The Drouin-for-Sergachev trade spells trouble for the Golden Knights

By acquiring an ineligible player for an eligible expansion draft player, the Lightning are able to protect an asset Vegas would likely have wanted.

The first major blockbuster trade of the offseason saw two potentially franchise-defining players swap teams.

The Tampa Bay Lightning sent winger Jonathan Drouin and a conditional 2018 sixth-round draft pick to the Montreal Canadiens for highly-touted defenseman prospect Mikhail Sergachev and a conditional second-round draft pick in 2018.

While the move certainly helped both teams address immediate needs — the Canadiens need as much scoring help as possible and the Lightning would like young, talented blue liners — the move also had an ulterior motive for Tampa Bay, one that spells trouble for the Vegas Golden Knights in the upcoming expansion draft.

The Lightning were bound to protect Drouin, as he was one of the most valuable forwards on the team. Sergachev, however, is not eligible for the expansion draft. By trading Drouin for a player that is ineligible for the draft, the Lightning essentially opened up a spot to protect a player that otherwise would have gone unprotected.

Assuming the Lightning would have protected Steven Stamkos (who has a no-movement clause in his contract, not that the Lightning wouldn’t protect him anyway), Ryan Callahan (also has a NMC), Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Drouin prior to the trade, that would have left valuable young forward Vladislav Namestnikov exposed. At just 24 with an average of 32 points over the last two seasons, Namestnikov would have been a valuable player for Vegas to select.

Now, with Drouin no longer in the picture, the Lightning will now be able to protect Namestnikov, and that hurts the Golden Knights. Vegas is now forced to look elsewhere within the Lightning’s roster, and that will likely yield a less-talented player.

This is now the second trade in less than 24 hours that had direct implications on Vegas’ gameplan. On Wednesday, the Washington Capitals sent a 2018 fifth-round draft pick to the Minnesota Wild for Tyler Graovac. With 52 games played this season and signed through the 2017-18 season, Graovac meets the 40/70 exposure requirement for the expansion draft (each team must expose two forwards that are signed next season and played in 40 games this season OR 80 games over the last two seasons). Prior to the move, the Capitals only had six forwards that met that requirement, which meant they were only allowed to protect four of those forwards.

Assuming Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson and Tom Wilson would be those four protected forwards, both Lars Eller and Jay Beagle were left to exposure. However, with Graovac now on the roster, the Capitals can protect Eller.

This could become a disturbing trend over the next several hours. With an NHL roster freeze implemented at 3 p.m. ET Saturday, where teams can not trade any player between then and 8 a.m. ET on June 22, teams may begin to scramble to complete trades to protect and maintain as much of their assets as possible.

With each one of these trades that unfold over the next couple of days, the availability of true value for Vegas will deminish.

So while this Drouin for Sergachev is exciting for the NHL, it’s not thrilling for the Golden Knights.