Last week, the NHL officially announced its expansion to Las Vegas, giving the fast-growing desert city its first big four sports franchise. The league also released the official rules for the expansion draft (read them here), which will be held just over one year from today, in July 2017.
Naturally, this got fans thinking: oh dear lord, which player am I going to lose from my team? That’s exactly what I’m going to tell you today. Now, it’s fair to say that this exercise is just for fun and with a full year’s worth of transactions and signings still to come before the draft, the actual team will likely look a lot different than mine.
With that in mind, I went ahead and did the draft as if it was to be held this season. Pending UFAs who I consider high profile and worthy of protection were not included, as I can’t be sure where they’ll be playing and it’s unlikely they’re retained by their current teams. Lower profile UFAs, however, were included, as it’s entirely possible they sign with their current teams.
Las Vegas will be able to grab one player from every team, and they’ll surely exercise that privilege to get 30 contracts on the books before shopping for free agents and signing draft picks to round out the roster. Here are my best guesses for players who are likely going to skate in the desert in 2016-17:
29 Anaheim Ducks: Cam Fowler
Protected: Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa (all NMC), plus Jakob Silfverberg, Andrew Cogliano, Jamie McGinn, Rickard Rakell, Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, John Gibson
Anaheim has a pretty decent handful of good young forwards, so we went the seven F/three D route for the Ducks.
We were very close to placing Brandon Pirri here instead of Fowler, but the Ducks recently decided not to qualify the RFA, so that is moot. Pirri is a solid young pivot who has put together three solid NHL seasons now, and there will be a few teams seeking his services this offseason.
The possibility of Las Vegas going for Fowler in this situation is very real, and it’s really a shame for Anaheim that they granted Bieksa with the no move clause. It’s unlikely they’d rather keep the aging Bieksa over Fowler. They'll probably look to trade Fowler before risking losing him for nothing.
28 Arizona Coyotes: Zbynek Michalek
Protected: Alex Goligoski (NMC), Martin Hanzal, Brad Richardson, Tobias Rieder, Anthony Duclair, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Michael Stone, Connor Murphy, Mike Smith
The Coyotes are rather deep on defense but light on forwards (forwards who need protection, anyway) so we went with the “any eight skaters” strategy for Arizona.
Zbynek Michalek is certainly getting a little older (he’s 33), but the Las Vegas expansion team will need to find a mix of youth and experience. Michalek is a reliable veteran defenseman, and would be a good depth option for an expansion team. Michalek really can't lose here; either way he'll be playing in the desert, but here, he'd have the bright lights.
In all honesty, Arizona was a team in which it was sort of difficult to even find eight players worthy of protection. They’re well-positioned for the 2017 expansion draft if only because of their youth and inexperience.
27 Boston Bruins: Colin Miller
Protected: David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara (all NMC), Brad Marchand, Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak, Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Joe Morrow, Tuukka Rask
We went with the 7/3/1 breakdown for Boston, considering they have a lot of young forwards who need protection. With Loui Eriksson now off to free agency, he's obviously excluded from this list.
Dennis Seidenberg was recently bought out by the Bruins, and was our initial inclusion for this list. Why did the Bruins buy Seidenberg out? The answer is simply age and contract status; Seidenberg is now out of Beantown and if anything, Las Vegas will sign him as a UFA next summer.
Our inclusion will now be Colin Miller, who is scheduled to be an RFA next year and as a young defenceman, is likely someone an expansion team would target.
26 Buffalo Sabres: Cody Franson
Protected: Zach Bogosian (NMC), Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane, Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Dmitry Kulikov, Josh Gorges, Rasmus Ristolainen, Robin Lehner
Many of Buffalo’s key forwards are exempt from the expansion draft because of their age (Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, namely), so we thought the 4/4/1 formula for the Sabres made sense.
Cody Franson is the odd man out here, although the possibility Buffalo leaves Gorges open instead of Franson is real. Either way, I’d say it’s probable that the Las Vegas expansion team grabs whichever player is left unprotected by the Sabres, be it Franson or Gorges.
There’s also the possibility that Las Vegas goes with youth when it comes to Buffalo and picks up a veteran who’s played pro for a few years, splitting time between the AHL and the NHL (a guy like Cal O’Reilly or Jerry D’Amigo). The point is, Vegas will have options in Buffalo.
