Brayden McNabb looked down at his fresh, new jersey, examining the colors and crest of the Golden Knights with a dazed but eager eye moments after they had claimed him from the Kings in the NHL’s expansion draft.
“It’s nice,” he said. “A little flashy. It’s like Vegas.”
The Golden Knights, the league’s 31st franchise, took shape Wednesday night when the team’s 30 picks were announced in spurts between the awarding of the NHL’s annual trophies. There was a little glitz, a lot of glamour and more than a few moments of awkwardness as the NHL combined two unrelated events into one big televised show, but that’s like Vegas, too.
Unlike many visitors to this gambling mecca, Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid will leave town with his pockets and suitcase full. He received the Art Ross Trophy for winning the scoring title —an automatic honor — and also was voted the Ted Lindsay Award by his peers as the NHL’s most outstanding player and the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. He soundly beat Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby for the Hart, 1,604 points to 1,104, though, of course, Crosby can get consolation from having won the Stanley Cup not so long ago.
The awards were handed out in between announcements of the Golden Knights’ picks. For their $500-million admission fee they were allowed to choose one player from each team and took three goaltenders, 14 forwards and 13 defensemen. They then added two defensemen and four forwards in trades with teams whose players they had agreed to pass over, in addition to acquiring a pile of draft picks. For choosing Ducks defenseman Clayton Stoner and agreeing to not claim Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson, Ducks General Manager Bob Murray gave the Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore, a 2013 first-round draft pick whose defensive weaknesses made him an expendable asset among a deep group of young defensemen.
“I would like to thank Clayton and Shea for their contributions to the team and wish them well going forward with Vegas,” Murray said in a statement. “This was a long process but we feel we made a trade that works for both teams. Obviously we were going to lose one player in expansion, but we felt freeing up some salary would help us this summer. Vegas will be pleased as well, acquiring a good young prospect in Shea and a solid veteran and leader in Clayton. Our needs aligned and we were able to work out a deal.”
The Golden Knights used the same strategy in several other instances, giving them an array of surplus players. They’re expected to trade some of them — especially defensemen — after the league’s trade freeze lifts Thursday morning. “I feel like we have created a great team initially and we can grow from here,” Golden Knights owner Bill Foley said.
They start off strong in goal with three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury, who had agreed to waive his no-move clause and be available in the expansion draft so the Penguins could instead protect Matt Murray. Fleury gives the Golden Knights instant credibility, too, and his appearance on stage at T-Mobile Arena was greeted with roars. But he said he’s not angling to become the face of the franchise.
“I’m going to try to win some games and get into the community and meet people and spread the words of the Golden Knights,” he said. “I ‘ve been very fortunate to play [in Pittsburgh] for 14 years. I’m very grateful for this opportunity in Vegas, a new team, new organization.”
Crosby said Golden Knights fans will come to appreciate Fleury as much as he did, calling Fleury the best teammate he ever had. “I think he’s going to be so important to that team because of his experience and the kind of person he is,” Crosby said. “I know that he’s going to do great things here.”
Great might be too much to expect from the Golden Knights, though they picked up an intriguing young talent in former Florida forward Jonathan Marchessault, who scored 30 goals last season, a slick-skating defenseman in Washington’s Nate Schmidt, and a top-four, physical defenseman in Marc Methot, formerly of Ottawa. “I’m delighted with the way that it went and it was a fascinating experience,” said Vegas general manager George McPhee, who dashed off to catch a red-eye flight to Chicago for the annual entry draft, which will take place Friday and Saturday and will further fill out the Golden Knights’ roster and identity.
This awards show/expansion draft will be remembered for the birth of a new team, but it also produced a couple of poignant moments. Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson won the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication, a nod to his devotion to his cancer-stricken (but recently cancer-free) wife Nicholle. She cried as he accepted the award, and so did those who saw him. The league also paid tribute to Bryan Bickell, who had to end his career after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, another touching gesture that showed the heart of the hockey community — a feature Golden Knights fans will soon come to know.
McNab acknowledged he had mixed emotions about leaving the Kings and he thanked former GM Dean Lombardi and current GM Rob Blake for his time in Los Angeles. “Now it’s a fresh start,” he said, “and I’m excited.”
Calvin Pickard, Colorado Avalanche
J.F. Berube, New York Islanders
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins
Teemu Pulkkinen, Arizona Coyotes
William Carrier, Buffalo Sabres
Cody Eakin, Dallas Stars
Tomas Nosek, Detroit Red Wings
Jonathan Marchessault, Florida Panthers
Connor Brickley, Carolina Hurricanes
Chris Thorburn, Winnipeg Jets
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Philadelphia Flyers
James Neal, Nashville Predators
Brendan Leipsic, Toronto Maple Leafs
David Perron, St. Louis Blues
Oscar Lindberg, New York Rangers
Erik Haula, Minnesota Wild
William Karlsson, Columbus Blue Jackets
Luca Sbisa, Vancouver Canucks
Jon Merrill, New Jersey Devils
Brayden McNabb, Los Angeles Kings
Jason Garrison, Tampa Bay Lightning
Deryk Engelland, Calgary Flames
Colin Miller, Boston Bruins
Marc Methot, Ottawa Senators
David Schlemko, San Jose Sharks
Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton Oilers
Alexei Emelin, Montreal Canadiens
Clayton Stoner, Anaheim Ducks
Trevor van Riemsdyk, Chicago Blackhawks
Nate Schmidt, Washington Capitals