win over the U.S. at the 2007 world junior championship and T.J. Oshie scoring four shootout goals against Russia at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, to name two – and it’ll get kicked around as a possibility for the NHL.
Fletcher remembers the 2007 world junior game well – “That was a lot of drama and they kept scoring, it was great,” he said – while Shero isn’t sure that it’s any less exciting to see the occasional game where the teams empty their benches.
“We get on TV when something goes 18 shooters, to be honest with you,” said Shero. “Everyone remembers the Marek Malik goal.”