25 Calgary Flames: Dennis Wideman
Protected: Michael Frolik, Michael Backlund, Matt Stajan, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett, Lance Bouma, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie, Brian Elliott
Calgary has a wealth of young talent up front and a collection of solid veterans on the back end, all of whom need protection. Dennis Wideman is going to be the odd man out on the blue line, as they’ll protect Giordano, Hamilton, and Brodie before protecting Wideman.
Rumor has it that the Flames have been shopping Wideman’s contract, which expires at the end of 2016-17. They can obviously walk away from it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they inked him to a smaller deal just for the purposes of expansion exposure. This is all conjecture, of course. But so is this entire article.
Another interesting name on Calgary’s blue line is Jyrki Jokipakka. I would not be surprised at all if the Vegas team went with youth over experience more often than not, and Jokipakka is a young pro who is nine years younger than Wideman.
24 Carolina Hurricanes: Andrej Nestrasil
Protected: Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, Teuvo Teravainen, Victor Rask, Bryan Bickell, Phillip Di Giuseppe, James Wisniewski, Justin Faulk, Ryan Murphy, Eddie Lack
Carolina was a tough team to find 10 skaters worthy of protection, as a few of their best defensemen (John Slavin and Noah Hanifin) are exempt and their forward crop is shallow, to put it nicely. Andrej Nestrasil could very well be protected over Phil Di Giuseppe or Victor Rask. This is all not to mention pending UFA Riley Nash who would also garner protection should he re-sign with Carolina.
Another option for the Hurricanes is to leave Bickell exposed, and that’s assuming they re-sign him (he’s set to become a UFA at the end of the season). If they sign him to a much more reasonable salary than his current $4 million AAV, I see no reason they wouldn’t protect the veteran Cup winner.
23 Chicago Blackhawks: Marcus Kruger
Protected: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Corey Crawford (all NMC), Trevor van Riemsdyk
With an NHL-high eight full no-move clauses on their roster, Chicago doesn’t really have a whole lot of choice when it comes to protecting players next July. The only player we actually see them protecting by choice is defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk. With their core forwards set in stone, the plan has always been to rotate an inexpensive supporting cast around them anyway.
Marcus Kruger looks to be the most logical candidate to leave Chicago in the expansion draft. He’s under contract through 2018-19 and has proven to be a solid depth player on a championship team. He’s only 26 as well, so he’s young enough that Vegas could be drafting a piece they can use for a decade.
22 Colorado Avalanche: Blake Comeau
Protected: Erik Johnson, Francois Beauchemin (both NMC), Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Carl Soderberg, Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie, Eric Gelinas, Semyon Varlamov
Colorado was a tough team to pick because of the uncertainty of the roster. They have a handful of forwards who are either without a contract today, or likely will be without a contract in July 2017. They're also a very young team, so it'll be interesting to see what veterans they expose. Veteran/reclamation project Blake Comeau is locked up until the end of 2017-18, so we went with him.
Expansion teams always seem to have a mix of prospects and veterans, and Comeau would fit nicely into the latter category. Comeau has been on waivers a few times within the last five seasons, but he bounced back and has found a home in Colorado’s bottom-six. Don’t be surprised if the Vegas team picks up Comeau with the same type of role in mind.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Boone Jenner
Protected: Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, David Clarkson, Scott Hartnell, Sergei Bobrovsky (all NMC), David Savard, Ryan Murray, Seth Jones, Jack Johnson
I can’t really stress just how screwed Columbus is looking for the 2017 expansion draft. They’re in the most trouble of all NHL teams in this regard, and it isn’t even close. They have six NMCs—second most in the NHL—and at least two or three of them are for players they would otherwise be leaving unprotected.
These spots could have been taken by one of either Jack Johnson, Brandon Saad, or Boone Jenner, all of who are left exposed. That’s not to mention Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert, William Karlsson, etc.
Jenner would be a major boon for Vegas (sorry). He will likely be one of the best forwards available, so it’s likely they take him. The fact is they’ll have options in Columbus. The Blue Jackets just can't seem to catch a break.
