Setting up Seattle: An In-Depth Guide To The Expansion Draft Rules

It’s easy for fans in Seattle to watch the historic debut season of the Vegas Golden Knights and develop sky high expectations for a new National Hockey League team in the northwest.

While it may be tempting to assume a franchise in Seattle will be set up for an equally immediate impact, Vegas made this process from creation to Stanley Cup contender appear much more simple than it really is.

This is the first in a series of posts meant to illustrate and inform anxious fans in the Pacific Northwest about the rise of the Knights, what the league can learn from them, and why a Seattle team could see similar success — but that success is not guaranteed.

We will delve into the following topics:

  1. The all-important expansion draft rules: who each team must protect, exceptions, and key differences between the draft that shaped Vegas and the one that will form Seattle
  2. Finding an architect: potential candidates to be Seattle’s first GM, takeaways from past searches, and the book a key member of the Vegas front office read to help form the blueprint for building the Golden Knights
  3. Seattle’s first players: the potential pool of talent a GM and his staff will pick from, possible draft strategies, the lessons the NHL and Seattle fans can learn from past expansion drafts, and (I can’t believe I’m writing this) a ‘make your own mock draft’
  4. The ‘other’ draft: Seattle’s odds of getting the No. 1 pick in the NHL Entry Draft, past results by selection, and the average time it takes each position to reach the NHL
  5. Coaching: why there is no guarantee Seattle will land its own version of Gerard Gallant on its first try, how past coaches have faired in their team’s inaugural seasons, and how many wins a good coach could be worth.

We’ll be adding more topics along the way, so keep checking back. Let’s start with the expansion draft rules because they’re what dictates who Seattle’s first players will be, and there are a lot of nuances to them that get overlooked.

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The Knights play a fast, high scoring, and exciting brand of hockey that energizes their raucous home crowd. Vegas was one of four teams to finish in the top-10 of goal scoring and goal prevention in 2017-18. Those are incredibly desirable characteristics for a professional sports franchise, let alone a hockey team in its inaugural season.

At first glance: each quality appears to be something Seattle could easily achieve. Heck, fans already literally bought in by putting down 33,000 season ticket deposits for a new arena that’s expected to have 17-18,000 seats for hockey.

Tod Leiweke also mentioned during his introduction as CEO of NHL Seattle that he and his group will be studying and meeting with Vegas while shaping the foundation for Washington state’s team.

Now that the NHL approved the $650 million bid from David Bonderman, Jerry Bruckheimer & co. in December of 2018, Leiweke will begin the unenviable task of trying to match the success in Sin City. That starts with the NHL Expansion Draft in June of 2021.

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No matter who gets hired for what jobs, we already know the rulebook they’ll have to abide by when it comes to Seattle selecting players from the other NHL teams.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed yet again that Seattle will have the same expansion draft rules that Vegas did. There are a couple of key caveats that will make the Seattle draft slightly different from the Vegas version.

Before we delve into the differences, let’s run through all of the rules that are sticking around for Seattle.

Player Protection

Each NHL team has two options when it comes to how many players it can protect from Seattle:

  1. Seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie — 11 total players
  2. Eight total skaters (forwards or defensemen) and one goalie — nine total players

If a franchise opts to go with the first choice, Seattle will be picking “at best” a team’s eighth-best forward (a third-liner) or their fourth-best defenseman (second pair).

Other clubs could go a variety of ways by using the second option. Depending on how that shakes out Seattle is looking at the potential of selecting from either a higher-end forward (fourth or fifth-best, which is second line talent) and lower-end defenseman (fifth or sixth-best, a third-pair player), or vice-versa.

The majority of NHL teams (23) chose option one heading into the Vegas draft. Only seven clubs chose option two.

It may seem like a simple decision to choose option one just to protect more players, however players’ contracts will impact each team’s choice. Specifically: the key is whether a player has one type of clause in their deal: no-move protection.

