The history of the National Hockey League is a long and beautiful one, filled with interesting little snippets of information. With the league expanding for the first time in 17 years, making room for the Las Vegas Golden Knights, we thought it would be fun to look back at all the expansion teams and see which ones had the best opening year records and rank their point percentiles as well as look into the circumstances that lead to them.
The 1967 NHL Expansion
Hard to think that the original six were the only teams in the NHL as recently as 1967. With the collapse of the Brooklyn Americans during the 1942-1943 season, the NHL entered the Original Six era which lasted 25 years. This was the longest period in league history without any team relocation or expansion.
This all changed in 1967 when six teams were added, doubling the total number of teams and ensuring the Toronto Maple Leafs would never win a cup again. The six new teams were the Oakland Seals, the Los Angeles Kings, the Minnesota North Stars, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the St. Louis Blues who each payed $2m ($14.6m today) in franchise fees.
The 1967 NHL expansion draft was held in Montreal on June 6th 1967 and was the biggest expansion draft ever held. 120 players were to be picked to fill the six new teams’ rosters. Each original six team was able to protect one goaltender as well as eleven skaters from the draft while junior players were excluded.
The two first rounds were to be used to draft goaltenders. The draft order was drawn from the bowl of the Stanley Cup and was kept the same for every round. The Kings ended up getting the first pick overall, drafting Terry Sawchuk.
Many sports writers at the time described the draft as a “rummage sale” where only old & unwanted players were left unprotected. Boston was said to be the team who lost the most talent and the Canadiens were rumored to have made many backroom deals to protect important players.
All six expansion teams were put into the Western Conference which would guarantee four would make the playoffs and one would make the Stanley Cup final, in an attempt to legitimize these new teams.
The Oakland Seals, later renamed the California Golden Seals in 1970, won their first NHL game 5-1 vs the Philadelphia Flyers. Unfortunately for Oakland, they proceeded to lose their next 9, going 1-9-0 in their first 10 games while finishing last in the western division with a putrid record of 15-42-17 and a point percentile of just 31.76%. The Seals were never really popular in California and in 1976 they moved to Cleveland to become the Barons. Cleveland was not much better for the Barons as only two years later they were merged with the Minnesota North Stars.
Before the Penguins, Pittsburgh was home to an NHL team from 1925-1930 called the Pirates, who eventually moved to Philadelphia and collapsed. The name “Penguins” was picked through a contest & was inspired by the Pittsburgh Civic Arena nicknamed “The Igloo” due to its resemblance to, you guessed it, an igloo. The Penguins lost their first game 2-1 against the Montreal Canadiens & started their first ten games with an underwhelming record of 3-6-1. They eventually finished the season 27-34-13 with a point percentile of 45.27%, missing the playoffs.
Named after the famous song, the Blues actually tied their first ever NHL game with the Minnesota North Stars 2-2 and went 3-5-2 in their first ten games. After going 4-13-2, the Blues decided to fire their then coach Lynn Patrick & replace him with their now famous assistant coach, Scotty Bowman. A bold move to fire a head coach 19 games into a franchise’s existence, but clearly it paid off.
Bowman put up a winning record for the rest of the season and brought the team to the Stanley Cup final where they were swept by the Montreal Canadiens. The team finished the season with record of 27-31-16 and a point percentile of 47.3%.
Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings, with their purple and gold jerseys, were inspired by royalty. They won their first game 4-2 against another expansion team, the Philadelphia Flyers, and went a mediocre 4-4-2 in their first 10 games ever.
They eventually ended the season 31-33-10, with a point percentile of 48.65% and making the playoffs but losing in the first round to the Minnesota North Stars in a hard fought series that went the full 7 games.
Minnesota North Stars
The Minnesota North Stars began their first season in the NHL with a 2-2 tie against the St-Louis Blues and went 3-4-3 in their first 10 games. Unfortunately, the North Stars’ first season was marked by a tragic accident. On January 13th 1968, Bill Masterton was checked by Oaklands’s Larry Cahan & Ron Harris causing him to fall head first onto the ice. Sadly, Masterton passed away two days later becoming the first NHL player to die as a result of an on-ice injury.
