NHL Expansion Draft: Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason (35) makes a save against Pittsburgh Penguins center Oskar Sundqvist (40) during the third period at Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers defeated the Penguins, 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
NHL Expansion Draft: The trade deadline has come and gone, and although it was relatively quiet, we saw plenty of movement that affects June’s Expansion Draft. We’ll explore the new landscape over the next few days in this five-part series looking at each division, and finish up with yet another 30-man Vegas Golden Knights roster projection.
With the March 1st trade deadline come and gone, the focus now turns to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, an NHL expansion draft in June, and the NHL Entry Draft just days later. The next few months promise to be very exciting for hockey fans alike. Top teams will compete for a chance to raise Lord Stanley. Those who miss the playoffs will be looking forward to a top lottery pick in the draft. And the Vegas Golden Knights will officially join the league as the NHL’s 31st franchise.
It’s been 17 years since the league last expanded back in 2000. It was still a very different NHL in that pre-lockout era. The rules were strict and prospect pools were not nearly as rich as they’re today. In turn, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild were treated to a team of aging veterans and were essentially forced to build from the ground up themselves.
The Vegas Golden Knights shouldn’t have that problem. The NHL is determined to give George McPhee and company a much more competitive club from day one. With the looser rules, a focus towards drafting/developing the last 15 years, and an overall deeper talent pool (no more 4th line enforcers), Las Vegas has a chance to a build a serious contender early on in their existence.
As expected, the trade deadline offered a lot of movement that directly affects the NHL expansion draft. Over the next few days, we’re gonna to take a look at those changes in a five-part series featuring all four divisions. We’ll finish things off with a 30-man projected roster for the Vegas Golden Knights. Let’s start by looking at the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division.
Mar 16, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack (31) and Carolina Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho (20) celebrates there victory against the Minnesota Wild at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Minnesota Wild 3-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Candidate to be Protected via Trade (conditional pick, prospect, player): n/a
Given the Canes lack of top-end talent, GM Ron Francis can rest easy heading into the NHL Expansion Draft. And since so many defenders are automatically exempt due to their relatively young age, there’s no reason for Carolina to consider using the 4-4-1 protection scheme. That doesn’t mean there won’t be internal debate on how to fill out those last couple spots both up front and on the back end, but for the most part, the Canes are a fairly easy team to sort out.
Mar 16, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes forward Victor Rask (49) is congratulated by forward Brock McGinn (23) and defensemen Jaccob Slavin (74) after his third period goal against the Minnesota Wild at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Minnesota Wild 3-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Guys like Staal, Skinner, Rask, Lindholm, and Teravainen are all locks to protected. That leaves just two forward spots up front. While some folks may opt to protect someone like Lee Stempniak, Joakim Nordstrom, or Andrej Nestrasil, I’d argue it’s more important to protect what Francis has been building. That means protecting a pair of quality prospects in Brock McGinn and Phil Di Giuseppe.
On the back, Justin Faulk is the only must-save. That leaves the likes of Klas Dahlbeck, Trevor Carrick, Ryan Murphy, and Matt Tennyson all vying for those final two spots. Dahlbeck seems like a logical second save, but there’s a serious debate beyond that. Do the Canes protect Ryan Murphy, a guy that has largely disappointed after showing so much early promise? Or, do they protect another prospect? In my opinion, Carolina would be wise to select the latter. Trevor Carrick has made major strides down in AHL Charlotte this season becoming much more defensively responsible.
Mar 13, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky (17) celebrates his goal with defenseman Seth Jones (3) and left wing Brandon Saad (20) against the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period at Wells Fargo Center. The Blue Jackets defeated the Flyers, 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Candidate to be Protected via Trade (conditional pick, prospect, player): F William Karlsson, F Josh Anderson, F Lukas Sedlak, D Jack Johnson
Poor Jarmo Kekalainen is in tough with the expansion draft. In fact, very few GMs face so many difficult decisions. In the end, the Blue Jackets stand to lose a quality player one way or another.