Generally speaking, a professional hockey player can have one of two types of protective clauses in their contracts: a no-trade clause, or a no-movement clause.

What’s the difference?

If you have a no-trade clause (NTC), you can prevent your team from trading you without your approval, or you can limit where you get traded.

If you have a no-movement clause (NMC) it gives you the same trade protection, but also prevents your team from loaning you to another club, and it keeps you from getting put on waivers without your approval. However your contract can still get bought out.

Side note: there are instances where a player has a no-move clause that also includes a no-trade list to a certain number of teams. But for expansion draft purposes, all that matters is whether or not they have a no-move clause.

The expansion rules state that any player with a current and ongoing no-movement clause in their contract after the season leading up to the expansion draft must be kept in one of those nine or 11 protected slots we mentioned.

The only exceptions: if that player agrees to waive their NMC, or if their contract expires July 1 of the draft year (for Seattle’s purposes: 2021). If their contract is expiring, that NMC is voided for the expansion draft.

If a team has a player who only has a no-trade clause, then the team is not required to protect him.

Short example: “Joe” plays for Colorado. Joe has a no-trade clause. Colorado can decide whether to leave Joe available to Seattle, or put him on the protected list. If Joe had a no-move clause in his deal, then Colorado must put Joe on its protected list unless the team gets Joe to waive his NMC.

Both no-move and no-trade protections are usually contract rewards for veterans to give them a sense of security, and an incentive to possibly take a slightly lower salary.

No-trade clauses are generally more common than those of the no-move variety, and that’s unlikely to change between now and the Seattle expansion draft.

There were 174 players with either of those protections during the 2017-18 season, per CapFriendly. Roughly 40% (71) had NMCs. Currently there are 33 players with no-move protection in their deals for the 2021-22 season, which follows the expansion draft and is when Seattle will begin play in the NHL.

Other Teams Must Leave Certain Players Unprotected

In addition to which players teams must protect from Seattle, there are also rules about who organizations have to expose. Teams must not protect at least one defenseman and two forwards who meet both of the following requirements.

  1. Must be under contract for the season following the expansion draft (for Seattle’s case: 2021-22)
  2. Must have played either 40 games at the NHL level in the previous season (for Seattle’s case: 2020-21), or played a total of 70 games in the NHL over the past two seasons.

Each club must also expose one goalie who is under contract for the season following the draft (2021-22), or a goaltender who is set to be a restricted free agent (RFA) after that season. There is no minimum NHL games played amount for meeting the requirement about leaving one goalie available.

These rules are to help make sure other franchises don’t give Seattle the options of picking only from expiring contracts, or players who’ve never been in the NHL. Speaking of which…

Players Who Cannot Be Picked

Generally speaking, these players fall in two categories: prospects, and players who are seriously injured. We’ll get to the injury exemptions a little bit later, but let’s start with the prospects because those are more exciting and require more of an explanation.


Per the Vegas draft rules, all players who have played in two or fewer professional seasons heading into the expansion draft cannot be picked. Any NHL Entry Draft picks who have not signed with the team that selected them cannot be poached, either.

The first part of that sentence from the NHL’s expansion draft rules is somewhat vague, particularly the “professional seasons” part. The league’s definition of a “professional season” depends on the age of the player.

The NHL determines a player’s age for a season by how old they are on Dec. 31 of the calendar year the season started in. So for Seattle’s purposes, how old that player is on Dec. 31 of 2019 and 2020 (during the 2019-20 & 2020-21 seasons, respectively) because those are the two years leading to the expansion draft.

Here’s where the player’s age matters for the definition of ‘professional seasons,’ per the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement.

“A Player aged 18 or 19 earns a year of professional experience by playing 10 or more NHL games in a given NHL season. A player aged 20 or older … earns a year of professional experience by playing 10 or more Professional Games under a standard player contract in a given League Year.”

Clearly the threshold for earning a year of service time is more specific for players who are 18 or 19, since it’s at least 10 NHL games.