21 Dallas Stars: Johnny Oduya
Protected: Jason Spezza (NMC), Patrick Sharp, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Cody Eakin, Antoine Roussel, Valeri Nichushkin, Radek Faska, John Klingberg, Jamie Oleksiak, Kari Lehtonen
To be fair, Johnny Oduya will be a UFA after 2016-17, so it’s quite possible that they don’t re-sign him. But with rumblings that both Jason Demers and Kris Russell are set to explore the free agent market this summer, the Stars retaining Oduya beyond next season is a real possibility.
The interesting thing with Dallas is its goaltending situation. They have two B-grade starters in Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, and one of them will be available for Las Vegas. Will they pick a goalie instead? It’s very possible, but again, too early to say for sure. Niemi or Lehtonen wouldn't exactly be a great long-term solution in Vegas and there will be better options out there around the league.
20 Detroit Red Wings: Mike Green
Protected: Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist, Justin Abdelkader, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Teemu Pulkkinen, Andreas Athanasiou, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Danny Dekeyser, Petr Mrazek
Las Vegas will have a ton of options to a pick from Detroit. It’s possible that the Wings choose to just protect four forwards and four defensemen instead, but that would leave one of Pulkkinen or Athanasiou exposed, and that doesn’t seem likely.
In a way, Vegas taking Mike Green off Detroit’s hands would be a good thing for the Wings. He’ll have one more year left at $6 million AAV, which is steep for Green, at least at this point in his career. Freeing up $6 million from Detroit's cap space would allow them to go after some big fish in next year's free agency crop. That being said—depending on how much Vegas values youth vs. experience—I could see them going for a guy like Tomas Jurco instead.
19 Edmonton Oilers: Matt Hendricks
Protected: Andrej Sekera, Cam Talbot (both NMC), Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic*, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl, Benoit Pouliot, Patrick Maroon, Nail Yakupov, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson
This protected list could look mighty different in a year’s time—especially considering the fact that Peter Chiarelli seems destined to turn this team into a spitting image of the 2011 Bruins. Couple that with the fact that Yakupov has publicly requested a trade out of town, and you see how it could change, not to mention they’ve now brought in Milan Lucic on a long-term contract, whom I've included on the protected list.
Any way it shakes out, it seems unlikely that the Oilers protect heart-and-soul winger Matt Hendricks, and that’s exactly why he’s a perfect fit for a start-up expansion team. If the Vegas team does opt for Hendricks, bet your bottom dollar that they put a letter on his jersey.
18 Florida Panthers: Jiri Hudler/Dave Bolland
Protected: Keith Yandle (NMC), Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jussi Jokinen, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Logan Shaw, Aaron Ekblad, Mark Pysyk, Roberto Luongo
Basically, if Hudler is re-signed, it will be him. If not, it's Bolland.
Bolland: We’re pretty sure that the Panthers would be ecstatic if the Vegas squad plucks Dave Bolland from them, and the possibility is definitely there. Things haven’t gone well for Bolland ever since scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal in 2013, but he could still prove to be useful for the expansion team in 2017.
Hudler: If the Panthers are able to re-sign Jiri Hudler to an extension, he is the likely candidate to go from Sunrise. Hudler will probably earn somewhere in the ballpark of his current expiring contract, which cap with a $4 million cap hit.
Las Vegas will have options when it comes to Florida, as the collection of talented young players they’ve collected over the past five years will force them to expose a few valuable veterans.
17 Los Angeles Kings: Marian Gaborik
Protected: Anze Kopitar (NMC), Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Trevor Lewis, Dwight King, Tanner Pearson, Kyle Clifford, Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, Jonathan Quick
Smart money has the Los Angeles Kings leaving a few of their older, more expensive players open for the taking, and it’s entirely possible that Vegas bites on Marian Gaborik. The other option here is captain Dustin Brown, but his play has deteriorated to the point where his $5.875 million cap hit is simply too hard to swallow.
Gaborik’s play has also deteriorated, mind you, but he’s the cheaper of the two and has fewer years remaining on his contract. It's possible he could give the Vegas team one or two good years. In the worst case Vegas could buy him out after a few seasons, and there’s always the possibility of the veteran European opting out of his contract early to finish his career closer to home.
16 Minnesota Wild: Marco Scandella
Protected: Zach Parise, Mikki Koivu, Jason Pominville, Ryan Suter (all NMC), Nino Niederreiter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Devan Dubnyk
It looks like Las Vegas will have decent options from Minnesota, both up front and on the back end. Things could look different one year from now, as the Wild currently have a lot of players to sign for 2016-17, and a handful of other contracts that expire at the end of next season.
