Poof! Like the shake of casino dice, big gambles were taken in the newest Hockey-land by The Strip.
Las Vegas welcomed the NHL Expansion Draft with all the hoopla one expected from the city, then got into the business of picking players.
And as Islanders dynasty-maker Bill Torrey has always said about drafts, it’s “like a crapshoot.”
The dice were thrown and, just like that, the Las Vegas Golden Knights have become a genuine National Hockey League team.
Likewise, our three locals — and Buffalo — have had to pay a price for that luxury in roster hits.
The Blueshirts faithful said sayonara to solid citizen and effective forward in Oscar Lindberg. This was not unexpected, although such names as Michael Grabner and Antti Raanta were bruited about as possible losses.
As for the Islanders, GM Garth Snow pulled off the coup of all coups, managing to retain a whole bunch of unprotected players.
This bonanza move was accomplished via a trade with the Knights. Snow dealt the team’s second-round pick in the 2019 Draft, defenseman Jake Bischoff and forward Mikhail Grabovski. The latter is not considered healthy enough to play.
Vegas also selected goalie Jean-Francois Berube from the Isles. Anyone who viewed the club this past season would view Snow’s move as addition by subtraction.
The beauty part for Snow is that he relinquished a mid-round draft pick in what’s acknowledged as a weak selection this year. Plus, Vegas GM George McPhee will absorb a $5 million salary hit.
Granted that Bischoff is a decent defensive prospect, “potential” regulars are not nearly in a class with the likes of de Haan, Strome and Bailey. Just to name a few.
The next melodrama for the Islanders GM will hinge on what he does on the trade market now that he’s retained his assets.
As for the Devils, they said au revoir to defenseman Jon Merrill.
Once a promising backliner, Merrill never came close to fulfilling what some figured would be excellent potential. His defensive game was never above-average and there was little to crow about Jon when on the attack.
There shouldn’t be any hand-wringing in Buffalo since forward William Carrier was corralled by Vegas. A paltry eight points in 41 games says it all.
Meanwhile, Knight’s owner Bill Foley is laughing all the way to the T-Mobile Arena, which may turn into his private hockey bank converting pucks into money.
“It’s been a lot of work,” said the enthused Foley, “and a tremendous experience.”
McPhee and coach Gerard Gallant also have been caught with some singular smirks now that they have a team to play next fall.
For the $500 million bundle of bodies Foley obtained, that has been the easy part.
“This has worked out very well for us,” said McPhee. “We expect to put an entertaining team on the ice.”
Their prime prizes include plural Stanley Cup-winner Marc-Andre Fleury and Nashville’s scoring ace James Neal.
The tough stuff? For Knights’ stickhandler-seeker McPhee, the challenge in Wednesday night’s Expansion Draft was to craft a hoped-for-in-the-distance contender.
Did he succeed? His first string goalie, is a three-time Stanley Cup winner. That’s not too shabby for starters. And, who knows; Berube may just find himself in Nevada and turn out to be what he wasn’t in Brooklyn.
If a third netminder is necessary — no three-goalie system, please — add ex-Avalanche backup Calvin Pickard.
Then there’s ex-Devil David Schlemko and the Canadiens tough Alexei Emelin, plus hard-shooting Jason Garrison of the Lightning. Not a bad core at all when you throw in ex-Blackhawk Trevor van Riemsdyk.
What about goals? Hmmm. What about goals?
After Neal and Lindberg, I like Jonathan Marchessault, a nifty surprise this past year in Florida and his Panthers teammate Reilly Smith. The Red Wings were not too happy about losing Tomas Nosek.
“What surprised me,” added Foley, “is the quality of some of the forwards we were able to get. The people of Las Vegas are going to be pleasantly surprised.”
Sorry, but there’s no superstar gracing the Knights roster.
Then again, what did you expect for 500 mil — Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid?
Like Bill Torrey said, it’s a crapshoot.
But the bottom line ain’t bad.
McPhee has a reasonably competitive roster, three first-round picks coming up, plenty of deal-able assets and a stockpile of talent down the road.
Looks like Vegas won its crapshoot!
The Vegas Puck Jubilee also featured the NHL’s annual awards which had a local representation except for the Rangers’ Brady Skjei being named to the 2016-17 NHL All-Rookie Team.
Major winners included:
Hart: Connor McDavid, Edmonton (No complaints from The Maven)
Vezina: Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus (Well-deserved)
Lady Byng: Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary (Underrated prize for a truly good guy)
Norris: Brent Burns, Sharks (No surprise)
Selke: Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (Ditto, no surprise)
Calder: Auston Matthews, Toronto (Obvious); Adams: John Tortorella, Columbus (Is he lucky the playoffs don’t count?!?)
Masterton: Craig Anderson, Ottawa (100 percent)
GM: David Poile, Nashville (A natural).
Once the huzzahs had finally disappeared in the air, hockey people headed to Chicago for another NHL extravaganza, the annual NHL Entry Draft.
When that Jubilee ends, long, deep breaths will be taken in anticipation of July 1; and you know what that means — free agent frenzy.
Fasten your seat belts! Again.