The key language change comes for those who are 20 and older, because the CBA says 10 or more “Professional Games” — not just NHL games. It’s a subtle but significant difference spelled out by the CBA’s definition of “Professional Games.”

“‘Professional Games’ includes the following: any NHL Games played, all minor league regular season and playoff games and any other professional games played, including but not limited to, games played in any European league or any other league outside North America, by a Player pursuant to his [standard player contract].”

So if a player is 20 on Dec. 31 of 2018, then that player will earn a year of service time for playing in 10 games at any professional level as long as he is under contract with an NHL team. This would cover the AHL, ECHL, and European leagues. It does not cover Canadian major juniors, because those leagues are considered to be ‘amateur level.’

Why is that a big deal? Let’s use former Seattle Thunderbird and current Calder Trophy favorite Mathew Barzal as an example.

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There are no doubt quite a few fans who would love for Barzal to be exposed to Seattle in the expansion draft, even though it’s highly unlikely.

The Coquitlam, British Columbia-native turned 21 in May of 2018 after breaking out in his first full season with the New York Islanders. He potted 22 goals and 85 points. Barzal is under contract with the Isles through the 2019-20 season, and then he’ll become a restricted free agent (RFA).

The mathematicians among you will have quickly figured out that, barring any major injuries, Barzal will have accrued three “professional seasons” by the time the expansion draft rolls around. The Islanders would have to protect him from Seattle in order to keep him.

Even if Barzal spent all of 2017-18 or any of the next two seasons with New York’s AHL club, he would not be exempt from that draft since he’s above the age of 20.

What about Carter Hart?

This is the other player fans in the Evergreen state would love to see suit up for Seattle in year one.

The Silvertip is turning pro after finishing the best season ever by a Canadian Hockey League goalie. The Philadelphia Flyers hope he’s the chosen one to end their well-documented goaltending woes, although he will begin his professional career with their AHL club in Lehigh Valley.

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Hart signed his entry-level contract in October of 2016. He turns 20 in August of 2018. Since he did not play in any NHL games, he did not earn any “professional experience” as defined by the CBA.

As a result Hart’s entry-level deal “slid,” or extended, by two years.

With that in mind, Hart will now be through three seasons as a professional (2018-19, 2019-20, 2020-21) before the Seattle expansion draft — barring injury. He would not have been eligible for a draft in June of 2020.

By the way: the Vegas draft was seven days after the final possible day of the Stanley Cup Final (June 14) in conjunction with the NHL Awards, and before the entry draft. Any Seattle expansion draft process should follow a similar timeline.

You got all that?

The good news is there are far fewer complications involved with the other set of players who are exempt from the draft.


Remember the “players you must expose” requirements we mentioned a minute ago?

Quick refresh: Each team must expose two forwards and one defender who have played either 40 NHL games in the previous season, or 70 total NHL games across the past two years, and one goalie.

Any player who has a career-threatening injury or health issue and has missed more than the previous 60 straight games cannot be used to meet that exposure requirement without approval from the NHL.

Here’s another example: Let’s say Joe played 50 games for Colorado in 2019-20, and then 20 more at the start of 2020-21 before he suffered a potentially career-ending injury and missed the rest of the 82 game season. While Joe meets the “70 NHL games played over two seasons” exposure qualification, Colorado would not be allowed to expose Joe and use him to satisfy that rule unless the league signs off on it.

This is another protection to ensure Seattle is not stuck picking players who may never lace up their skates in the NHL again, or those coming off severe injuries.

The Next Steps

After each team sets its list of protected players and checks it twice, it submits that list of off-limits names to the league.

At this point in the process, Vegas received a nearly five day window of exclusive trading and waiver claim rights — meaning teams could not move or add players unless it involved Vegas. We can assume Seattle will receive the same luxury as part of the expansion draft rule package.

The league will give Seattle and all other teams the lists of available players three days before the selections are announced. The expansion team then has 72 hours to make and turn in its selections.

