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NHL expansion draft adds trade wrinkle for Coyotes, other teams

Newly appointed Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka speaks at a news conference announcing his promotion as head coach Dave Tippett listens, Thursday, May 5, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. Chayka is the youngest GM in NHL history. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Doing deals at the NHL’s trade deadline was already difficult due to cap constraints and a tight bunching of teams in the standings that made it hard for some GMs to decide which direction they wanted to go.

The upcoming expansion draft made it even harder, Coyotes general manager John Chayka said.

“I think it did have a chilling effect on (non-rental) hockey trades,” Chayka said. “There really weren’t that many interesting rentals out there so discussions quickly turned to expansion issues that teams might or might not have. For us, we were trying to make some other moves but teams had expansion limitations.”

The June 21 expansion draft for the Vegas Golden Knights has added an unfamiliar and somewhat unpredictable wrinkle to the trade waters this season. NHL general managers have started holding conversations with Vegas GM George McPhee, but it’s hard to predict which direction he will go with his selections.

Clubs will have two options for protecting players in the expansion draft: They can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, or eight skaters (forwards and defensemen) and one goaltender.

All players who have no-movement clauses in their contracts at the time of the expansion (and who decline to waive those clauses) must be protected and count toward a club’s protection limits. First- and second-year pros, as well as unsigned draft choices, are exempt from selection and don’t count toward a club’s protection limits.

Chayka said GMs were reluctant to add players they might have to protect when they are already struggling to determine which current players they want to protect. Chayka did not name teams, but Minnesota (with whom the Coyotes made two other deadline-day deals), Columbus and Anaheim are three examples of teams with protection numbers issues.

That creates additional opportunities for Vegas and other clubs that don’t have issues. McPhee recently told TheAthletic.com that the Golden Knights could use that leverage over teams like the defense-heavy Ducks to make deals.

“Don’t want us to lift [Josh] Manson off your roster?” McPhee said. “Make us an offer we can’t refuse.”

The Knights aren’t the only team that can leverage the expansion draft, even if they will be the most influential. The Coyotes don’t face significant protection concerns at the expansion draft.

If Arizona chooses the seven forward, three defensemen, one goaltender option, it could protect forwards Jamie McGinn, Jordan Martinook, Anthony Duclair, Tobias Rieder, Brad Richardson, defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Connor Murphy and goalie Mike Smith while leaving defenseman Luke Schenn exposed. That could mean as many as two protected-forward slots available (if they expose Alex Burmistrov). Those could be filled through trades with teams burdened by a surplus of players to protect who would at least like to get some return on those assets.

While those players likely would not be core pieces of other teams, they could be helpful NHL players.

“Some teams have significant protection issues because they’re very good teams and those are good issues to have, but it could create opportunities,” said Chayka, who added three more high draft picks (the third is conditional) in the Martin Hanzal trade with Minnesota, and a third-round pick (plus a conditional fifth-round pick) in the Michael Stone trade with Calgary. “We are one of the few teams, depending on how you structure it, that has available protection slots. We have an opportunity where we have a lot of expansion exempt assets, whether it’s picks or prospects or young NHL players. That’s our currency.”

Chayka also acknowledged the possibility that some of the picks the Coyotes have acquired could be used for deals at the NHL Draft this summer in Chicago to bolster their NHL or prospect ranks, but the expansion draft is the more immediate focus.

“It’s a unique event with a lot of variables,” he said.

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