Vegas NHL Expansion Draft Rules

NHL Expansion

Note: This post has been edited to reflect offseason deadlines rather than the Trade Deadline.

As we approach the offseason, it’s important to consider and understand the rules surrounding the Vegas NHL Expansion Draft, set to take place in June. The expansion draft has already affected contract negotiations, trade discussions and roster decisions throughout the league. But how will the expansion draft actually work? What are teams taking into consideration?

2017 Offseason Free-Agent Signings Tracker

The NHL recently released a new set of dates for the upcoming expansion draft process. You can find a complete list of key dates here, but below is a summary of the most important deadlines.

Monday, June 12: Deadline for teams (not including NSH/PIT) to ask players to waive no-movement clauses (5:00pm EST).
Thursday, June 15: First buyout period begins. Deadline for teams to ask players that agree to waive NMC if they want to be placed on waivers for the purpose of a pre-draft buyout (11:59am EST).
Friday, June 16: Last day for teams to place players on waivers (12:00pm EST). Last day for players to waive NMC’s (5:00pm EST).
Saturday, June 17: Trade/waiver freeze and signing moratorium on NHL SPC’s (standard player contracts) enacted for 30 existing NHL teams (3:00pm EST). Deadline for teams to submit Protection Lists (5:00pm EST).
Sunday, June 18: Deadline for league to approve and distribute Protection Lists (10:00am EST). Opening of UFA/RFA interview period for Vegas to speak to all exposed free agents (10:00am EST).
Wednesday, June 21: Deadline for Vegas to submit draft selections, including contracts given to FA’s (10:00am EST). Official announcement of Expansion Draft selections at NHL Awards (8:00pm EST).
Thursday, June 22: Signing moratorium and trade/waiver freeze lifted (8:00am EST).

The point of the NHL Expansion Draft is to build a lineup of NHL players for the new franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas will choose one player from each of the 30 existing NHL clubs. There are rules for the 30 NHL teams and there are rules for the Vegas Golden Knights.

NHL Expansion Draft Rules for Existing 30 NHL Teams

First, let’s take a look at the NHL Expansion Draft rules for the 30 existing NHL teams. Let’s divide these rules into two categories that we’ll call Protection and Exposure.

Protection Rules

In order for NHL teams to retain their star players and strongest assets, each team will be allowed to protect certain players from their respective rosters so that Vegas cannot draft them. This is the basis for the expansion draft rules for the 30 NHL teams. Each team must present a Protection List to the NHL by 5:00pm EST on June 17. Vegas must present its Expansion Draft Choices by 5:00pm EST on June 20. The selections will be released on June 21.

Each team will have two options to build a protection list:
1. Protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen and 1 goalie
2. Protect 8 skaters and 1 goalie

Within these options, there is one very important factor: any player with any type of no-movement clause written into his contract must be protected by his NHL club (even if the NHL club would not want to protect that player under other circumstances). For example, Scott Hartnell has a no-trade clause in his contract. The Columbus Blue Jackets have plenty of talented players that need to be protected, and Hartnell is not one of those players. But unless Hartnell waives his no-trade clause, he must occupy one of the spots on Columbus’ protection list.

At the same time, there are players that are not eligible for the expansion draft and who therefore do not need to be protected. These eligibility technicalities are crucial to understanding who must be protected or exposed.

Ineligible for Expansion Draft
1. Any first- or second-year players are exempt from the expansion draft and do not need to be protected
2. Any unsigned draft picks are also exempt

After reviewing the specs of every contract with the NHL Players’ Association, the NHL released a list of players who must be protected, which can be found here. Notable names include Rick Nash, who will need to be protected because of the nature of the wording of his contract, as well as Antoine Vermette and Tuukka Rask, who are both eligible for the draft because their no-trade clauses expire just before the protection list is due.

But it’s not as simple as choosing a certain number of players to be protected. There is another set of rules for existing teams to take into account; we’ll call these Exposure Rules.

Exposure Rules

In order to give the Vegas franchise a fair shot of drafting legitimate NHL players, teams must “expose” certain types of players, which limits who can be protected.

There are three players (technically four) every NHL team must expose:
1. One defenseman who is signed through the 2017-2018 season AND who either played in 40 games in the 2016-2017 season or played in at least 70 games in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons
2. Two forwards who are signed through the 2017-2018 season AND who either played in 40 games in the 2016-2017 season or played in at least 70 games in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons
3. One goalie who is signed through the 2017-2018 season OR who will be a restricted free agent after his current contract expires before the start of the 2017-2018 season. If a team elects to make a restricted free-agent goaltender available, the goalie must have been given his qualifying offer before the June 17 protection list deadline

However, any player with a potential career-ending injury who has missed 60 consecutive games or who has otherwise been proven to have a career-threatening injury is not eligible for exposure requirements.


All teams must present a list of protected players to the league by 5:00pm EST on June 17 that consists of seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie. All teams must protect players with any type of no-movement clause; first- and second-year players as well as unsigned draft picks do not have to be protected. All teams must expose at least one defenseman and two forwards who are signed through the 2017-2018 season and who have played 40 games in the 2016-2017 season or 70 games in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons. Teams must also expose one goalie who is signed through 2017-2018 or will be a restricted free agent at the conclusion of his current contract before the 2017-2018 season; the restricted goalie must have been offered a qualifying offer before being used for the exposure requirement.

NHL Expansion Draft Rules for Vegas Franchise

The NHL Expansion Draft rules for the Vegas Golden Knights are much more straightforward and are outlined below.

  1. The Golden Knights organization must select one player from each existing NHL club for a total of 30 NHL players (not including any players related to Expansion Rule violations)
  2. The Golden Knights organization must select 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders
  3. The Golden Knights organization must select at least 20 players under contract for the 2017-2018 season
  4. The Golden Knights organization must select players with an aggregate Expansion Draft value that is between 60-100 percent of the prior season’s upper limit for the salary cap. In other words, between $43.8 million and $73 million.
  5. The Golden Knights organization cannot buy out any players selected in the draft before the summer of 2018 (after the conclusion of the 2017-2018 season)

Exclusive Free Agency

During the window between the submission of Protection Lists and the announcement of Vegas’ picks, the Golden Knights will have a major advantage over the other teams. General manager George McPhee and his staff will be able to negotiate with pending unrestricted free agents and potentially sign them to a contract. If they do reach an agreement with a player, however, Vegas will not be able to select another player from that team. For example, theoretically Vegas could sign Patrick Sharp to a 3-year, $13 million contract on June 19 but then would be unable to select another player from the Dallas Stars.

The rest of the teams won’t be able to contact (let alone negotiate with) free agents until the July 1 Free Agency deadline. This is a significant advantage for Vegas and adds another element to the selection process.


The Vegas Golden Knights must select 30 players (one from each of the 30 existing NHL teams), with at least 20 of them under contract in the 2017-2018 season. The aggregate Expansion Draft value of those 30 players must lie between $43.8 million and $73 million. Of the 30 players, there must be at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies. The Golden Knights cannot buy out any of these 30 players before the end of the 2017-2018 season. Lastly, the team will have exclusive free agency privileges between June 17-June to sign UFA’s; any signed UFA will count as Vegas’ selection from that particular team.

Check out HFL’s Vegas Expansion Series
Vegas Expansion Draft: Pacific Division
Vegas Expansion Draft: Central Division
Vegas Expansion Draft: Atlantic Division
Vegas Expansion Draft: Metropolitan Division

Featured Image Credit: Isaac Brekken-NHLI via Getty Images