On June 21, 2017, at the NHL Awards at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the Vegas Golden Knights (no ‘Las’, perplexingly) will announce the players they have selected in the expansion draft. They will select one player from every team. All year, fans have had fun conducting their mock drafts and contract and cap nerds have had their brand of fun obsessing over all the minute details and byzantine rules surrounding the draft. It can be quite difficult to figure it all out.
At first, it seems almost simple: each team is entitled to protect seven forwards, three defencemen, and one goalie from the draft. OR, they can simply pick eight skaters total and one goalie. But, keep in mind that teams will be obliged to protect any player with a no movement clause (NMC). And unrestricted free agents (UFAs) cannot be protected as they are not considered part of the team at that point. And then add in that players young or inexperienced enough need not be protected but then each team must expose a certain number of players at each position who have a minimum level of experience and...it all gets quite confusing. In any event, many teams are facing tough decisions. They could lose valuable players for nothing, so many teams are looking to trade these player for something or to trade other payers to protect the ones they want. Further to that, Vegas general manager (GM) George McPhee has stated he’s open to deals; namely, agreeing not to take certain players in exchange for draft picks or prospects. So what deals might we see? Well, keep on reading...
17 Jaroslav Halak - New York Islanders
The Islanders have made it clear that they see Thomas Greiss as their number one goaltender, so he will be the one to protect. But the veteran Halak, while inconsistent, can be a game changer when he’s on, as we all saw at the World Cup of Hockey this past September. After investing so much in Halak ($4.5 million over three years with one more to go) the Isles would hate to give him up for nothing. Interestingly, the Isles’ best target might be a team who needs a goalie to expose. If no team is interested in Halak on his own merits --as they didn’t seem to be before the trade deadline-- there are teams that could lose their starting goalie or a promising prospect to Vegas because they don’t have any other goalies who are eligible to expose.
Both of the Calgary Flames’ goalies, Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, are UFAs, so Calgary needs a goalie to expose to Vegas. Maybe they can work out a deal with the Islanders.
15 Marc Methot - Ottawa Senators
Speaking of good playoff runs, behind Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson, Marc Methot was perhaps Ottawa’s most impressive player this postseason. The big veteran defenceman scored more goals in these playoffs than he did all season (2). He also showed his guts and toughness and he’s had a positive +/- in each of his five seasons in Canada’s capital. The Sens would hate to lose Methot because he’s a hometown boy. But they’d hate even more to lose him for nothing, which is probably what will happen if they don’t work out a deal. A team looking for some experience on the back end and a protection spot open would be interested. Otherwise, the Sens can try to tempt George McPhee into taking a different player with a draft pick.
13 Mikkel Boedker/Chris Tierney - San Jose Sharks
With San Jose we begin to see how complicated the expansion draft can get. For starters, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton are UFAs. Vegas has a brief window in which they can negotiate with UFAs before any other team, so should they sign Marleau or Thornton, they won’t take a player from San Jose. But that’s pretty unlikely. Now, most teams will choose to protect seven forwards and three defencemen, but San Jose might well value their defence corp so highly that they opt for the ‘eight skaters total’ gambit. If they go the former route, the Sharks ought to try to deal David Schlemko or Justin Braun for a draft pick, as both will be attractive to Vegas.
If they choose the latter strategy, they’re bound to end up with Mikkel Boedker and probably Chris Tierney exposed. Now, Tierney is an RFA, just to muddle things further. And the Sharks could potentially value Jannik Hansen over both. It’s a confusing mess; they might be tempted just to let Vegas make their decision for them. If not, trying to get at least something for Boedker or Tierney makes sense.
12 Mark Letestu - Edmonton Oilers
Mark Letestu’s veteran presence and experience will appeal greatly to George McPhee. But his manageable contract of $1.8 million with one year left and his surprisingly excellent playoff performance make him appealing to a lot of other GMs, as well. Edmonton doesn’t have anywhere near the headache that San Jose has; they have enough players they’re comfortable with exposing. Having said that, Letestu is the likeliest pick for Vegas, so it makes sense to shop him around. Good teams that have struggled in the playoffs (Minnesota, Columbus, Montreal, etc.) might be willing to part with a decent draft pick or prospect to get Letestu.
But Edmonton’s biggest problem will be finding a team that wants Letestu that can also afford to protect him, or has another player Vegas is likelier to pick, and who they are comfortable losing.
11 Tomáš Plekanec - Montreal Canadiens
Tomáš Plekanec has played his entire career for the Canadiens. But that might be about to change. There was talk that the Habs were looking to deal Plekanec at the deadline. It is believed by most that Plekanec will not be among the skaters the Habs choose to protect. Now, Plekanec experienced a significant drop in production this past season, he only has one season left on his contract, and at $6 million, he’s not cheap.
