With the NHL playoffs in full swing, it’s sort of easy to forget that we are just a handful of weeks away from the much-anticipated Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft. Vegas will announce its team on June 21, likely less than a week after the NHL awards the 2017 Stanley Cup.
As a fan, I know what most of you are probably thinking: how is this upcoming expansion draft going to affect my team? Well, that’s what I’m here to tell you (assuming you cheer for one of the 15 teams who appear on today’s list).
For the purposes of this list, I tried to include only “good” teams—14 out of 15 clubs on this list made the 2017 postseason, and the only team that missed still cracked 90 points. It just so happens that about half of the “good" teams are well-positioned for the upcoming expansion draft, while the other half are more or less screwed.
So, is your team completely screwed come June 21, or are they going to simply lose some dead weight? Read the list to find out!
(It should be noted that by screwed here I simply mean that they risk losing an actual impact player at expansion; that could just be a testament to said team’s depth and perhaps they’re not as screwed as I’m suggesting they are. Also, if you’re unsure of the expansion draft rules, read up on them here.)
15 Screwed: Anaheim Ducks
It’s hard to feel sorry for some of the teams that appear on the “screwed” section of the list, because they find themselves there thanks to a handful of NMC (no-movement clause) contracts and only have themselves to blame. Anaheim is one of those teams, as they have three NMCs up front and one on D. It’s that one on D that becomes a problem, because it belongs to 35-year-old Kevin Bieksa.
Anaheim has a wealth of young defensemen who require protection, so it’s likely that Bieksa’s NMC forces them to use four protection slots on defense (the others being Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler). With Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Corey Perry with NMCs up front, that means the Ducks will have to simply lose one of those three D-men I listed, or basically choose to protect just one of Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, and Andrew Cogliano. Tough call.
14 Safe: Chicago Blackhawks
Yes, the Chicago Blackhawks have an expensive core that is severely restricting the club’s ability to build a winner moving forward, but they still won’t lose much to Vegas this June. The Blackhawks have an astonishing eight NMC contracts (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Corey Crawford), so the decisions they need to make are minimal.
It basically boils down to this for the ‘Hawks: do they want to protect defensive youngster Trevor van Riemsdyk, or pick three more forwards to protect instead? I’d go with the latter, but even if they protect TVR, the best forward they’re exposing is probably Marcus Krueger or unsigned RFA Richard Panik. (Friendly reminder that Artemi Panarin doesn’t require protection).
13 Screwed: Washington Capitals
Whereas Anaheim appeared in the screwed section thanks to a plethora of NMCs, the Caps are here because of their incredible depth. Despite the fact that they have both T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams as pending UFAs, they’ll still have a hard time finding a way to protect all their key pieces.
First of all, they have four defensemen who they’ll want to protect (Matt Niskanen, John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Dmitry Orlov). They can choose to protect just three of them and lose a quality D-man, or protect all four and pick four forwards. Assuming the four forwards they protect are Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Marcus Johansson, that means Vegas gets to pick from Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, Tom Wilson, and Jay Beagle, to name a few.
12 Safe: Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins suffered a first-round defeat at the hands of the Ottawa Senators, and that sucks for them and their fans. There’s good news though: once expansion is in the rearview mirror, you should still be about as good a team as you were before it happened. The Bruins have a wealth of forwards who need protection, but their defense is shallow enough that they should be okay to go 7-3-1 without major repercussions.
It basically comes down to this for the Bruins: the will go the 7-3-1 route, and five of those seven forward protections are already more or less written in stone: David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. They can choose to protect two more of Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Ryan Spooner, and Riley Nash. I assume they go Spooner and Hayes, but in any case they’re just fine.
11 Screwed: New York Rangers
The Rangers always seem to ice a competitive team despite having lacked an elite-level scorer for what seems like since Marian Gaborik when he was still good. Say what you want about Rick Nash, but aside from that anomaly of a season in 2014-15 when he notched 42-27-69, he hasn’t been a stud in New York. In any case, the Rangers have remained competitive because of strength on the back end and incredible depth up front.