To this day, the Bill Masterton award is given to the player who throughout the season best exemplified the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey. The North Stars did end up making the playoffs with a record of 27-32-15 and a point percentile of 46.62%. They were able to beat Los Angeles in the first round but were eliminated by the Blues in game 7 of the semi-finals.
Unfortunately for the state of Minnesota, it lost its hockey team in 1993. It was rumored that owner Norm Green’s wife threatened she would leave him if he didn’t move the team after a sexual harassment lawsuit surfaced & brought a lot of unwanted media attention into their lives. The North Stars eventually moved to the lone star state, making Dallas their new & permanent home.
You remember the Pittsburgh Pirates who moved to Philadelphia in 1930? Yeah well they only lasted one season as the Philadelphia Quakers ending the NHL’s presence in the state of Pennsylvania for what would be nearly another 4 decades. Luckily for Pennsylvania, the NHL came back with a bang in 1967, adding two teams to the keystone state including one in the city of brotherly love.
The Flyers lost their first NHL game 5-1 vs the California Golden Seals and went 4-4-2 in their first ten games. They did put up the best record of the six expansion teams going 31-32-11, one tie better than the Kings & good for a point percentile of 49.32%. Philly was ousted from the postseason in round one by the Blues.
14 Teams In 1970
The NHL expanded to 14 teams in 1970 when they welcomed the Buffalo Sabres and the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for a franchise fee of $6 million each ($37.8 million today).
The story of how the league decided who would pick first in the expansion draft, and the NHL draft the following day, is an interesting one. The NHL used a wheel, similar to one of roulette, with 36 numbers on it. One 2, two 3s, three 4s, four 5s, five 6s, six 7s, five 8s, four 9s, three 10s, two 11s and one 12. The two general managers had the choice to pick between numbers under seven or numbers above seven. If the wheel landed on 7 it was considered a draw and they would spin again.
Sabres GM Punch Imlach won a coin toss & opted to go with the numbers above 7. They first spun the wheel to determine who would pick first in the expansion draft. The wheel landed on 8 which meant the Sabres would get to pick first. They then spun the wheel to determine who would have the first overall pick in the 1970 NHL entry draft. The story goes that when Clarence Campbell, the president of the NHL at the time, spun the wheel for a 2nd time he believed the wheel had stopped on the number 1 giving the first overall pick to the Vancouver Canucks.
The only problem was that there was no number 1 on the wheel. The wheel had actually stopped on 11 giving the first overall pick in a dramatic fashion to the Buffalo Sabres. The pick became Gilbert Perreault who went on to score 512 goals, 814 assists for 1,326 points in 1,911 games over 17 seasons for the Buffalo Sabres while being inducted to the hockey hall of fame in 1990. As faith would have it Perreault put up those great numbers while wearing the number 11 on his jersey.
The Buffalo Sabres, named after the weapon of a leader, won their first NHL game against the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1. Although they went an uninspiring 2-7-1 in their first 10 games, they did end the season with a relatively mediocre record of 24-39-15, giving them a point percentile of 40.38%. Even with Perrault scoring 38 goals, a rookie record at the time, and 72 points, the Sabres missed the playoffs.
The Vancouver Canucks’ colors of blue, green and white were chosen to represent the water, trees and snow of Vancouver. They began their life in the NHL with a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings and went 3-5-2 in their first 10 games. The Canucks ended their inaugural season with a record of 24-46-8. missing the playoffs with a point percentile of 35.90%.
16 Teams in 1972
The 1972 expansion & amateur drafts were decided with much less excitement compared to the 1970 chaos. Both new GMs from the Atlanta Flames & New York Islanders agreed that a coin toss would decide who picked first. The winner would pick first in the amateur draft and have first pick of skaters in the expansion draft. The loser would have first pick of goalies in the expansion draft and first pick in the inter-league (waiver) draft. The first two rounds of the expansion draft were meant to draft goalies and the rest were for skaters. Each team was to select 21 players from the existing 14 teams with a limit of three players per team and a max of one goalie. The Islanders won the coin toss and picked Billy Harris first in the amateur draft.