Feb 25, 2017; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Scott Hartnell (43) has his stick taped for “Hockey is for Everyone” night during warmups prior to the game against the New York Islanders at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
One major X-Factor will be veteran forward Scott Hartnell. He carries a no-move clause, and many suspected he might be dealt ahead of the trade deadline. There’s a chance that Columbus could ask him to waive the NMC, citing that it’s unlikely George McPhee will have any interest in an aging player that carries a significant cap hit. But for now, it looks as though the Blue Jackets will have no choice but to protect him. It’s a tough blow when it leaves guys like William Karlsson, Josh Anderson, and Lukas Sedlak on the outside looking in.
The blue line is where things get real interesting. With no way of using the 4-4-1 protection scheme, Columbus finds themselves immersed in a debate. Although to me, it’s not all that difficult. Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, and David Savard are clearly the top three defenders needing protection on this team. It’s not a knock on Jack Johnson, who is a quality blueliner, but if you look at the combined stats since he entered the league full-time in 2007-08, no player has a worse plus/minus than Jack at -103. Couple that with the emergence of Zach Werenski in 2016-17, Johnson is pretty much expendable.
Mar 4, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; New Jersey Devils right wing Kyle Palmieri (21) is congratulated at the bench after scoring during the third period of the Boston Bruins 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Candidate to be Protected via Trade (conditional pick, prospect, player): F Devante Smith-Pelly, D Ben Lovejoy
The Devils are a tricky team to figure out. One could realistically make the argument for using either protection scheme. I’m opting to use the 4-4-1 for several reasons. I’m not sure those last few spots up front in a 7-3-1 scheme are worth having to decide between one of John Moore or Jon Merrill on the back end.
Dec 30, 2015; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; New Jersey Devils left wing Mike Cammalleri (13) scores against Ottawa Senators goalie Andrew Hammond (30) in the first period at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Cammalleri is a top-notch player, but he carries a nasty contract for someone with a nagging injury history. NJ would be wise to see if the Vegas Golden Knights are willing to roll the dice on a guy who has proven he can hang with the top scorers in the league when healthy.
Looking at the back end, I could understand why some folks would think that protecting Ben Lovejoy would be wise. The way I look at it, he was a free agent last summer for a reason and the Devils were able to bring him for nothing. So, you’re really not losing anything if he were to be scooped up in the expansion draft. Plus, let’s not forget that he’s 33 years old. It makes a lot more to sense to protect Moore (26) and Merrill (25) given the age difference.
If the Devils were to use a 4-4-1 scheme, the only real forward that could use some further protection is Devante Smith-Pelly. And it’s not like he would be one of the top targets for Vegas, so New Jersey could probably make it happen with a mid-round conditional draft pick or middle-to-low tier prospect.
Just don’t be surprised if George McPhee has little interest in any of the available skaters left on the board. If it were me, I’d be taking a serious look between the pipes at goaltenders Keith Kinkaid and Scott Wedgewood. While both care capable of being a quality backup, imagine having either one of these guys as your no.3 option for insurance.
Mar 16, 2017; Brooklyn, NY, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey (14) talks to New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) before a third period face off at Barclays Center. The Jets won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Candidate to be Protected via Trade (conditional pick, prospect, player): F Cal Clutterbuck, F Shane Prince, D Thomas Hickey, D Calvin de Haan, D Ryan Pulock, G Jean-Francois Berube
The New York Islanders are an interesting case. On the one hand, it’s one of the easiest 7-3-1 protection schemes to figure out. On the other hand, the Isles are still set to leave a few quality players on the outside looking in.
Up front, we’ve got guys like Cal Clutterbuck and Shane Prince (among others), both of whom Garth Snow would surely love to further protect. Luckily for the Isles, they’ve got a bit of a defensive conundrum that could save them a conditional pick or prospects.
Nov 10, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey (14) against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Boychuk, Leddy, and Hamonic are the logical saves on the back end. But it leaves the likes of Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey, and Ryan Pulock all available. So, if the Isles are looking to protect anyone further, it should be these guys. Although something tells me that New York will lose one of de Haan or Hickey in the expansion process.
