NHL Expansion Draft on Tap

Friday, June 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — Now comes the fun part for the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild. After weeks of speculation, the two new teams get to stock their rosters at the NHL expansion draft on Friday.

Minnesota, which hired Hall of Famer Jacques Lemaire as its first coach, won a coin flip with Columbus and chose to pick third behind the New York Islanders and Atlanta in the Entry Draft of amateur players, set for Saturday and Sunday.

That left Columbus with the fourth pick in the amateur draft and the option of picking either the first goalie and first forward or the first defenseman in the expansion draft.

Both teams have had 10 days to examine the lists of available players submitted by their new partners. They contain some intriguing names like Mark Messier of Vancouver and Paul Coffey of Carolina, both certain future Hall of Famers; Claude Lemieux, fresh off winning the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils; and veteran high scorers Doug Gilmour of Buffalo and Rick Tocchet of Philadelphia.

But there are issues with big names, like age, hefty contracts and how much help they can provide a first-year team. So it's more likely the Blue Jackets and Wild will shop conservatively as they each choose 26 players to build their rosters.

``We have been offered a decent pool of players,'' Minnesota general manager Doug Risebrough said. ``I would categorize it as the goaltenders are strong, the defensemen are strong and the forwards are probably not as strong.''

There are some land mines on the lists. Many of the 613 available players become unrestricted free agents on July 1. That leaves eight days for drafting teams to sign them. If the players sign with another team, the expansion team would get an extra pick in next year's amateur draft.

``There's no value in taking them unless you take them to get a compensatory pick,'' said Doug MacLean, president and general manager of the Blue Jackets. ``You're going to own them for five or six days and then they're going to go where they want to go.''

Each new team paid an $80 million fee to join the league and complete an ambitious NHL expansion plan that added Nashville two years ago, and Atlanta last season and pushes the league to 30 teams.

Both new teams have signed a number of European players and college free agents and will use the expansion draft to round out their first-year rosters.