At this time — Vegas also received an exclusive 72-hour negotiating window with all soon-to-be free agents who were not protected. This covers both unrestricted (UFA) and restricted (RFA) free agents.

What’s the difference?

Teams have the right to match any offer made to an RFA as long as they sent the player a qualifying offer (which is essentially a one-year deal with a roughly 100% raise over the previous season’s salary).

If another club signs your RFA to an offer sheet and your team does not match it, then your franchise receives draft pick compensation. The number and type of picks depends on the average annual value (AAV) of the contract the player signed with another franchise. The exact compensation value chart varies year-to-year, but it boils down to ‘more money per year = more, higher draft picks.’

If your team never sent an RFA a qualifying offer, then the RFA becomes a UFA and is free to negotiate with all teams — and you lose the exclusive right to match, and the right to getting picks for losing the player.

Wait… why does Seattle have to care about that?

If Seattle signs a pending free agent (UFA or RFA) who spent the previous year playing for Team X, then that will count as Seattle’s one expansion draft selection from Team X.

The Emerald City’s squad also has the unique option of signing an unprotected RFA without having to pay Team X in draft pick compensation.

This power puts even more pressure on the other GMs in the league to carefully choose who will and won’t be protected, and to correctly negotiate contracts with players. It also prevents other organizations from trying to ‘cash in’ on Seattle selecting a young player in the expansion draft process.

Remember: the point of the expansion draft is to give the league’s new team a baseline of talent to work with, while they ‘build for the long-haul’ through the NHL Entry Draft.

Who Seattle Must Draft From Other Teams

Seattle must take one player from all other teams, but not all 31 other teams will have to worry about losing a player to the Pacific Northwest.

Before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed that Vegas will be off the hook for the Seattle expansion draft. Commissioner Gary Bettman re-confirmed this while announcing Seattle expansion.

A source at the NHL GM meetings in March told Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston that it’s because Vegas will not be getting a cut of Seattle’s expansion fee.

“There’s no reason to expect them to be put in position to lose a player because they’re not going to be sharing in the $650-million fee the Oak View Group will be asked to pay if/when the NHL accepts its expansion application. That was part of the deal the league struck with Golden Knights owner Bill Foley when he was granted the 31st franchise.

As a result, the Original 30 will eventually receive $21.67-million apiece from Seattle after cashing $16.67-million cheques from Vegas. That helps soften the blow of losing another player through expansion.”

While Vegas misses out on the cash influx from Seattle, they don’t have to worry about having players poached away after just three seasons. Both Nashville and Atlanta (now Winnipeg) received similar protections in 2000 when Minnesota and Columbus were picking players from the rest of the league.

So Seattle will be selecting players from each of the 30 remaining franchises. If any of those teams break the rules of the expansion draft, then they could be forced to hand over additional players and/or entry draft picks to Seattle as a penalty.

There are some specific rules Seattle has to follow during the draft. The team must pick at least 20 players who are under contract for the following season. They’d also need to pick at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goalies (total of 26 players). Seattle could use those final four picks on any position. For what it’s worth: Vegas selected 14 forwards, 13 defensemen, and three goalies.

At the end of the draft, Seattle must have 30 players whose salaries add up to be 60-100% of salary cap from the 2020-21 season. Seattle cannot buy out any player’s contract until the summer after its debut season.

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There’s another possible wrinkle that has not been clarified yet: whether teams that had a goalie selected by Vegas could also lose one to Seattle. I bring it up only because the NHL used this before.

Teams that lost a goalie in the 1998 expansion draft could not lose one in the 1999 version. It’s not clear if the same rule applied to the 2000 version, however none of the teams that lost a goalie to Atlanta in ’99 also lost a goalie to Columbus or Minnesota in 2000.

Obviously those drafts were one year apart. The Seattle and Vegas drafts will be separated by four years, so it seems unlikely that protection will be revived.

If the goalie rule was included, then it would only apply to the Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Seattle Will Have The Power to Trade

This is arguably the most significant power Seattle will have: the ability to make the same types of side deals that Vegas did.