George McPhee and company also have a pair of options between the pipes. If it weren’t for his $4.5 million dollar cap hit, one could argue that Jaroslav Halak is an intriguing option. He dropped the ball for NY this year and found himself demoted to the AHL, but this is still the same guy that dominated at the World Cup of Hockey. The talent is there.
Las Vegas could also look at 25-year-old Jean-Francois Berube. He was claimed off waivers from LA at the start of 2015-16 and been on the 23-man roster ever since. The Isles carried that three-headed monster in goal for a long time, and it should speak volumes that New York has gone to such a far extent to keep him in the fold.
Mar 13, 2017; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers right wing Michael Grabner (40) celebrates his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning with center J.T. Miller (10) and defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) during the second period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Candidate to be Protected via Trade (conditional pick, prospect, player): F Michael Grabner, F Brandon Pirri, F Jesper Fast, F Oscar Lindberg, D Nick Holden
For much of 2016-17, many thought it would be wise for the Rangers to expose Rick Nash’s $7.8 million dollar contract. That is until it was revealed that New York will be forced to protect the 32-year-old due to a contract clause. The forced protection of Nash ultimately leaves another quality forward exposed. At this point, it looks like Michael Grabner, Brandon Pirri, Jesper Fast, and Oscar Lindberg will all be available to the NHL’s 31st franchise. GM Jeff Gorton may be scrambling to find a bit of extra protection via trade for some of these guys, but luckily for the Rangers, it’s their no.2 Antti Raanta behind King Henrik that is by far the most tempting option.
Mar 9, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; New York Rangers goalie Antti Raanta (32) goes past Ranger fans before the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Hurricanes defeated the Rangers 4-3. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
At 27 years old, the Finnish netminder Raanta is arguably one of the top backup options in the league. He has a 14-7-0 record with a 2.30GAA and .921 save percentage in 2016-17. Now in his 4th year of NHL action, Antti boasts a career record of 45-22-7 with a 2.34GAA and .916 save percentage over his time with Chicago and New York. Much like the Blackhawks Scott Darling, Antti Raanta has proven himself a capable interim starter filling in for injuries. With the importance of goaltending in today’s NHL, this might be too difficult to pass up.
If George McPhee decides to go another direction such as Scott Darling, he could have some options on the Rangers blue line. Guys like Kevin Klein, Nick Holden, Brendan Smith, Steven Kampfer, and Adam Clendening will all more than likely be left exposed. Defenders such as Klein and Holden are particularly intriguing. The only thing that may prevent Las Vegas from looking to New York’s blue line is the overall depth expected to be available on the back end. With so much talent that promises to be available, Klein and Holden would likely be relegated to a bottom pairing or depth role.
Mar 15, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers right wing Jakub Voracek (93) and goalie Steve Mason (35) celebrate a win against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers defeated the Penguins, 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Candidate to be Protected via Trade (conditional pick, prospect, player): F Michael Raffl, F Scott Laughton, F Taylor Leier, G Michal Neuvirth
Things got a little murkier for the Flyers at the trade deadline. They acquired veteran forward Valtteri Filppula, who carries a no-move clause in his contract and will require protection in June’s draft. It’s an interesting move because Philadelphia already had a few quality forwards that promised to be available. Now, they’ve got to add yet another name to that list. And if we consider the recent extension for Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, it pretty much locks up those seven forward slots.
Left exposed are guys like Matt Read, Dale Weise, Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton, Nick Cousins, and Taylor Leier. Depending what strategy the Golden Knights decide to take (i.e. going a little younger, or mixing it up with veterans perhaps), they’ve got a number of offensive options to choose from. And even though a few quality defenders will be left unprotected, a lack of overall offensive talent may force Vegas to select a Flyers forward given the amount of quality depth at their disposal.
There are still some questions about who Philly might protect on the back end beyond Shayne Gostisbehere. At this point, Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning seem like the logical choices, but a Michael Del Zotto extension could quickly change things. Philadelphia needs to figure out whether or not they want to keep the 26-year-old pending UFA. If he’s left exposed without a new contract, he’ll more than likely reach free agency on July 1. Other defenders likely to be left available include Andrew MacDonald and Nick Schultz, neither of which are overly tempting options.