It might be hard to find takers. Vegas, however, will struggle to hit the cap floor and Plekanec’s experience will appeal to them. Perhaps that’s Plekanec’s likeliest destination at this point. But it will hurt Habs brass and fans alike to see a fixture of their team leave for absolute nothing. Perhaps a deal for a low draft pick is their best hope.
10 James Neal - Nashville Predators
James Neal has been attracting a lot of attention with his good form in the playoffs over the course of Nashville’s run. He’s also scored at least 20 goals in each of his nine NHL seasons. He’s a pretty good player, but due to Nashville’s priorities and the ages and contracts of other players, the Preds will unlikely be able to protect Neal. Neal has one year left on his contract, making $5 million. Vegas would definitely be interested in him, but so will other teams.
A team with protection spots to spare might want to pick up Nashville for an expansion draft-eligible player and a draft pick. It doesn’t seem like much, but remember, these teams are under pressure to make deals here, and everybody knows it. It’s definitely a buyer’s market before June 21.
9 Carl Gunnarsson/Ryan Reaves/Kyle Brodziak - St. Louis Blues
The Blues are expected to utilize the 7-3-1 option and with just a cursory glance we have a pretty good idea of they will protect. On defence, Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, and Joel Edmundson are a lock. That leaves Carl Gunnarsson exposed. Up front, Ronnie Fabbri and Colton Parayko are, luckily for the Blues, exempt for the draft. Many of the Blues’ protected forwards are foregone conclusions, so we’ll likely end up with a situation where Ryan Reaves and Kyle Brodziak are exposed. (Along with Nail Yakupov, but, you know, who cares?)
If GM Doug Armstrong is sure he prefers one of Gunnarsson, Reaves, and Brodziak, he could try to convince George McPhee to take one of the other two with a mid-to-low round draft pick. Otherwise, they can try to find a taker elsewhere for any of these players, but again, every team has their own players to protect, so it will be difficult.
8 Vladislav Namestnikov - Tampa Bay Lightning
Most mock drafts have Vegas selecting Vladislav Namestnikov from Tampa Bay. Which seems bizarre, because, why wouldn’t Tampa protect him? Well, if we assume that Namestnikov is up for grabs, then that presupposes that Tampa will protect both of their high profile RFAs, Jonathan Drouin and Tyler Johnson, which they probably will, but given Tampa’s cap crunch, it’s not inconceivable that they don’t. But, assuming they do, the Lightning will have to pick between Namestnikov and Killorn to protect. Most people seem to assume that Killorn is the better option, but still, losing a promising 24-year-old center like Namestnikov for nothing will sting. Tampa could try to tempt George McPhee to take Braydon Coburn instead, but would that be better? If the Lightning can get something of even modest value for any one of Namestnikov, Killorn, Coburn, or Andrej Sustr before the draft, they should do so.
7 Mike Smith/Louis Domingue - Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes have lots of problems with this draft. The principal one being that they don't have enough skaters to expose. But let’s focus on their goaltending right now: who do they keep? Mike Smith is not the goalie he was in 2012 or even 2014, and he earns a considerable $5.666 million per year with two years left. Domingue is ten years younger and makes a heck of a lot less at $1.05 million per year with one year left. That said, Domingue’s numbers regressed this year and Smith’s are still superior. Do they gamble on youth or stick with the steady hand? The Coyotes are a very young team and, to put it bluntly, not a good one, so why not go with Domingue?
Well, because Smith has a no trade clause (NTC), the exact details of which are unclear. Either they work out a deal with Smith, or it’s likely bye-bye Domingue. Or, they can try to trade one, maybe to get some players to expose and a draft pick.
6 Michael Grabner/Jesper Fast - New York Rangers
Mika Zibanejad is an RFA, which makes the Rangers situation complicated. Most are assuming that after his good showing in the playoffs, the Rangers will do what they must to re-sign Zibanejad and protect him, so let’s assume that happens. In that case, we’re looking at the Blueshirts having to leave Michael Grabner, Jesper Fast, and Oscar Melberg exposed up front. Any of the three would be good pickups for Vegas and bad losses for the Rangers. Furthermore, Vegas could pick up Antti Raanta, who stood in ably for the injured Henrik Lundqvist in goal for parts of this season. This wouldn’t necessarily make the Rangers any happier. New York’s situation is so unpleasant that many have wondered if they will try persuade defencemen Dan Girardi or Marc Staal to waive their NMCs or even buy them out.
