The principals in Minnesota’s reentry to the NHL are gone, late owner Bob Naegele Jr., general manager Doug Risebrough and coach Jacques Lemaire among the biggest names. The league is a different beast, as well, now requiring a $650 million expansion fee of the Seattle Kraken, $570 million more than the Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets paid to join the league.
That helps explain the disparity between the expansion draft the Kraken will enjoy on Wednesday and the one the Wild and Jackets got June 23, 2000, but it won’t make it any easier for their fans. They remain the only constant from that night. Well, them and the trophy cases at Xcel Energy Center and Nationwide Arena, where Minnesota and Columbus have toiled, respectively, for 20 seasons.
Those remain empty.
Seattle will get the same expansion draft as Vegas did in 2017, which is to say all to itself and with more unprotected players to choose from. The Golden Knights have since won a Western Conference championship and played for a Stanley Cup, something neither Minnesota nor Columbus has managed in 20 years.
Certainly, the Knights ($500 million) and Kraken are paying for the privilege. Certainly, it’s in the NHL’s best interests to have competitive teams top to bottom. Certainly, parts of a $650 million windfall for NHL owners can be reinvested in clubs.
So, maybe unfair is too strong a word to explain the predicament the Wild and Blue Jackets are in. But it would at least be a shame to see one of them lose any piece of what they have built, however meager, over the past 20 years. The real winner here is Vegas, which as a recent addition is exempt from the expansion draft.
Look, the Wild and Jackets have made their share of management mistakes, and the fact that they have won only four playoff series between them is not because of the 2000 expansion draft. But it’s naïve to say it hasn’t made a difference.
This year, 30 teams could protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie, or eight skaters and a goalie. When Minnesota and Columbus joined the league, the 26 oldest teams could protect one goalie, five defensemen and nine forwards, or two goalies, three blue liners and seven forwards.
It makes a difference, especially when teams have to swap choices on the same pool as the Wild and Blue Jackets did. Vegas and now Seattle got the whole basket of candy to themselves, and there is a lot more good candy in there now. Chances are, Seattle won’t play for the Cup right out of the gate the way Vegas did, but they have a much better chance than Minnesota and Columbus did.
And let’s not pretend this draft doesn’t hurt the Wild. Even if the Kraken don’t choose goaltender Kappo Kahkonen or defenseman Carson Soucy, the draft forced general manager Bill Guerin to buy out the contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter because as players with no-movement clauses in their contracts, they had to be protected.
Guerin says the expansion draft wasn’t the only reason he made that decision — he also needed money to nail down long-term deals for Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala — but of course it was a factor. Parise might have waived his no-movement clause because he could go to a lot of teams, including Seattle, and play more than he was under coach Dean Evason. But Suter was playing as much as he wanted, and protecting him would have cost the Wild either younger, cheaper and (probably) better Matt Dumba or Jonas Brodin.
So, yeah, Guerin’s hand was forced.
Also consider that the Wild would be a better team next season with Suter, who was solid this year and seems to be able to turn it on when he wants to. He was an asset, and Guerin felt he needed to let him go at a minimal financial advantage.
And let’s not even start about Alex Tuch.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to say the Wild and Jackets got fleeced by their expansion drafts. The teams made hundreds of subsequent personnel decisions, many of which didn’t work, especially for Columbus, which has won one (!) playoff series. But it doesn’t mean Wednesday hasn’t already been uniquely hard on the NHL’s Class of 2000.
Correction: A earlier version of this column incorrectly identified Jac Sperling as the late former owner of the Minnesota Wild.