Finally, we get to a position that seemed to be a question mark for much of 2016-17. That is until the Flyers recently extended 28-year-old Michal Neuvirth. It seemed like Anthony Stolarz might be their best bet for protection in goal for quite a while with two unproven veterans on expiring contracts. But that two-year extension for Neuvirth has made things pretty clear.
Mar 13, 2017; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Candidate to be Protected via Trade (conditional pick, prospect, player): F Scott Wilson, D Ian Cole, D Derrick Pouliot, D Brian Dumoulin, G Marc-Andre Fleury
The Pittsburgh Penguins are another interesting case. It seems Marc-Andre Fleury is still with the club, which leaves the Pens with a few options. They can try to deal him again once the playoffs are over, likely receiving something very minimal in return. They could ask him to waive his no-move clause and seek further protection via conditional pick/or prospects. Or, they could just buy out his contract. Given the current landscape of a tight salary cap world, folks shouldn’t be overly surprised if Pittsburgh has no choice but to use the buyout option.
Mar 13, 2017; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) guards his net against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Even if MAF agrees to waive his no-move and make himself available to Las Vegas, there’s no guarantee that George McPhee will be interested. In fact, the Penguins are arguably destined to provide some of the best defensive options in the NHL expansion draft.
They were already in tough heading into 2016-17 when it seemed like the club would be forced to choose between protecting Brian Dumoulin or Derrick Pouliot. Roughly 70 games later though and it’s another defender in Justin Schultz who emerged. That could potentially leave both Dumoulin and Pouliot, along with Ian Cole, Trevor Daley, Mark Streit, and Ron Hainsey all available. If that’s the case, GM Jim Rutherford needs to find a way to further protect both Dumoulin and Pouliot.
Fortunately, it looks like Pittsburgh has just enough room to protect the necessary forwards. Beyond the NMC’s of Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel, the Pens should be looking to protect Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Bryan Rust. That leaves guys like Chris Kunitz, Oskar Sundqvist, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Scott Wilson available. While they’d surely love to keep both Kuhnhackl and Wilson, they are both players that are easily replaceable in today’s NHL. And let’s face it, Pens forwards are the last thing George McPhee is looking at.
Mar 16, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals right wing Brett Connolly (10) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Nashville Predators in the first period at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Candidate to be Protected via Trade (conditional pick, prospect, player): D Karl Alzner, D Nate Schmidt, G Philipp Grubauer
If you’re looking for one of the hotter debates, look no further. The Capitals are blessed with a plethora of talent, something that makes them a serious Cup threat this season (especially following the acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk). The only problem? It leaves Vegas with nearly a handful of quality options to pick from.
Six of the seven forward spots are virtual locks, which includes Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie (who the Caps must re-sign!), Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, and Marcus Johansson.
That last forward spot is a debate between Tom Wilson, Brett Connolly, Lars Eller, Jay Beagle, and Justin Williams (UFA). While he may not be the most talented of the group, gritty bottom-six forward Tom Wilson would be the hardest player to replace.
There shouldn’t be any debate on the blue line. John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Dmitry Orlov are the logical saves. That being said, it’s not at all a knock on the likes of Karl Alzner or Nate Schmidt, and in fact, a guy like Alzner could be a very tempting option for a Golden Knights GM who is familiar with the veteran from his time in Washington.
The option also exists that Las Vegas could look at the Caps no.2 behind Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer. The German netminder has settled into a backup role over the last two seasons and has largely gone under-the-radar after a ton of success. He went 8-9-1 with a 2.32GAA and .918 save percentage in 2015-16, and has followed it up with a 10-6-2 record with a 2.10GAA and .925 save percentage so far this year. At just 25-years-old, you’ve gotta wonder whether he’s even reached his ceiling yet. We could have another Scott Darling/Antti Niemi type in the making here.
Make sure to keep tuned over the next few days as we turn to the final three divisions. Next, we’ll be taking a look at the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division.