Expansion will likely cost them some of that depth up front, on the back end, or even in goal. Equipped with one of the best backups in the NHL in Antti Raanta, the Rangers are forced to protect Henrik Lundqvist because of his NMC. It looks like they lose a quality player no matter what, as after protecting their seven most valuable forwards they still could lose a guy like Michael Grabner, Oscar Lindberg or Kevin Hayes.
10 Safe: Ottawa Senators
The Senators were one of the feel-good stories of 2016-17. There was of course a lot going on off the ice in Ottawa, but that seemed to only motivate the Senators to surpass expectations, and that’s just what they did. More good news for Sens fans is that the upcoming expansion draft shouldn’t cost them too dearly; it looks like they’ll lose a depth forward, worst-case scenario.
They can get away with protecting Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf, and Marc Methot on the backend, meaning the best forward the Sens would maybe lose to Vegas is Zack Smith. I was actually thinking there’s a chance the Senators leave Bobby Ryan and his $7.25M cap hit unprotected as bait (and then protecting Smith), but now that Ryan is having such a good playoffs, that seems less likely.
9 Screwed: New York Islanders
For as much flack as Garth Snow has had over the years, the New York Islanders have actually done a pretty good job of stocking the cupboard. As such, it looks like they’ll be losing a pretty stellar player to expansion this June. Assuming the Golden Knights don’t bite on goaltender Jaro Halak—who has one year left on his deal at $4.5M—it is a lose-lose for the Islanders.
Let’s say they go the 7-3-1 route, which they most certainly will. That leaves Thomas Hickey, Calvin De Haan, and Dennis Seidenberg exposed on the blue line (I’ve protected Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, and Travis Hamonic). This is forgetting that it leaves some very quality players up front exposed too. After protecting John Tavares, Andrew Ladd, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, and Casey Cizikas, Vegas gets to choose from Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski, Cal Clutterbuck, and Shane Prince.
8 Safe: Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens will be one of the more interesting teams to watch this offseason. The Shea Weber trade last summer signified that the Habs were in win-now mode, but their early playoff exit at the hands of the Rangers shows they have a ways to go. Luckily, they shouldn’t lose a real impact player come June 21.
Let’s face it, Montreal doesn’t really have great depth up front or on the backend. If they go the 7-3 route, their biggest risk is losing someone like Torrey Mitchell or Daniel Carr up front. Vegas may also go after veteran center Tomas Plekanec for his defensive prowess and his $6 million cap hit with a year left would help Vegas reach the cap floor. They may also look to the blue line. There, they’ll find unproven 25-year-old defenseman Brandon Davidson, 29-year-old D-man Jordie Benn, and Tampa Bay castoff Nikita Nesterov. There’s not exactly an expansion draft bounty in Montreal for Vegas.
7 Screwed: San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks definitely stand to lose a quality player at the upcoming expansion draft, but that’s only because they have great depth throughout the lineup. Although he’s 30 years old, my guess is the Golden Knights grab Justin Braun, as the Sharks will need to go the 7-3-1 route in order to protect the greatest number of assets. The three D-man protection slots will go to Brent Burns, Paul Martin, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Braun played with Vlasic for most of this past season with great success, and the Golden Knights will likely see him as a solid second-pairing defenseman (a player type that will be hard to come by for Vegas via the expansion draft). Assuming they don’t ink Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau to extensions prior to expansion, the Sharks will likely protect Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Joel Ward, Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson, Chris Tierney, and Mikkel Boedker up front.
6 Safe: Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers surpassed most peoples’ expectations this season, and they did it with a lot of youth in their lineup. As such, a few of Edmonton’s key contributors from this season—including likely MVP Connor McDavid—haven’t even been in the league long enough to require protection. They will go the 7-3-1 route, protecting Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Mark Letestu, Patrick Maroon, Zack Kassian, and Leon Draisaitl up front, and Andrej Sekera, Oscar Klefbom, and Adam Larsson on the blue line.