New York Islanders
The fall of 1972 was an interesting one in the world of hockey. With the World Hockey Association set to launch and compete with the National Hockey League that year, the WHA had it’s eyes set on New York. County officials didn’t believe the WHA was a major league and wanted to implement an NHL team instead. The only problem was the New York Rangers weren’t to thrilled at the idea of another team coming in and sharing their market.
When the Rangers finally accepted that a team was coming whether they liked it or not, they chose to support the NHL expansion plan since they could ask for territorial compensation, an option they didn’t have with the WHA. Ergo, in 1972 the New York Islanders joined the NHL, paying a franchise fee of $6 million ($35.1 million today) plus a $5 million territorial fee ($29.2 million) to the Rangers.
The Islanders played their first NHL game against their expansion cousin the Atlanta Flames, which they lost 3-2. They started their first 10 games 2-7-1 & ended the season an awful 12-60-6 with a pathetic point percentile of 19.23%, obviously missing the playoffs.
When it was announced in 1972 that hockey would go to the South of the United States many people were skeptical. Nonetheless, the hockey experiment began in Atlanta with a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders. The Flames started their first ten games with a record of 3-6-1. Although being an expansion team, Atlanta sat on a relatively impressive 22-22-9 record after game 53. Unfortunately, the rest of the season fell apart and the Flames only won 3 of the remaining 25 games, finishing with a record of 25-38-15 & a point percentile of 41.67%, falling short of a playoff berth.
As many anticipated, the Flames struggled to attract fans averaging just 10,000 fans per game in their final seasons. In 1980, a group of Canadian businessman bought the Flames for $16 million ($93.7 million today) & moved them to Calgary. The Flames logo was switched from an “A” to a “C” but the Atlanta “A” is still used to identify their alternate captains, as a subtle shoutout to the franchise’s past identity.
18 Teams in 1974
Two more teams entered the league in 1974; the Washington Capitals & the Kansas City Scouts. This was the first expansion to happen while both the NHL and the WHA were operating simultaneously and the talent pool was highly diluted. Some claimed that the expansion was an outright failure at the time.
The Washington Captials debuted in the NHL with a 6-3 loss against the New York Rangers and went 1-8-1 in their first 10 games. The Caps season didn’t get much better, as they finished with a record of 8-67-5 and a point percentile of 13.13%, the worst of any expansion team in NHL history.
On March 28th 1975, in the fifth to last game of the season, the Capitals won their only road game of the year 5-3 against the fellow bottom-feeding California Golden Seals. In one of the more light-hearted moments of what was a difficult season, the Caps’ players signed a trash can in the locker room which they lifted as their Stanley Cup & took a lap around the ice.
Kansas City Scouts
The Scouts started their tenure in the NHL with a 6-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Scouts home arena was hosting the American Royal Rodeo and Livestock Show at the beginning of the season which forced them to play their first 9 games on the road. This no doubt contributed to their horrendous 1-8-1 record in their first 10 games. They ended the season with a putrid record of 15-54-11 and a point percentile of 25.63%, obviously missing the playoffs.
The Scouts struggled to bring in fans and in 1976 they moved to Colorado to become the Rockies. Even with Don Cherry coming to Colorado, with his “Come to the fights and watch a Rockies game break out!” slogan, the team couldn’t fill the stadium, and in 1982 they moved to New Jersey to become the Devils. Cherry would retire from coaching following his lone season in Colorado.
1979: WHA’s Collapse
The 1979-1980 NHL season was a crazy one. Many WHA teams were experiencing financial difficulties and in 1979 a merger was agreed upon which would see the NHL welcome the Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Winnipeg Jets and Quebec Nordiques to its competition pool. The other two WHA teams, the Cincinnati Stingers and Birmingham Bulls were paid $1.5 million ($5 million today) each to dismantle.
