The expansion draft trade freeze began yesterday at 3 p.m. The expectation was that a lot of deals would be made prior to the 5 p.m. deadline yesterday for teams to submit protection lists to the league.  That expectation proved to be wildly overstated.  It was worse than the usual trade deadline for unmet expectations.

The idea, leading into Saturday, was that teams would move out excess good players they had no room to protect prior to making their list. The reality was a very small number of trades.

The Montréal Canadiens moved out their always on the trading block defender Nate Beaulieu for a third round pick.

This makes a lot of sense for a team that just traded their top defensive prospect for Jonathan Drouin and is reported to be in the market for defenders. (No, it doesn’t make sense.) It would seem that Marc Bergevin decided to trade Beaulieu instead of expose him to Vegas.  Which is fine, but he still will lose someone, and a third is not a great return.  Why not just lose one player and call it the cost of doing business?

Most teams did just that.  Team after team either failed to make the trades needed to solve their protection list troubles, or they just decided to say to hell with it, and call George McPhee tomorrow and deal direct with the man holding all the cards.

There was another trade. The sharp, sharp, moneypuck loving Arizona Coyotes got rid of their starter and only had to retain 25% of his salary.

They had to get Chad Johnson back because without Smith, they had one remaining goalie, and the rules say you have to expose one who meets the requirements and protect one.  So this clever deal needed to be extra clever.  They also got a prospect and a pick, but Johnson is a UFA and not who they plan to keep.

Arizona is now in the market for a starter.  I think Brian Elliott is available, so they could try him.

Both teams seemed to be trying way too hard to be super smart here, and I’m not sure if anything Arizona got in this deal will ever be worth the in excess of 1.4 million dollars they’ll be paying Smith for two years.  I assume they’re tanking (again) this year anyway, so maybe they can just play with whatever goalie they find on July 1 hitchhiking out of Vegas with his gear strewn around his feet.

Calgary is betting one older goalie is better than the last old goalie they tried. Hey, it could work. He’s only three years older.  Word is they might just sign Johnson back on July 1 anyway, so they would still have their backup plan from this year.

The Leafs tried to get Johnson last summer, and he declined. I wonder if he feels differently now? Maybe playoffs sound like fun?

The third trade was an odd one too.

Parsing that out, the New Jersey Devils paid about a 2.25 round pick, so more than Beaulieu fetched, for Mirco Mueller, who might only just be an NHL-level player.  He’s a former first round pick, he’s still really young at 22, and he is said to be a puck-moving defender.  He does not score much, not even in the AHL, and he’s played 54 very unimpressive NHL games.

He’s also Swiss.

The most credible explanation I’ve seen for this oddity of a trade is that the Devils plan to take Nico Hischier in the draft, so they got him a friend.  Mueller needs to be protected, and the Devils likely have a slot, and the Sharks were happy to get something for someone they risked losing, so it’s not the weirdest trade ever.

This was the kind of deal everyone expected to see a lot of.  Carolina and Colorado have extra protection spaces as well.  Neither team did a thing. Most teams failed to do a thing and have opted to just deal direct with Vegas to sort this out.  And Vegas noticed this.

The Golden Knights issued this statement after the trade freeze came into effect:

The Golden Knights organization is very pleased with how the expansion draft process has gone so far, through the NHL trade freeze which took effect Saturday, June 17 at 12 noon PT. Now, General Manager George McPhee and his staff will continue to have discussions with the other 30 NHL clubs. Vegas has indicated that they will give all 30 clubs every opportunity to keep their rosters intact if they'd like. This means that before the Golden Knights claim a player off a team's unprotected list, McPhee and his staff are willing to negotiate deals so the other clubs do not lose a player they would otherwise like to keep.

More than one person has cracked the “That’s a nice team you have there. It would be a shame if something happened to it,” joke.

It’s not like McPhee didn’t warn everyone he would auction off any good player left unprotected to the highest bidder. And it was always obvious those bidders would include the team the player is currently with.

And if the rumoured Columbus Blue Jackets’ deal is correct, at least one GM paid a hell of an overpay to protect players he thinks are good, largely because they are on his team.  He won’t be the only one to lose perspective and fail to realize the smart play is to just let one go, not two or three or four players in trying to be clever.

The assumption is that McPhee wants draft picks, all he can get. I’m sure he’d like some more high ones.  But at the end of a strange Saturday in this expansion draft process, I’m left with one thought: why’d he sign Vadim Shipachyov?

If all McPhee wants is future potential, then either Shipachyov is there to be moved for picks at the trade deadline next spring or he’s an anomaly.  I keep thinking that maybe McPhee will happily take picks in the next few days, but he’ll also need to take players he can build a team out of now, in the short term.  Maybe, unlike Arizona, he’s not planning to tank at all.  After all, making the playoffs in the Pacific division isn’t exactly difficult.

If that’s true, then the Leafs are in a good position to find modest improvements all over their roster on the lists of players Vegas can select for them.  They can buy them with their excess of wingers. At the very least some centre depth might be there to be found.

We won’t know for sure who has done what in trades with Vegas until Wednesday night, but for now, we’ll be able to look over the protection lists this morning at 10 a.m. and it’ll be just like when the Wish Book came out and you could plan your fantasy Christmas morning.  (Honk if you get this reference.)