As much as it might seem like a bad idea to those who’d rather see an NHL team in Quebec City or Hamilton as opposed to another franchise based in the desert, the movement to bring an NHL expansion team to Las Vegas – a city that is a popular tourist destination for millions of reasons, but has no professional sports team – is gaining serious steam. As of this writing, the city’s season ticket drive has hit 9,000 deposits, and prospective owner Bill Foley apparently plans on requesting that the NHL grant the city a team if the goal of 10,000 is reached. Although there are reports that momentum has slowed noticeably for that ticket drive, the history of NHL expansion under Gary Bettman has proven that this idea is not at all far-fetched. With that in mind, we’ll be counting down the top 10 players who could be left both unprotected by their original teams and swooped by a new franchise in Vegas.
Whether it’s players that might be surplus to requirements, or teams looking to shed big contracts that could therefore be used for expansion teams to reach the cap minimum, there are plenty of players that could help usher in the era of Las Vegas in the NHL. In the case of the players whose big contracts have their teams begging to shed them, they bring valuable playoff experience and could easily captain a Las Vegas franchise even if they’re now a shadow of the players they used to be. In other cases, they could be players that could make a big impact if they’re given the chance, but whose current teams likely won’t do that for them. No matter the case, they’d be embraced by a team just entering the NHL in Sin City. Here are the 10 most likely candidates for being selected by a Las Vegas expansion team, ranked by their cap hit for the 2014-15 NHL season.
10. Matt Martin – New York Islanders
Arguably one of the most rough and tumble players in the league, Matt Martin isn’t known for his scoring ability but can hit with the best of them, holding the league record for most hits in a season with 374 in 2011-12. The native of Windsor, ON is therefore perhaps not high on the New York Islanders’ list of priorities in terms of which forwards they protect, and his toughness would be very much appreciated on a Las Vegas expansion franchise. Martin currently has a cap hit of just $1 million this season with the Isles, under contract with the team until 2016.
9. Matt Bartkowski – Boston Bruins
Perhaps the least well-known of a fairly stacked top-six defense in Boston, Matt Bartkowski currently makes the least amount of money of the top-six as well, with a cap hit of $1.25 million this year before he becomes a UFA after the season. As for his playing abilities, he’s a good puck mover and skater, but his point totals are nothing to write home about, as he’s on pace for only five assists for the remainder of the season. In the role of a depth defenseman, he would be a good fit for a Vegas team that would need exactly that.
8. Joe Colborne – Calgary Flames
Perhaps more was expected of Joe Colborne once he came out of college and into the NHL with the Leafs, and then the Bruins, and now with his hometown Calgary Flames. His point production is good enough for a top six winger role in Calgary, but it’s perhaps not good enough for many other teams, therefore Colborne could maybe fit right into the top six of a Vegas expansion franchise. Through this season, Colborne’s cap hit comes at around $1.28 million for the Flames. He’s still only 25 and putting up almost half a point per game on average, so Colborne might be a good option as an offensive weapon for an expansion team.
7. James Reimer – Toronto Maple Leafs
Being picked up in the expansion draft by a Las Vegas team would not only create a new opportunity for James Reimer, but would probably also cause him to breathe a huge sigh of relief. Reimer has taken all kinds of heat from the Toronto media and fans, so much that his wife April has been the victim of cyberbullying from angry Leafs fans. Taking turns with Jonathan Bernier and not winning a ton of games this season has certainly done a number on Reimer’s confidence, and the goalie with a cap hit of $2.6 million this year would appreciate the chance to be a number one elsewhere.
6. Tom Gilbert – Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens defense has a number of different guys who aren’t named P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov or Jeff Petry fighting for ice time right now, and one of them is offseason acquisition Tom Gilbert. Following the trade of fan favourite Josh Gorges to Buffalo, the Habs needed someone to step in, and Gilbert was inked as a free agent with a cap hit this year of $2.8 million. Known for being a solid offensive defenseman particularly during his years in Edmonton, his numbers in Montreal have been a far cry from that, with just 11 points in 69 games. Being picked up by an expansion team might help him regain his mojo.
5. Kevin Klein – New York Rangers
Let’s get one thing out of the way: the Rangers’ defense is absolutely stacked. Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Keith Yandle, Dan Girardi, Dan Boyle and Kevin Klein all make for a defense corps that is easily among the best in the league – if not the best. The latter of those six is Kevin Klein, who may be the odd man out at an expansion draft, as the Rangers obviously couldn’t protect all of their d-men. Klein, with his cap hit of $3 million this year, would have a much bigger role in Vegas, and has put up a fairly high 26 points in 65 games for the Rangers this season despite a reputation for inconsistency through his career.
4. Jan Hejda – Colorado Avalanche
This defenseman who cut his teeth in the Czech league and in Russia before making it to the NHL has evolved into a heavy minute-logging, solid defensive d-man with a cap hit of $3.3 million this year playing for the Colorado Avalanche. As reliable as Jan Hejda can be, he’s far from gifted offensively, and is maybe not the highest on the depth chart of d-men for the Avalanche – a team who, with the exception of a few vets whose best days are behind them, are quite young. That said, Hejda’s defensive abilities would be welcomed in Vegas with open arms.
3. Rob Scuderi – Pittsburgh Penguins
With the exception of a few seasons spent in Los Angeles – and a cup win in the process while there – Scuderi’s also won a cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that drafted him in 1998 and with whom he’s spent most of his career. Therefore, it’s hard to imagine this veteran shutdown defenseman playing for many other teams in this league. However, Scuderi is 36 years of age with a $3.4 million cap hit, and an expansion franchise from Las Vegas would be wise to jump on the opportunity for some added experience on the blueline – especially if he knows what it takes to win a Stanley Cup more than once.
2. Vincent Lecavalier – Philadelphia Flyers
Oh, how Vinny Lecavalier has become a shadow of his former self. The Stanley Cup-winning Flyers forward has only 18 points so far in 52 games this season as it comes to a close, which is obviously nowhere near what he’s usually capable of despite the fact that he’s now 34 years of age. This fact alone makes it attractive for a Las Vegas team to pick him up, as he would not only have a new chance of being an impact forward for a team, but would bring veteran experience and leadership to a new club. His $4.5 million cap hit would help the team reach the cap minimum, too.
1. Alexander Semin – Carolina Hurricanes
Speaking of hockey players that have fallen off the map as far as their offensive talents go, this one’s an even better example of that – and an even more costly one, at least for the Carolina Hurricanes. Alexander Semin has not at all been the player he once was as a Washington Capital, and it’s showed in the fact that he’s only gotten 17 points in 50 games so far as the season’s end draws near. His cap hit comes at a steep $7 million, and the Canes would love nothing more than to get rid of his contract to a Vegas team that would appreciate someone with the reputation of an offensive threat, even if he’s not showing it.
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