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Will NHL teams learn important lesson from Vegas expansion draft?

NHL teams need to work together to ensure they can get through the Seattle expansion. A look at what that could mean for a player like Jason Zucker

NHL: MAY 04 Penguins at Flyers Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately”. That’s what Ben Franklin reportedly said after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Old Ben couldn’t have been thinking about the 2021 NHL Seattle expansion draft, but his words can be taken to heart all these years later for another summer event. Either the existing 30 NHL teams (besides Vegas, the special, protected newcomer) will work with each other, or they will watch Seattle pick them apart.

That’s what happened the last expansion with Vegas four years ago. NHL teams didn’t deal with each other, by and large, they worked with the Golden Knights to try and solve problems. Vegas was happy to take a bad contract here, a LTIR-retired player there — all in exchange for elite young players and high draft picks.

Vegas got one such pick, a second rounder, from the Penguins for the “burden” of taking the player they would have taken anyways in Marc-Andre Fleury. This wasn’t a decision made in a vacuum, and a lot of transactions have an emotional element. This one was to “do right by Fleury” and steer him to the place he wanted to go.

Fleury was a franchise icon and instrumental to help keep team chemistry up while he lost his job to a better player (also known as: being a professional), so it is somewhat understandable how and why Pittsburgh ended up actually paying a bounty to lose a good player last time around.

On the other hand, the job of managing the Penguins isn’t to do right by a player, it’s to have the team’s best interests in mind. Pittsburgh could have traded Fleury to a place like Calgary (where rumors were around) and gotten something for Fleury. Instead, they lost him for an extra price.

Expansion leads to ponderous decisions like that, how does a team lose more than they need to? For each team it makes sense, Florida gets to clear a salary and will give up a Jonathan Marchessault to do it. Anaheim needs to get rid of a defenseman and will send in an extra Shea Thedore for the trouble. Add it all up, and it became trouble as Vegas has been one of the best teams in the league upon simply existing.

Clearly Seattle will look to follow this path. And why wouldn’t they? NHL teams bent over backwards to give Vegas a hand up and get better than them.

NHL teams need to channel the words of Ben Franklin above and hang together.

Take the Pens for instance. On many a projected expansion list a top six winger like Jason Zucker is on it. There is no reason why an expansion team should be able to choose a player like Zucker, even if you’re down on him or think he’s overpaid, he’s a player likely to score 20-25 goals if he’s healthy next year. He has value, losing him for nothing would be a loss (especially after giving up a 2021 first round pick and a nice prospect for Zucker not too long ago).

Can the Pens trade Zucker and Tristan Jarry to Anaheim in addition to some other asset(s) (prospect, draft picks) for John Gibson? Our friends in Anaheim said the Ducks are desperately seeking NHL caliber scoring. Zucker only having two years left on his contract makes him a lot more attractive than signing a free agent for what would be a longer term. That helps the Pens by giving them a goalie upgrade, it gives the Ducks a bridge goalie in Jarry until their top prospect is ready. Looks like a win-win, instead of the Pens risking losing Zucker for nothing in return to expansion.

That’s just one scenario in a sea of many. If that doesn’t work for Anaheim or they just don’t want to trade Gibson, can the Pens make a deal for a team with too many good defensemen to protect (Minnesota, Nashville?) to help even out both teams? It’s certainly worth exploring.

Even if that option leads nowhere, a no-brain alternative would be to seek flipping Zucker to a bad team with cap space that feels a need to improve and doesn’t have enough quality NHL forwards to protect anyways (like Arizona, Buffalo, Detroit, LA, New Jersey, Ottawa, etc). These are the type of teams that should be the most active and aggressive right now, as their cap space opens up avenues to improve and the opportunity to pick up badly needed NHL caliber talent at a fair trading price.

Why let Seattle have all the fun? There are plenty of situations where teams can work smartly together to attempt to fulfill each other’s goals. Or, they can just do nothing and let Seattle pick them clean for nothing. Seems like an easy choice, no?

And there should be plenty of options and opportunities out there. A player as good as Zucker should not hit the exposed list for Pittsburgh, even though he probably will if no other moves are made. If NHL teams aren’t active in figuring it out first, Seattle is in a prime position to create another super-stong expansion team. Or, worse yet, the existing NHL franchises will make extra side-deals with Seattle and end up compounding the problem and create another Vegas-like monster.

It will be interesting to see how creative NHL GM’s will be this time around, and see how they apply what they have learned from the 2017 expansion and carry that forward to this summer’s latest process.

In the end, every team is going to have to lose something to Seattle, but there’s no reason that in the next three weeks teams can’t optimize what they can and figure out a way to minimize the extent of the loss.

Long story short: Ron Hextall be smart and plz try to trade Zucker to Anaheim for John Gibson before expansion. Ty.