Although it was described as a merger, the agreement included many clauses that made it an expansion which favored the NHL. All four teams had to pay an expansion fee of $6 million ($20.2 million), which compared to what the teams in the 1970s payed in a decade with extremely high inflation, meaning it wasn’t to bad all things considered.
The NHL also decided to never recognize WHA records while also permitting teams who had owned the NHL rights to WHA players to retain those rights while feeling free to go ahead and fulfill those agreements as they pleased (for the most part). Luckily for the incoming teams, the NHL did permit them to protect two goalies and two skaters from being reclaimed. Two special cases were Wayne Gretzky & Gordie Howe.
Gretzky’s rights were not owned by any NHL team but under the rules set he would be placed in the NHL’s entry draft and most likely be the top pick, belonging to the Colorado Rockies. What saved a split between Gretzky & the Oilers was a personal services contract that Gretzky had signed with then owner Peter Pocklington, which he refused to void. The NHL eventually allowed the Oilers to keep Gretzky but in compensation were forced to pick last in every round of the 1979 entry draft.
Gordie Howe’s NHL rights were held by the Detroit Red Wings. Under the guise of a gentleman’s agreement, they decided to not select him which allowed the 51 year old to play with the Whalers.
On June 13th 1979, the expansion draft was held. Each NHL team was allowed to protect 15 skaters & 2 veteran goalies. The NHL teams received $150,000 ($500,000 today) for every player taken from them. These compensations were funded with the $6 million franchise fee that each WHA team had to pay.
In their first NHL season, the Edmonton Oilers were carried by their young superstar & future best player of all-time Wayne Gretzky. Losing their first game 4-2 against the Chicago Blackhawks kicked off a rough start to the Oilers’ NHL tenure, as they went 1-5-4 in their first 10 games. This did not stop Gretzky from scoring 51 goals & 86 assists, good for 137 points, to lead his team to a 28-39-13 record with a point percentile of 43.13% and a playoff berth in their inaugural NHL season.
Unfortunately, they were swept by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round. Gretzky did not win the Calder that year as the NHL judged that it wasn’t his rookie season. Who would have thought the NHL would want to keep an award out of the hands of a former WHA player? Just shocking for a league that refused to recognize WHA records. Although it is worth noting that he did end up winning the Hart Trophy.
In the Whalers first NHL season, 51 year old Gordie Howe laced up the skates for the last time in his career. Playing in all 80 games, he put up a respectable 15 goals & 26 assists for 41 points. The Whalers lost their first game 4-1 to the Minnesota North Stars and went 2-4-4 in their first 10 games. They eventually finished the season with a record of 27-34-19 and a point percentile of 45.63%, making the playoffs where they lost 3-0 against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Montreal Canadiens.
In 1994, owner Peter Karmanos purchased the franchise and promised to keep it in Hartford for at least 4 seasons. 2 years later, frustrated by low attendance and poor corporate support, he declared that if the team couldn’t sell 11,000 season tickets for the 1996-1997 season he would move the team. Finally, after low ticket sales and more complications, the Whalers moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, to become the Hurricanes in 1997.
The Jets lost their first NHL game to the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 and went 4-5-1 in their first 10 games. They would eventually end the season 20-49-11 with a point percentile of 31.88%, missing the playoffs.
In the mid 1990s, the Jets were struggling financially. Although they had a devoted fan base, they were the smallest market in the NHL with little in terms of corporate support. Furthermore, players were now able to demand to be payed in USD, which was trading at 1.40 Canadian Dollars in 1996, adding to the financial distress.
Eventually, the Jets were forced to sell to Steven Gluckstern & Richard Burke, who initially wanted to move the team to Minnesota after the twin-city lost the North Stars. The deal fell through and in 1996 the Winnipeg Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes who in 2014 were renamed the Arizona Coyotes.