The Golden Knights have a few options when it comes to the Oilers, none of them exciting. They could take a chance on Benoit Pouliot, who has sort of fallen out of favor in Edmonton and comes with a $4M cap hit for two more seasons. A sneaky pick might be Tyler Pitlick, who was scoring at a 20 goal pace before getting injured for the season in game 31.
5 Screwed: Minnesota Wild
Despite their very disappointing first-round exit at the hands of the St. Louis Blues, the Minnesota Wild still have one of the deepest rosters in the NHL. This, coupled with the fact that they’re saddled with four NMCs, means they are destined to give up a pretty stellar player to Vegas. They’ll probably go the 7-3-1 route, simply to protect a greater number of assets.
So, once their NMCs up front are out of the way (Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville), they’ll probably protect Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, and Jason Zucker. On the blue line, they have Ryan Suter on a NMC, meaning they can choose to protect just two of Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, and Matt Dumba. Needless to say, I don’t envy GM Chuck Fletcher.
4 Safe: Calgary Flames
The Calgary Flames are a team on the rise, and the Vegas Golden Knights aren’t about to really alter that path in any meaningful way. The Golden Knights will have an opportunity to grab an established NHL player from Calgary for sure, but not one who has the ability to influence the game on a nightly basis.
The Flames have three really good defensemen (Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton) and then basically a black hole there, so they won’t lose a great player on D. After protecting the seven players that I deem their best forwards who also aren’t exempt (Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Troy Brouwer, Michael Frolik, Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett), Vegas will likely get to choose from the likes of Michael Ferland, Matt Stajan, or Lance Bouma. Hooray.
3 Screwed: Nashville Predators
It’s tough not to envy the Nashville Predators roster. Sure, they just squeaked into the playoffs this season, but the fact that they dismantled the Blackhawks in four straight in round 1 should tell you all you need to know. They have great depth up front and even better depth on defense; I feel like the Preds will just bite the bullet and expose more quality forwards to ensure they keep their top-four on D.
When you have a top-four of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm, these are the things you have to do. I assume the four forwards they would then protect would be Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, and let’s say Craig Smith. That leaves some real quality exposed up front, such as James Neal, Colin Wilson, Calle Jarnkrok, and promising youngsters like Mikka Salomaki and Colton Sissons.
2 Safe: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs surprised even themselves in 2016-17 by not only making the playoffs, but then by putting up such a fight with the Presidents' Trophy champion Washington Capitals in round 1. They did so with so many rookies on their roster that it broke NHL records. Those rookies don’t require protection at the upcoming expansion draft, so the Leafs will be losing pretty much nothing to Vegas.
They might even go the 4-4-1 route, and that’s weird for a team with weak defensive depth. However, I’d argue that Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Martin Marincin and Connor Carrick are more valuable to the club moving forward than most of the forwards that are left on the exposed list after protecting Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, and James Van Riemsdyk. Heck, many of the remaining veterans played for the Marlies this year.
1 Screwed: Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets finally saw the fruits of their developmental labour pay off this season, setting a franchise record in points with 108, destroying the previous record of 93. The way things have shaped up for the Blue Jackets, I’d say it’s probable that Columbus loses a quality defenseman to Vegas, but even if that’s the case the Golden Knights will have quality forwards to choose from as well.
I bet they leave Jack Johnson exposed on the back and they protect Ryan Murray, Seth Jones, and David Savard. Vegas may bite on Johnson and make him the team’s first captain, but that would mean they are passing up on possibly Matt Calvert, Boone Jenner, and Josh Anderson, just to name a few. NMCs sort of ruin things for the Jackets, as three of their seven forward protections must go to Nick Foligno (29), Brandon Dubinsky (30), and Scott Hartnell (35).