That’s unlikely, and because there will be plenty of goalies for Vegas to choose from, the Rangers might get to keep Raanta. That means one of Grabner, Fast, or Melberg are going to the Mojave desert, meaning the Rangers should start shopping them around now to see if they can get anything.
5 Trevor Van Riemsdyk - Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks are a relative breath of fresh air here because their situation is simple. Vegas is going to take Trevor Van Riemsdyk. Unless GM Stan Bowman can make some deals, this is going to happen. Sure, there’s an outside chance that George McPhee chooses Marcus Krugman instead, but it’s a poorly kept secret that Bowman is fretting over losing TVR, so McPhee would only take Krugman instead if Bowman sends him a draft pick, and I don’t mean a seventh rounder.
In a perfect world, Bowman could convince Brent Seabrook to waive his NMC, but let’s be real, unless TVR is traded, he’s in Nevada next year. One good thing for Bowman is that TVR is good enough to warrant a protection spot on several other teams, so he does have options. Though, of course, the ‘Hawks have zero cap space, so that doesn’t help either.
4 Alexander Wennberg/William Karlsson - Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus is another team in an unenviable position. They look poised to lose a promising young player. They are contractually obliged to protect Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, and (frustratingly for them) Scott Hartnell. They’re also going to want to protect Brandon Saad, Cam Atkinson, and Boone Jenner. That leaves only one spot for Alexander Wennberg, William Karlsson, and Matt Calvert. GM Jarmo Kekalainen is unlikely to protect Calvert, but if either Wennberg or Karlsson are left open, expect Vegas to snatch them up. Unless Kekalainen can convince McPhee to take a draft pick and Calvert instead or, better yet, somehow convince Hartnell to waive his NMC, then he should see if there’s a market for Wennberg or Karlson in the hope of getting some kind of compensation.
3 Jonas Brodin - Minnesota Wild
Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has probably been tearing his hair out for weeks. After the best regular season in franchise history and a disappointing first-round playoff exit, the Wild are going to lose an important player. There’s no way around it. We could see forwards Jason Zucker and Erik Haula as well as defenseman Marco Scandella, Christian Folin, and Jonas Brodin all exposed. Of that lot, Brodin is probably the most highly prized by Fletcher and the league at large. Fletcher can either try to trade Brodin to a team who can afford to protect him or try to convince George McPhee to take somebody else with draft picks. Jason Zucker did grow up in Las Vegas, so perhaps McPhee can be convinced that having a hometown player is worth not taking Brodin.
2 Cam Fowler - Anaheim Ducks
First thing’s first: Kevin Bieksa has a NMC. Ducks GM Bob Murray’s ideal scenario would be to convince Bieksa to waive it so that he can protect another defensemen. But we can’t assume that will happen. Everything hinges upon whether Anaheim goes the 7-3-1 route or 8-1. Along with Bieksa, Brandon Montour and Shea Theodore are exempt, so Murray doesn’t have to worry about them. But he does have to decide between Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Josh Manson, and Cam Fowler. Or, Murray can protect all four and leave forwards Antoine Vermette, Jakob Silfverberg, and Andre Cogliano exposed. Anyway you slice it, this is going to hurt the Ducks. Murray’s best bet is probably to try to trade Fowler. He has one year left on his contract for $4 million, after which he’ll likely want more money than the Ducks can afford anyway. And his offensive upside might make him more attractive than Vatanen or Lindholm, though if Murray can get a better deal for either of them, he ought to take it. But trying to convince George McPhee to leave all of them and take Logan Shaw instead is probably not going to work.
1 Marc-Andre Fleury - Pittsburgh Penguins
Marc-Andre Fleury has probably garnered more discussion than any other plays vis a vis the expansion draft. Everybody was expecting Penguins GM Jim Rutherford to make a deal before the trade deadline. Well, he didn’t, and he was right not to, as evidenced by Matt Murray’s injury and Fleury’s great play in the first two rounds of the playoffs. But that doesn’t change the fact that Murray is the Pens’ #1 going forward. However, Fleury has a modified NTC. He apparently has a list of 18 teams to which he consents to go. Let’s assume the Golden Knights aren’t on that list, what do the Penguins do? They have to trade him. They have to. More so than any other player on this list, Fleury must be dealt otherwise the Penguins will lose their actual starting goalie. Calgary has no goalies on contract right now, so the Flames are a good bet. Dallas, Buffalo, and Winnipeg are possible, too. But the Pens still need a goalie to expose, so they might need to get a goalie back. Also, remember, Fleury has a say in this, too; he’s not going anywhere he doesn’t want to go.
Sources Used: NHL.com, hockeydb.com, capfriendly.com, and puckprose.com