Everything You Need to Know About an NHL Expansion Draft

NHL expansion draft
NHL expansion talk is heating up and might be happening sooner than you think. Here is everything you need to know about a potential NHL expansion draft.

Expansion is coming! Or at least, the announcement about whether it is or isn’t happening is coming.

With the NHL having to announce its intentions on NHL expansion soon, there is already speculation about how this affects NHL teams and the potential problems it could cause. Some of the details are still a bit unclear but for the most part, the NHL has outlined the general process of what will happen if they do decide to expand. Here is your go-to guide for everything you need to know about a potential NHL expansion draft.


One of the most important questions: When will we know if the NHL is going to expand?

While many cities had (and still have) interest in an NHL team, only two cities officially applied to be admitted, Las Vegas and Quebec. Currently, Las Vegas holds the best shot at being granted an NHL team as Bill Foley, the man behind the expansion bid for Vegas, has shown his immense dedication to owning and operating a hockey team in Vegas. Already with an NHL arena and a very successful ticket drive, showing there’s a market for a team, Vegas is most likely going to be awarded a franchise.

However, an NHL team heading back to Quebec is much more uncertain. The market and fanbase is there to support the Nordiques return to the NHL but the falling Canadian dollar severely hurts Quebec’s bid. There’s no doubt that there are enough fans craving hockey in Quebec but the Canadian dollar makes the NHL reluctant to place another team in Canada.


We don’t exactly know when but the formal plans for NHL expansion will be announced very soon. The NHL Board of Governors will meet and vote on NHL expansion on June 22 and there they will decide the specifics of how the process will take place. In order for a team to officially enter the league, the Board of Governors must agree and approve on expansion.

As reported by Bob McKenzie, the Board of Governors will vote on one of four options, which will be either: no expansion, expansion but pushed to a later date, expansion by one team, or expansion by two teams. The only two cities that are being considered for expansion are Las Vegas and Quebec.

If expansion does occur, an expansion team would likely start playing by the beginning of the 2017-18 season. The NHL does have the option of waiting a year and have teams enter during the 2018-19 season but that seems less than ideal for the NHL.

For one, Bill Foley has already invested lots of time and resources into a potential NHL franchise in Las Vegas. The NHL might not want to force him to wait another year, as he has been very patient and compliant with the long expansion process.

Also, NHL insider Elliotte Friedman shared thoughts and opinions on the potential problems in moving expansion to 2018.

“My personal guess is the NHL will expand to Las Vegas, but for 2018-19. However, a couple of GMs disagreed. ‘Bettman has made it clear any expansion team is going to be competitive,’ one said. ‘If we are given two years to prepare our rosters for a draft, that’s going to weaken the pool of players available to them.’

‘We all know the league hates no-move clauses,’ another added. ‘They don’t want to help teams who might escape some with an extra year. And, if you had a terrific rookie this past season, you want expansion next year if it’s going to happen. That way, you probably don’t have to protect that player. In two years, you will.’”

Everyone knows Gary Bettman loves parity in the league and it sure doesn’t sound like he wants to allow more time for general managers to brace themselves for an expansion draft.


The rules for a potential NHL expansion draft will be similar to previous drafts. Teams will have two options for who they will be allowed to protect: they can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or they can choose to protect eight skaters and one goalie.

Teams can only lose one player for each expansion team. For example, if only Las Vegas was awarded an NHL team, each existing NHL team could only lose at most one player.

First and second-year professional players will not have to be protected since they will be ineligible to be claimed by an NHL expansion team. Players who have played three or more years of professional hockey will be exposed unless otherwise protected by their team. This includes time in the AHL as well as the NHL.

There will be no restrictions on salary left protected or unprotected for existing NHL teams. The minimum cap-hit idea that was originally proposed was dropped and is no longer a requirement.

Any player with a no-movement clause in his contract will have to be protected by his NHL club. From Larry Brooks:

“Second, Slap Shots has learned that rules for the 2017 expansion draft that will precede Las Vegas’ anticipated 2017-18 admission to the league as its 31st franchise (“Done deal,” we’re told), will compel teams to protect players with no-move clauses even if they or the contracts themselves expire at the end of 2016-17.

This means if the expansion draft is held, say, on June 21, 2017, teams will be obligated to protect players who, a) would become unrestricted free agents 10 days later; or, b) would be able to be waived or traded 10 days later. “

However, players with no-trade clauses can be left unprotected and can be claimed by any expansion team.

Lastly, no expansion team would be guaranteed the first overall pick in the Entry Draft. Any NHL expansion team would enter the lottery just like every other team.

Final Thoughts

With so much work already done by the NHL and Bill Foley, I don’t see how the NHL wouldn’t expand. Vegas seems ready for an NHL team and it would be very exciting to see a new expansion draft with a team that would be much more competitive than the teams from years ago.

I also think expansion will happen as soon as possible at the end of the 2016-17 season. The NHL seems eager to admit Las Vegas and they don’t want to give the general managers more time to prepare for an impending expansion draft. So, my prediction is that Las Vegas gets approved as the only team to enter the NHL for the 2017-2018 season.

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