Tuesday, June 28, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The four expansion teams that entered the NHL within the last 20 years have played 67 seasons collectively, and managed only two division titles, seven playoff series victories and no Stanley Cup Finals appearances.
Owner Bill Foley isn’t concerned about his Las Vegas expansion franchise, which will begin play in the 2017-18 season, starting with similar struggles. Foley sees edges for his new team that weren’t there for the Nashville Predators (1998), Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets (1999), Columbus Blue Jackets (2000) and Minnesota Wild (2000).
“Expanding four teams in three years tapped the market,” he said. “It’s to our advantage that it’s only us, and we’re the first expansion team since the salary cap came into play.”
Foley has stuck to a desired timeline of his team being competitive immediately, making the playoffs within three years and winning the Stanley Cup within eight years virtually ever since announcing his intention to bring a team here. He thinks those goals have only become more realistic since details involving next year’s expansion draft have emerged.
Las Vegas will select one player from each of the 30 existing teams, each of which can only protect one goalie, three defensemen and seven forwards, or eight total skaters and one goalie.
“This is going to be a deeper expansion draft than we’ve ever had before,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said at last week’s announcement.
And Foley knows how he wants to approach it, even though he’s yet to hire a general manager or fill any other front office spots. Ever since he received confirmation on the draft particulars, Foley has pored over salary-cap roster websites like generalfanager.com and capfriendly.com on a near-daily basis.
He’s concluded that Las Vegas is going to be able to land a pair of “really good goalies” supplemented with a strong defense.
“It’s what the draft is giving us,” Foley said. “I’d love to have offensive powerhouse, juggernaut like the Penguins, but it took them a long time to get there. We’re going to have to work our way into that.”
Immediate offensive help could come from the pool of unrestricted free agents. The team must spend 60 to 100 percent of the salary cap, expected to be somewhere from $74 to $75 million, on the expansion draft.
Foley hints it might fall on the lower end, as he’s impressed by the projected set of free agents and believes he won’t have trouble luring players to Las Vegas.
“We’re going to have money to spend, so we can look at who’s out there,” Foley said. “I’m twice this age, but I don’t want a bunch of 35- or 36-year-olds that play a couple years, and then they’re done. We’ll have some veterans on the team to help the younger guys, but we need to be a younger-oriented team.”
The expansion draft will be right before the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, where the team will be guaranteed a pick within the top six with chance of earning No. 1 overall in the lottery. To properly prepare, Foley is hard at work assembling an international scouting team.
He said initial plans included hiring a scout in Russia, eastern Europe, western Europe and Scandinavia to go with multiple scouts covering both college hockey and the amateur ranks in both Canada and America.
“We’re going to have a bunch of scouts because we need to get ready,” Foley said. “We’re not trying to draft five players; we’re trying to build a team.”
Hockey employees will need to realize they’re going to work for an owner who plans to be heavily involved. Foley has worked on his own to get a head start, because he wants to construct a contender.
And he wants to construct it faster than the typical expansion franchise.