The Nordiques wouldn’t of been included in the expansion if it wasn’t for the WHA insisting that all Canadian teams expand to the NHL. Thankfully for fans in Quebec city, they were included and in 1979 the Nordiques played their first NHL game, losing 5-3 to the Atlanta Flames.
They started their first 10 games with a 3-5-2 record and ended the season with a point percentile of 38.13%, good for a record of 25-44-11 & dead last in the Adams Division. One of the major storylines in the Nordiques history is the drafting and immediate trade of Eric Lindros. Lindros, who was drafted by Quebec in 1991, refused to play for the team stating distance, language and lack of marketing opportunity as his reasons. He would never wear the jersey and was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, goaltender Ron Hextall, defensemen Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman and “future considerations” (which eventually became enforcer Chris Simon), two first-round picks and $15 million USD.
In 1995, under many of the same economic circumstances that moved the Jets in addition to political and language issues that were brought up by the 1995 Quebec referendum, the team was sold and moved to Colorado to become the Avalanche. To add insult to injury for Quebec fans, the club won a Stanley Cup in its very first year as the Avalanche in 1996.
The 1991 Expansion
In 1990 , George Gund III and Gordon Gund, the owners of the Minnesota North Stars, were putting pressure on the NHL in the hopes to relocate their team to the San Francisco Bay area. The NHL denied their request as they wanted to collect an expansion fee, which they wouldn’t receive from a relocation.
The Gunds did manage to strike a deal with the NHL that would have them sell the North Stars for $31.5 million ($56.6 million today) and pay $50 million ($89.8 million today) to place a team in the Bay area, where the Gunds were once partners in the Oakland team. As a result, the San Jose Sharks arrive in 1991, giving the northern California its first NHL franchise since the Golden Seals left in 1976.
Part of the deal allowed the Sharks to draft 14 skaters and 2 goalies from the Minnesota North Stars roster, which would be done through what would be known as a dispersal draft. Before the dispersal draft, Minnesota was able to draft 14 skaters and 2 goalies who had played at least 50 games in the 1989-1990 NHL season.
Those players would be protected from the Sharks who were in turn able to pick 14 skaters and 2 goalies from the remaining members of the North Stars’ roster. The remaining roster spots on both teams would be filled through an expansion draft where the other NHL teams could protect 16 skaters and two goalies.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks held a contest to decide on their new name. The winning name was the “the Blades” but due to the large shark population in the area management overruled the contest results & settled on that name. They started their first NHL game with a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks and went 1-9-0 in their first ten games. They eventually ended the season with a rather underwhelming record of 17-58-5 and a point percentile of 24.38%, evidently missing the playoffs.
The 1992 Expansion
Two more teams joined the NHL in 1992; the Ottawa Senators and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Every team. except the San Jose sharks who were exempt from the expansion draft altogether having just joined in the previous season, had to protect 14 skaters and 2 goalies and make available at least 1 goalie who had played at a minimum of one NHL game in the 1991-1992 season. Teams knew about this rule ahead of time which led to some goalies playing games they otherwise wouldn’t have. For example, the Chicago Blackhawks started Ray Leblanc in the only NHL game of his career. This allowed them to protect Ed Belfour, Dominik Hasek & Jimmy Waite. Ottawa would pick first and Tampa would follow up at 2nd.
The inaugral NHL season was a difficult one for the Ottawa Senators. Despite winning their first game 5-3 against the Montreal Canadiens, the eventual cup champs that season, the Sens ended up going 1-9-0 in their first 10 games. They ended the year with an NHL worst 10-70-4 record along with a dreadful point percentile of 14.29%. They set three NHL records that season:
The longest home losing streak of eleven, the longest road losing streak, totaling 38 games, and the fewest road wins in a season, earning just one victory away from Ottawa. Needless to say, it was their worst season in franchise history & arguably the worst season in the entire NHL’s history.
Tampa Bay Lightning
In 1992, their first NHL preseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning started Manon Rhéaume, still to this day the only women to have played a game in one of the 4 major North-American pro-sports leagues (NHL/MLB/NBA/NFL).