The Knights agreed to deals with certain teams to take or not take certain players in exchange for entry draft picks, other players, or both.

One of the major unknowns worth watching as we inch closer to Seattle’s expansion draft is whether any NHL teams will make those side deals.

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Some of the teams that fared the worst in the expansion draft (Columbus, Florida and Minnesota particularly) agreed to side deals with Vegas.

There’s already quite a bit of chatter around the league that many teams will try to avoid making similar mistakes when Seattle is picking players. The general thought is “why risk getting burned twice, when you can just cut your losses at one player.”

It will help those other teams that the rules are staying the same. They may learn from their mistakes.

I also would expect to see GMs be much more careful with handing out no-movement clauses for the same reason. SportsNet’s Elliotte Friedman said earlier this year that the fight over NMCs will be the big battle front offices wage against players and their agents over the next couple of years.

It’s not surprising, since those contracts handcuffed a few teams heading into the Vegas draft and put them in the position where they had to make those side deals with an expansion team. Teams gain greater flexibility with the expansion draft if they do not have to worry about NMCs.

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The other aspect to Seattle making trades is a minor restriction on who can be traded where. Washington state’s team cannot trade an expansion draft selection back to the team the player was plucked from until January 1 of the following season.

Back to the examples: If Seattle takes Joe from Colorado in the expansion draft, they can trade Joe to any team. However Seattle is not allowed to trade Joe back to Colorado until January 1, 2022.

The idea here is to theoretically keep Seattle from making any under-the-table agreements with teams to give them back a player, unless it’s part of a legitimate trade.


So to pull it all together, here’s a Seattle expansion draft cheat sheet (Key — F = Forward, D = Defenseman, G = Goalie, NMC = No Move Clause).

Other teams:

  • Protect 7F-3D-1G, or 8 skaters and one goalie
  • Must protect players with NMCs, unless player waives it
  • Must expose 2F-1D under contract for 2021-22, who played in 40 games in ’20-21 or 70 games total across ’19-20 and ’20-21, and one goalie (no minimum NHL games played)
  • Players who have career-threatening injuries, or serious long-term injuries can’t be used to meet those 40/70 games played requirements for exposure
  • Prospects are not available, unless they’ve played more than two “professional seasons” at the time of the expansion draft
  • Carter Hart is no longer immune from getting plucked away
  • Mathew Barzal is not either
  • It’s doubtful Philadelphia and New York risk losing either guy
  • Vegas is safe from the expansion draft, since they’re reportedly not getting any of Seattle’s expansion fee
  • Break any of these rules? You have to give Seattle more players, draft picks, or both


  • Must take one player from each of the remaining 30 teams
  • 20 of those selections must be under contract for 2021-22
  • 26 of the 30 picks have to be spent on 14F-9D-3G
  • Can make side deals with all 30 teams to take or not take certain players, in exchange for assets (players, entry draft picks, or both)
  • Exclusive trade and waiver rights for five days leading up to expansion draft
  • Can select an unprotected about-to-be free agent (UFA or RFA) from Team X, but that will count as the expansion draft pick from Team X
  • Gets three day exclusive negotiation window with unprotected players who are about to be free agents
  • Can sign unprotected RFAs during negotiation window without compensating player’s team
  • Must have 30 picks whose salaries add up to 60-100% of the salary cap from the 2020-21 season
  • Cannot buy out any contract of a player selected in the expansion draft until the summer after team’s first season

It’s a lot to process, and it can be overwhelming to look at all of the “if’s, and’s, but’s and hypotheticals.” But as we explained — these nuances all exist for a reason. This is the rulebook Vegas had to go by, and they used it to help build a team that made the Stanley Cup Final.

If I come across any changes, updates or clarifications — I’ll be sure to update this guide. So just bookmark it.

If you have any questions or feedback, send me an email at the address on the bottom of the page or hit me up on Twitter (@ScottMalone91).

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