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Vegas Golden Knights hold cards as National Hockey League expansion draft nears

The Vegas Golden Knights are the league’s first expansion franchise in almost two decades, and they will begin play in 2017-18 after selecting at least one player from each of the other 30 teams in the NHL.Teams had two options for players they wanted to protect: 1) seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or 2) eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goaltender. Their picks will be officially announced at 6 p.m. Wednesday as part of the league’s awards show and expansion draft on NBC Sports Network.For the Washington Capitals, there was no suspense on Sunday morning, as The Post reported their protection list on Saturday afternoon.Eric Staal of the Minnesota Wild, former Manchester Monarch Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings, Carolina goalie Cam Ward and former UNH star Trevor Van Riemsdyk of the Chicago Blackhawks were among the other players left unprotected.Vatanen, who will miss the start of the season after having shoulder surgery, and Josh Manson were the odd men out in Anaheim, because the Ducks couldn’t protect their all their talented core of defensemen. The Golden Knights could swipe Rangers forward Michael Grabner, who scored 27 goals this past season. They also protected five defensemen, the most out of any team. Petr Mrazek (Red Wings) had an off year but is still just 25.The Sabres gave up a third-round pick in exchange for the 2011 first-round selection who completed his third full season in Montreal.While most of the focus of the hockey world was on the unveiling of the protected lists, NHL teams were informed by the league that the 2017-18 salary cap will escalate to $75 million U.S. Meanwhile the cap floor – in other words, the minimum – will be $55.4 million U.S.It’s widely believed that Pittsburgh goaltender and three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury has already been tabbed to land in Vegas after he waived his no-move clause to be eligible for the expansion draft.The list is likely moot as the Vegas Golden Knights are expected to claim Fleury, meaning the rest of the players on the list will remain with the Penguins. Golden Knights GM George McPhee has already eluded to the possibility of many behind the scenes deals and trades to be constructed.The Blue Jackets are reportedly including the 24th overall pick in this year’s entry draft in their deal, per both TSN and Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch.”We can put a competitive team on the ice and accumulate draft picks”, McPhee said, via the Knights Twitter account.That’s what Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka was thinking after trading veteran goalie Mike Smith to Calgary on Saturday. Yet, someone’s departure could leave the Blues scrambling toward free agency or trade talks to fulfill an urgent need previously exhibited by someone’s departure. Florida and Vegas can discuss arrangements in the meantime, in terms of selecting certain players.No matter what strategy the Golden Knights use in the expansion draft, they’re going to find the guys they want.The good news for teams is that the Golden Knights can take only one player from a team.