It’s likely the Wild are regretting the NMC for Jason Pominville, but you live, you learn. He’s a fine enough player still, but they have other, younger forwards they’d probably rather protect, like Jason Zucker and Eric Haula, for instance.
The x-factor here is Matt Dumba; depending on what type of contract Minnesota works out with their pending RFA (assuming they actually do work one out), he could also be a candidate for exposure.
15 Montreal Canadiens: Nathan Beaulieu
Protected: Jeff Petry (both NMC), Shea Weber, Alexei Emelin, Tomas Plekanec, Max Pacioretty, Andrew Shaw, Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, Paul Byron, Sven Andrighetto, Carey Price
Unless Montreal decides to go the other route and protect four defensemen and three fewer forwards, it’s likely that Las Vegas will be plucking a D-man from Montreal. With a NMC for Petry, it’s likely that Emelin and Weber will be the only additional D-men they can protect. Andrei Markov will be an unrestricted free agent and is already pushing 40, so it's unlikely Vegas would be interested in the longtime Habs blue liner.
On another note, it’s possible the Habs elect to leave a guy like Paul Byron exposed, but word out of Montreal is they’re pretty happy with him these days, and his $1.6 million AAV price tag is very reasonable for a legitimate NHL forward. That leaves Nathan Beaulieu as the odd man out, who has had trouble moving up the depth chart the way the team would like.
14 Nashville Predators: James Neal
Protected: Pekka Rinne (NMC), Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Matthias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis
Nashville has a pretty deep and impressive roster these days, so it’s safe to say that Vegas will be getting a pretty useful player from Music City. Because of the depth on the Nashville blue line, they’ll be forced to protect eight skaters, and that leaves sniper veteran James Neal as the odd man out.
Obviously the top two priorities up front for Nashville are Forsberg and Johansen, but an argument can be made that the Preds will protect Neal over Wilson or Smith. I disagree; and both Wilson and Smith are cheaper than Neal, and are underrated to boot. This could all change in a year, as it’s possible they ditch a defenseman via trade, but today this looks to be the most likely outcome.
13 New Jersey Devils: John Moore
Protected: Ryane Clowe (NMC), Travis Zajac, Mike Cammalleri, Adam Henrique, Kyle Pamieri, Joseph Blandisi, Jacob Josefson, Andy Greene, Taylor Hall, Damon Severson, Cory Schneider
The poor New Jersey Devils don’t exactly have a sexy list of names on their protected list here, but they’re also only at 30/50 contracts, so expect that to change after free agency. Nonetheless, with a list of protected players that includes Jacob Joesfson, you know you’re not likely getting a stud from Jersey.
In a way, the Devils have operated like an expansion team for the past several seasons, plucking veteran castoffs at discount prices to fill out their roster. Taylor Hall was the exception to this, as he's really the only young stud the Devils have acquired. No, they haven’t been a perennial playoff team during that stretch, but they’ve done an admirable job overall. It'll be interesting to see what Ray Shero does over the next year.
12 New York Islanders: Cal Clutterbuck
Protected: John Tavares, Johnny Boychuk (both NMC), Anders Lee, Ryan Strome, Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, Andrew Ladd, Casey Cizikas, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Jaroslav Halak
The Islanders have a big group of players whom need and deserve protection, and they simply won’t be able to protect every one of them. It’s possible they elect to protect Clutterbuck over, say, Casey Cizikas, and it’s also possible Vegas goes for either Mikhail Grabovski ore Nikolai Kulemin over Clutterbuck.
Furthermore, with rumblings out of the Island that they’ve not only now lost Kyle Okposo to free agency, but also Frans Nielsen to the Detroit Red Wings. They've now brought in Andrew Ladd via free agency, so things will be looking a lot different on the Island in a year’s time. We’re willing to bet the Islanders find a way to sign at least one of the two, and if they do this player will likely be protected.
11 New York Rangers: Antti Raanta
Protected: Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan (all NMC), Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Oscar Lindberg, Ryan McDonagh
It will be very interesting to see which goaltenders the Vegas team takes come July 2017. As of right now, the Rangers appear to be in danger of losing back-up Antti Raanta. Raanta is still developing, but he could serve as a strong back-up and potentially the goalie of the future for the Vegas team.
