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Cost of expansion: A look at players the Penguins have lost over the years

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Expansion teams pay to get into the NHL, and then they make NHL teams pay by taking player(s)

2017 NHL Awards And Expansion Draft Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

The times have changed over the years, and so has NHL franchise fees and the caliber of player that the new teams to the league have been able to poach from the existing clubs.

Take this report today from Seth Rorabaugh at the Trib, who pointed out it cost $2 million in 1967 for the Pittsburgh Penguins to establish themselves with a spot in the NHL. Even adjusted for inflation that’s only about $16.2 million in 2021 dollars. Franchise values and prices have gone up exponentially lately, with $80 million in fees in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s for teams like the Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators and Atlanta Thrashers to get their entry.

The Vegas Golden Knights ponied up a whopping $500 million in 2017 to join the league. The cost was even steeper for the Seattle Kraken, who anted up $650 million in payments completed this year to get established.

The grand shift in prices has also come with a kingly difference in what the expansion teams get. Even in 2000 for the Columbus+Minnesota expansion draft, existing teams got to protect, either one goaltender, five defensemen, and nine forwards or two goaltenders, three defensemen, and seven forwards.

In the 2017 and 2021 expansion, teams can only protect eight skaters (so, four defense + four fowards) and one goalie or seven forwards, three defense and one goalie. The difference is staggering. Vegas’ $500 million also bought them amnesty from participating in the 2021 draft. Seattle also doesn’t have to worry, since the league isn’t expected to expand again past 32 teams for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, the Pens and their 1967 expansion brethren were on the chopping block starting with the 1970 expansion.

Let’s go back through history to see who has been claimed from Pittsburgh over the years.

1970 (Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks)

Pittsburgh lost defenseman Tracy Pratt, who did little with the Pens but developed into an NHL all-star with Buffalo. The other selections lost by the Pens (Mike McMahon, Jean-Guy Legace, Doug Barrie) all also went to Buffalo but did little there at the NHL level. Vancouver took no players from Pittsburgh.

1972 (Atlanta Flames and New York Islanders)

Just look at this robust Pittsburgh protected list, via Wikipedia:

Pittsburgh: goaltenders - Cam Newton and Jim Rutherford; skaters - Syl Apps, Larry Bignell, Dave Burrows, Steve Cardwell, Darryl Edestrand, Nick Harbaruk, Bryan Hextall Jr, Sheldon Kannegiesser, Rick Kessell, Al McDonough, Greg Polis, Jean Pronovost, Duane Rupp, Ron Schock and Bryan Watson.

The Pens lost three players, and again one of the expansion teams (the Islanders this time) took none of their players. The lost players were all to Atlanta in: Keith McCreary John Stewart and Bob Leiter. McCreary was the the most notable, becoming Flames’ first captain and spending three seasons there.

1974 (Kansas City Scouts and Washington Capitals)

Washington selected Yvon Labre with the eighth pick. Labre would be a key early Capital, playing in DC for seven seasons and serving as a team captain and even having his number retired. Kansas City snagged Ted Snell and Robin Burns. Burns had zero goals in parts of three seasons with Pittsburgh, he did score 31 total goals in his two seasons with KC before retiring.

1979 (Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, Winnipeg Jets)

This draft came on the heels of the NHL/WHA merger and was quite the flurry of complicated activity with NHL teams re-claiming WHA players whose NHL rights they possessed and then losing players to the WHA teams after that. Confused? Good.

The end result was Pittsburgh lost Paul Baxter to Quebec, though Baxter would end up back with the Pens the next season. The Pens then lost Morris Lukowich to Winnipeg. Tom Edur, Way Bianchin and went Colin Campbell to Edmonton. Campbell is the most famous for his post-playing NHL executive career.

1991 (San Jose Sharks)

This was another unconventional process with the Minnesota North Stars owners buying a franchise in San Jose and dispersing the Minnesota team in the process. The Pens lost Randy Gilhen to SJ, he would go onto have a brief NHL career but never played for the Sharks.

1992 (Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning)

For the first time (but not last), the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Penguins had to deal with expansion. They lost backup goalie Wendall Young to Tampa on the second pick of the expansion draft and then defenseman Peter Taglianetti a bit later. Tampa would trade Taglianetti back to the Pens the following March for a third round pick so that the Pens could boost their defensive depth for the ill-fated third straight championship run. Ottawa is another expansion team who got nothing from the Pens.

1993 (Florida Panthers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim)

The Pens lost defenseman Paul Laus to Florida, who ended up lasting through 2001-02 with the Panthers. Pittsburgh also lost forward Troy Loney to Anaheim, who was out of the league by 1995.

1998 (Nashville Predators)

It was a wild 12 months for Tony Hrkac. He started the 1997-98 season in Dallas and ended up back there, but in between was crazy. He was traded from Dallas to Edmonton during the season. Then in the off-season the Oilers traded Hrkac to the Pens just days before the expansion draft, where Nashville’s picked him away from Pittsburgh. The Predators quickly flipped Hrkac back to the Dallas in time for the 1998-99 season. What a whirlwind! Hrkac at least got to stay in Dallas for all of ‘98-99 but then went onto play for three more NHL teams in the three seasons as his playing days winded down.

1999 (Atlanta Thrashers)

History repeated with a second Atlanta NHL expansion team picking from the Pens. This time they took 25 year old forward Maxim Galanov, who played one year with the Thrashers, before moving onto Tampa the following year and then back to Russia for the rest of his career.

2000 (Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild)

Columbus took defenseman Jonas Junkka, a player who didn’t play in North America prior or after to the expansion draft. The Blue Jackets then selected forward Tyler Wright who played 309 games with the Blue Jackets and was probably the biggest pre-Rick Nash “face of the franchise” that they had.

2017 (Vegas Golden Knights)

You may remember this one:

Vegas Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre Fleury And Peter DeBoer Help Load Donated Bikes For Charity Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

2021 (Seattle Kraken)

We will learn next week who the latest expansion draft casualty is, with protection lists due on Sunday. No matter who Pittsburgh protects, they have more useful players than spots to shield Seattle away from getting a good player. Whether that might be along the likes of Jason Zucker, Teddy Blueger, Brandon Tanev, Zach Aston-Reese, Marcus Pettersson, Mike Matheson or Casey DeSmith, Seattle will have multiple attractive options including most, if not all of the names above, to consider which player their hefty expansion fee has entitled them to taking.

There you have it, a full and complete history of the losses the Pens have suffered welcoming new franchises to the league over the years.