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Looking back at the 2000 NHL Expansion

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A look at what happened the last time the Pittsburgh Penguins had an expansion draft to deal with. If you like reading about Tyler Wright and Ian Moran, you're in luck!

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In blogging over the past year or so, one thing has become clear: fans love the NHL Expansion process. Learning the rules. Endlessly making and revising and debating the list of who should be protected. Working out far-flung scenarios and chopping it up.

So hey, let's steer into it today. The last time the NHL had an expansion draft was in the summer of 2000 when the league was welcoming in the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild. Through a Puck Daddy article, we found this link to an old Globe and Mail website (original publish date 6/14/2000, that's like a million years old in internet years!). This article has a list of all the players available to the expansion draft.

Also interesting, the draft was 6/21, so the list was released a full week prior. As of now (subject to change, I would think) the NHL general managers aren't planning on doing the same in 2017, though I suspect they'll change their tune...Or the lists will just leak to a McKenzie/Friedman/Lebrun type anyways.

Anyways, back on topic, let's check out the players the Penguins didn't protect in 2000. Get ready for a serious blast from the past.

Pittsburgh Penguins Forwards -- Jan Alinc, Josef Beranek, Dennis Bonvie, Rob Brown, Tom Chorske, Pat Falloon, Mikhail Kazakevich, Jiri Kucera, Stephen Leach, Ian Moran, Timo Seikkula, Mika Valila, Tyler Wright, Boris Zelenko. Defencemen -- Stefan Bergqvist, Jonas Andersson-Junkka, Peter Popovic, John Slaney, Dan Trebil. Goalies -- Tyler Moss, Peter Skudra, Ron Tugnutt.

The Pens ended up losing Jonas Junkka and Tyler Wright, who were both selected by the Blue Jackets. Minny and Columbus had a snake draft going so they actually had to strategize when to take certain players as to not lose out and have the other expansion team select the guy they wanted.

Junkka, research shows, was a 4th round pick of Pittsburgh in 1993 playing in the Finnish league. Why CBJ wanted a 25 year old who had no North American experience remains a mystery (and they even picked him earlier than Wright too!). Junkka did come over and play one season in America the following year in 2000-01, where he appeared solely for the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL (CBJ's farm team). Then as quickly and quietly as he began his NA career, he ended it and played a few more seasons in Sweden before retiring.

Wright, however, was a much more useful player. He had spent 4 seasons with Pittsburgh before Columbus selected him and he made the most of it, ending up the 4th highest scorer on CBJ in their initial campaign with 16 goals and 16 assists, both career highs at the time. Wright would stay with Columbus for 4 seasons and become one of their early cult-hero type players as a scrappy, determined underdog that embodied the franchise pretty well at the time. Wright was traded in 2006 to Anaheim as part of the deal that sent Sergei Fedorov to Columbus.

Also, though not selected in the expansion draft, the Blue Jackets also signed former Pens goalie Ron Tugnutt as a free agent and he led them in starts for the first two seasons of their franchise.

***

Some other Pens exposed (but not selected by CBJ or Minnesota) went on to have important 2000-01 seasons, best remember for the year Mario Lemieux un-retired and the Penguins made the playoffs for the last time in their run of 11 straight playoff years and just before the troubled times before the lockout.

Here's some of the more notable names that were exposed for selection, with 2000-01 NHL stats listed:

  • Josef Beranek 70 games, 9 goals, 14 assists...Beranek was the 2000-01 Pens 7th leading scorer (granted a pretty big drop-off from the names ahead of him). This would be Beranek's last season in America, as he returned to Czech and played an incredible 9 more seasons up to the age of 40.
  • Dennis Bonvie....Played 3 NHL games, probably better remembered for coming back to the Pens organization from 2005-08, being one of the most popular players in Wilkes-Barre history.
  • Rob Brown....Turned out 1999-00 was Brown's final season in the NHL. He went unclaimed in expansion so he went on to play (and put up a ton of points) for the AHL Chicago Wolves for three more years before calling it a career.
  • Ian Moran 40gp, 3g+4a....Possibly the biggest stunner to be exposed, Moran wound up an important defenseman on the 2000-01 Pens team, often partnered with Darius Kasparaits. He would play 3 more seasons with the Pens post-expansion draft before being traded to Boston. Certainly in hindsight a big expansion miss since he was a rare NHL level player open to be selected
  • Peter Popovic...Signed with Boston as a free agent, played one more NHL season before returning to Europe. Back in the days I was always enamored by Popovic, I think his sheer size at 6'6, 240 was impressive in my youth
  • John Slaney....Signed with Philadelphia and would stay with that organization for the rest of his NA career for several more seasons. Slaney was a straight up pimp in the AHL but never could quite stick and succeed in the NHL.
  • Dan Trebil: 16gp 0g+0a...Traded to St.Louis by PIttsburgh in 2000-01 in what would be his final NHL season. Have almost no recollection of him as a player, about the definition of just a guy filling a spot

So there you have it, 4 players exposed and not selected that played for Pittsburgh the following season (Beranek, Moran, Trebil, Bonvie). However what really stands out (if you click the link at the top of the article) is how untalented the list of players were across the league. Sure it's easy to see now with hindsight, but the talent pool that 2 teams had to pick from was really lacking.

It showed on the ice- Columbus was the definition of a cellar-dweller in their first 4 seasons (prior to the 2004-05 lockout) finishing 13th, 15th, 15th and 14th in a 15 team Western Conference. The Wild went a different strategy and trapped, hooked and held their way to about unwatchable hockey. It was somewhat effective though as they made the playoffs (and even won 2 rounds!) in just their second season. However that was very much the outlier as they'd go on to miss the playoffs 6 of the next 8 seasons after that point.

Since rules of the expansion draft have changed and there's salary cap considerations now involved, I'm not sure there's a ton of lessons to learn, more just an interesting look back in history. The Las Vegas franchise is fortunate that they will have a better talent pool to pick from, but it's probably going to be a long build for them to become a solid NHL franchise on the ice.