One interesting theory that I’ve seen out there is that the Rangers will leave Rick Nash exposed, tempting the Las Vegas squad to take the $7.8 million cap hit for the final season. This is entirely possible, but I still feel like the Rangers will be in win-now mode at that point, and one more season with Nash is probably something that could help in pursuit of that ultimate goal. Ultimately though, you need a good goalie to contend.
10 Ottawa Senators: Craig Anderson
Protected: Bobby Ryan, Dion Phaneuf (both NMC), Mark Stone, Kyle Turris, Mika Zibanejad, Mike Hoffman, Curtis Lazar, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Erik Karlsson, Mark Methot, Andrew Hammond
Both of Ottawa’s goaltenders will be heading into the final year of their respective deals in 2017-18, and since Anderson will be 36 at that time, it’s unlikely he’s the ‘tender Ottawa elects to protect. They’ll be hoping to hand the reins over to the Hamburglar at that point, meaning Anderson could be the Las Vegas franchise’s first starting goaltender.
As a side note here, we have another regrettable no-move clause. Ryan is a fine hockey player, but he’s not nearly good enough to earn the $7.25 million AAV cap hit through 2021-22. Clarke MacArthur is another x-factor, as he was held to just four games in 2015-16 thanks to a serious concussion. If he bounces back, does Ottawa expose him or protect him?
9 Philadelphia Flyers: Michael Del Zotto
Protected: Claude Giroux (NMC), Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, Michael Raffl, Radko Gudas, Shayne Gostisbehere, Mark Streit, Steve Mason
Philadelphia’s casualty is super difficult to predict at this point, as many of their key players are on contracts that expire at the end of 2016-17. We can only go by what the roster looks like today, and Michael Del Zotto is the choice.
Del Zotto has shown signs of offensive brilliance in his career, but also signs of inconsistency and defensive weaknesses. Of course he’s one of the pending UFAs (for 2016-17), so it’s entirely possible Philly passes on re-signing him anyway. It will be interesting to see what Ron Hextall’s Flyers do between now and next July. They're never shy about shaking up their roster, so our pick for their expansion casualty could very well change by next year.
8 Pittsburgh Penguins: Carl Hagelin
Protected: Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury (all NMC), Patric Hornqvist, Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin
The Penguins core is locked up with NMCs, and simply put it will be easier to build a supporting cast around Crosby/Malkin/Kessel up front than Letang on the back end. Logically, one of the Penguins’ secondary scorers will likely become a casualty.
We picked Carl Hagelin here, but it could just as easily be Nick Bonino who goes. Either way, the franchise isn’t ready to give up on defenders Pouliot or Maatta, and with the way Dumoulin stepped up in the postseason, it’s safe to say they’ll want to keep him.
The x-factor here is Matt Murray. While it’s entirely possible they find a deal for Fleury that allows them to keep Murray, Fleury would still have to agree to it, regardless. If Fleury and Murray are both in Pittsburgh come July 2017, you can bet Murray is plucked.
7 San Jose Sharks: Justin Braun
Protected: Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Joel Ward, Melker Karlsson, Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney, Brent Burns, Paul Martin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Martin Jones
The team that just emerged as the victors of the Western Conference have a deep roster, and are likely going to lose a very useful player come the Vegas expansion. In this assessment, we’re assuming that Thornton is signed to an extension, but Patrick Marleau is not.
If the Sharks do decide to go the 7/3/1 route, there will be a pretty solid defenseman available, and the Vegas roster will most certainly take one. Justin Braun is probably the odd man out, but it’s also possible Vegas goes with the younger Brendan Dillon. Either way, Sharks fans should be prepared to lose a useful piece next July. What will sting all the more is they'll be losing him to a team in their conference.
6 St. Louis Blues: Dmitrij Jaskin
Protected: Vladimir Tarasenko, Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, Jori Lehtera, Jaden Schwartz, Patrick Berklund, Steve Ott, Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk/Carl Gunnarsson
The Blues have incredible depth, so they’ll have some difficult decisions to make next July. By next summer, they'll be looking for a head coach, as Ken Hitchcock has announced 2016-17 will be his final season. Of course the Kevin Shattenkirk/David Backes protections may not need to be utilized (as they both could very well be on their way out of town this summer).