The Lightning won their first season game 7-3 against the Chicago Blackhawks and went a respectable 4-5-1 in their first 10. However, things got worst from there for the Lightning as they finished the season 23-54-7 with a point percentile of 31.55%, missing the playoffs.
The 1993 Expansion
In 1993, both the Florida Panthers and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim joined the league. The expansion draft was held in Quebec city and was a relatively simple one. Each of the 24 teams in the league were allowed to protect 1 goaltender, 5 defensemen and 9 forwards. There was also a second phase of the expansion draft where Tampa Bay, Ottawa and San Jose were able to select two players each. Florida and Anaheim were able to protect 1 goaltender, 5 defensemen and 10 forwards.
In 1992, Blockbuster video magnet Wayne Huizenga payed $50 million ($84.7 million today) to put a team in Miami. The Panthers played their first season in 1993 and started it with a 4-4 tie to the Chicago Blackhawks. They went 2-5-3 in their first 10 games and ended the season with a record of 33-34-17 & a point percentile of 49.40%, just missing the playoffs.
Anaheim Mighty Ducks
In 1992, The Walt Disney Company also payed $50 million ($84.7 million today) to bring an NHL franchise to Anaheim inspired by their 1992 movie “The Mighty Ducks”. The Mighty Ducks lost their NHL debut 7-2 to the Detroit Red Wings and went 2-6-2 in their first 10 game. They eventually ended the season 33-46-5 with a point percentile of 42.26% and missed the playoffs.
Disney eventually sold the franchise in 2005 for a reported $75 million ($94 million today). The new owners changed the team’s name to the Anaheim Ducks prior to the 2006-2007 season. Apparently that was all the Ducks needed to win a cup, as they did that same year. Unfortunately, the change also cause them to go from having one of the best jerseys in the NHL to arguably the single worst jerseys in hockey.
4 Expansion Teams from 1998 to 2000
From 1998 to 2000, 4 teams joined the NHL; the Nashville Predators in 1998, the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999 and both the Columbus Blue Jackets & Minnesota Wild in 2000.
Both the 1998 and 1999 drafts were very similar. Each of the 26 franchises in the league were allowed to protect either 1 goaltender, 5 defensemen and 9 forwards or 2 goaltenders, 3 defensemen and 7 forwards. First and second year players were exempt. Both times, the expansion team was to pick one player from each team.
The 2000 expansion draft was the same but the Predators and Thrashers were exempt from exposing their players to the expansion draft and every existing NHL team lost two players instead of one.
In 1995, it was rumored that the city of Nashville offered a $20 million ($32.1 million today) bonus to any team that would relocate to the music city. New Jersey was interested, but the Devils weren’t able to get out of their lease.
In 1997, the NHL granted a team to Nashville under the condition of selling 12 thousand season tickets before March 31, 1998, which they succeeded in doing. The Predators name and logo are inspired by a partial saber-tooth tiger skeleton found beneath downtown Nashville in 1971 during construction of the First American National Bank building.
It cost Nashville $80 million ($120.1 million today) to join the NHL, and in 1998 they finally played their first game, losing 1-0 to the Florida Panthers. They eventually went 3-6-1 in their first ten games while ending the season 28-47-7 with a point percentile of 38.41%, missing the playoffs.
Despite the Atlanta Flames failure to remain in Georgia in the 1970s, the NHL tried again with the Thrashers in 1999. Named after the state bird, the Thrashers began with a 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils. They went 2-5-2-1 in their first ten and ended the season with a record of 14-57-7-4 along with a point percentile of 23.78%, the worst in the franchise’s short history.
By January 2011 the Thrashers were in serious financial trouble, with a reported $130 million ($143.2 million today) in losses over a six year period. Several months later, it was announced that the Thrashers had been sold to a Canadian group who would relocate the team to Winnipeg as the second coming of the Jets. Atlanta is the only city ever to lose two separate NHL teams.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets, named in honor of Ohio’s rich civil war history, started off their NHL tenure in 2000 with a 5-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. They had a record of 2-7-0-1 in their first 10 games and finished the season 28-39-9-6 with a point percentile of 43.29%, missing the playoffs.