In our expansion draft we actually took fourth-liner Dmitrij Jaskin from St. Louis. This is admittedly sort of out of left field, but with all of the uncertainty looming over the St. Louis roster for the next 12 months, Jaskin was the safest bet for a player who a) would still be there, and b) brings enough to the table to make him worth considering for an expansion team.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning: Jonathan Drouin
Protected: Ryan Callahan, Valtteri Filppula, Steven Stamkos (all NMC), Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Matt Carle, Ben Bishop
Tampa Bay is probably going to lose one of the better players in the expansion draft, as Steve Yzerman has done a heck of a job building the roster there. With the recent Steven Stamkos extension in mind, they’ll be exposing a very good forward (unless they can dump Filppula or Callahan before then—good luck). Jonathan Drouin could be the odd man out.
It would be an interesting end to what’s been a rocky relationship thus far, but Tampa has such high quality forwards that they can actually afford to lose Drouin for nothing. Drouin has since retracted his request for a trade, so we'll see how the relationship can be mended next season. It’s not ideal, nor is it great asset management, but it’s a distinct possibility nonetheless.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs: Jonathan Bernier
Protected: Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul, Brooks laich, Leo Komarov, Free Agent Signing, Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Martin Marincin, Frederik Andersen
You see, I’m assuming here that the Toronto Maple Leafs will sign a free agent worth keeping, and I’m betting it’s a forward. Therefore, the best bet to go from the Leafs roster is Jonathan Bernier. Since the Leafs recently acquired Frederik Andersen, Bernier will certainly be left exposed. They've never quite gotten a full season of consistency out of him so it's very unlikely they'll be sad to lose him.
The forward they choose to sign/protect is still up in the air, and you can bet they’re probably disappointed it's not going to be Steven Stamkos. Bernier is the most likely departure from Toronto, and he will provide stability in net and competition in the Vegas crease.
3 Vancouver Canucks: Derek Dorsett
Protected: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin (both NMC), Brandon Sutter, Jannik Hansen, Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, Bo Horvat, Alexander Edler, Chris Tanev, Erik Gudbranson, Jacob Markstrom
Las Vegas went with grit when it came to Vancouver’s roster in our mock draft, selecting right winger Derek Dorsett. Dorsett was one of the Canucks most consistent forwards in 2015-16, albeit in a 4th line role. He can fill in on the 3rd line if need be and he kills penalties, so he brings necessary tools to the table.
A high-profile free agent signing can change this, of course. Loui Eriksson is rumored to be Vancouver bound, and if those pan out to be true then it could shake Baertschi or Granlund loose. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vegas squad still went with the veteran Dorsett should that happen though.
2 Washington Capitals: Justin Williams
Protected: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller, Andre Burakovsky, Matt Niskanen, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Braden Holtby
The Washington Capitals have an incredibly deep roster, so Vegas will have options when it comes to D.C. They’re going to have at least one solid forward and one solid defenseman to pick from, and after we protected the Caps’ players we had the choice between Justin Williams and Brooks Orpik.
We went with Williams here, partly due to his more favorable contract and partly because of the fact that he’s a proven champion. He has three Stanley Cup rings and a Conn Smythe Trophy to go with it. This expansion team will need some leadership and pedigree in their locker room. Any team would want that, and the only reason Washington won’t be able to protect him is because of their incredibly talented forward pool.
1 Winnipeg Jets: Drew Stafford
Protected: Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom (both NMC), Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba, Blake Wheeler, Brian Little, Mark Scheifele, Mathieu Perreault, Connor Helleybuyck
The Jets have pretty solid depth on defense, so they will likely go the 4-4-1 route here. Assuming they sign Jacob Trouba before someone offer sheets him, they have four defenseman that are automatic keepers in my eyes. Granted they would probably elect to leave Enstrom available if the option was there, but it’s not.
Since they may be protect eight skaters rather than seven forwards and four D, they will be leaving a few decent forwards up for grabs, including Drew Stafford. The Vegas team would be happy to get Stafford from Winnipeg, as he can play a top six forward role and fill in on special teams as well.
Imagine you're a player that gets to move from Winnipeg to Las Vegas. You're probably doing cartwheels if you're plucked from that cold weather.