After losing their hockey team to Dallas in 1993, the lovely people of Minnesota really wanted a team. At the turn of the millenium in 2000, they got their wish.
To finance the project, the state of Minnesota loaned $65 million ($93.2 million today) to the City of St. Paul to fund 50% of the estimated $130 million ($186.5 million today) project costs for the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, while the other $65 million was raised through the issuance of bonds.
Minnesota kicked off their maiden season with a 3-1 loss to the Mighty Ducks and went 1-6-3-0 in their first 10 games. They ended the season 25-39-13-5 with a point percentile of 41.46%, missing the playoffs.
The NHL Goes to Vegas in 2017
The 2017 NHL expansion draft was held on June 21st in the wonderful city of Las Vegas. Different from the 2000s expansion drafts, this one was designed to make Vegas a little more competitive than the previous expansion teams by lowering the amount of players each team could protect. The NHL allowed each team to either protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goaltender or 1 goaltender and 8 skaters regardless of position.
Teams were also required to protect players with no movement clauses unless the contract expired July 1st 2017 or an agreement was made with these “claused” players individually. Rookie & sophomore players were all exempt from the draft. Every NHL team had to expose at least 2 forwards and 1 defenseman that had played a minimum of 40 games in the 2016–17 season or more than 70 games in the 2015–16 and 2016–17 seasons combined. In addition, these minimum 2 exposed forwards & 1 Dman had to still be contracted for the 2017–18 season.
The exposed goaltender had to either be under contract for the 2017–18 season or be a restricted free agent in 2017. In other words, he could not become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st 2017. Vegas was also guaranteed the same odds to obtain the first overall pick in the entry draft as the third worst team in the 2016-2017 season.
Las Vegas Golden Knights
The NHL has had a presence in Las Vegas since 1991 in the form of preseason games and the awards ceremony that is held there annually. In 2014, rumors began to circulate that Vegas could possibly be the eventual home to an NHL team, either by relocation or expansion. In 2015, the league officially opened the window for expansion team candidatures, with Las Vegas and Quebec city submitting.
In a league owners meeting in June 2016, the expansion bid was granted to Vegas in a unanimous vote. Bill Foley agreed to pay the $500 million expansion fee, the biggest in NHL history by far even with past amounts adjusted for inflation.
Las Vegas opened its 2017-2018 season with a 2-1 win against the Dallas Stars, surprising a lot of people in the hockey world. Vegas just recently completed its first 10 games as an NHL franchise with an astounding record of 8-2-0, the best of any expansion teams. The Golden Knights have yet to complete their inaugural season but it will be interesting to see if they can sustain this good start and perhaps earn a playoff berth.
Conclusion & Ranking
It certainly isn’t easy entering the NHL as an expansion team and what the Golden Knights have done in their first ten games is quite impressive. By taking a look at the table below, which is sorted by the percentage of points a team was able to accumulate from the total, it’s easy to see that Vegas has had far and away the best start in NHL expansion history. The closest teams to their record are the 1967 Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles kings who had a record of 4-4-2 in a year where you could argue it was the easiest to be an expansion team as they comprised 50% of the league.
Now, let’s not get too overhyped on Vegas here. As it can be seen from the table, no expansion team has ever been able to earn 50% or more of the available points in their first year. Also, expansion teams rarely do make the playoffs, especially when it is just 1 or 2 teams being added to the league that season.
Out of the six who have done it, four came from the 1967 expansion where four teams were guaranteed to make it, and the 1979 Oilers and Whalers were not truly expansion teams as they came from the WHA with generational players (arguably the 2 best ever) on their rosters.
The season is still young but according to Corica.hockey Las Vegas has 52.1% chance of making the playoffs and are projected to earn 92 points which would make their point percentile 56.10% easily the highest ever for an expansion team. I am truly looking forward to see how Vegas will fare and where in the ranking they will end when the 2017-2018 season comes to a close.