NHL Expansion Draft: Columbus Blue Jackets Protection Strategy

The NHL Expansion Draft is coming up. After losing in the first round in five games, the Columbus Blue Jackets must prepare for it. How do they do that, though, when so many of their players seem so valuable?

The NHL Expansion Draft for the Vegas Golden Knights is June 20th. The Columbus Blue Jackets, like every other team, must prepare for it by protecting their most important players. The Blue Jackets have several important players. But being a great, but young, team, they have many exempt. The Blue Jackets have decisions to make.

Blue Jackets Forwards

NHL Expansion Draft

Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Cam Atkinson (13) celebrates his goal with center Alexander Wennberg (10) and left wing Brandon Saad (20) against Philadelphia Flyers (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

The Columbus Blue Jackets have several great forwards available in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. But also, the Blue Jackets have nine players who meet the minimum requirements and are under contract next year. That means the Blue Jackets can safely protect the best seven and get away with it.

The Blue Jackets, though, have to consider the fact that they have several RFAs worth protecting. That includes Alexander Wennberg. Wennberg posted 59 points, including 46 assists, in the regular season. He’s just 22. He’s getting a protection spot.

Now, the Blue Jackets have to make sure to save Seth Jones, which means they can’t just do eight forwards (though that is technically possible). That means that they have to choose the best combination of six remaining forwards for the future.

To clear part of this up, three of the Blue Jackets have No Movement Clauses. The players won’t waive them. That includes Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, and Scott Hartnell. Now, Foligno was the fourth-leading scorer on the team in the regular season. He added two assists in the playoffs. He’s worth that spot.

Dubinsky was one of ten playoff goal scorers for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He added 41 points in the regular season, including 12 goals. He’s an amazing player, and at 31, he’s still young enough to be important to this team. The problem is Hartnell, who’s 35 years old, was only the ninth-leading scorer on this team, and was notably unproductive in the playoffs.

If the Blue Jackets could find a way to trade Hartnell before the NHL Expansion Draft, that would be ideal. Hartnell may not be selected in the NHL Expansion Draft. This is not the situation to rely on.

Last Three Spots
NHL Expansion Draft

Columbus Blue Jackets center Boone Jenner (38) against the Winnipeg Jets (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

That means the Columbus Blue Jackets are down to three spots. They have five forwards under contract next season remaining. They have three restricted free agents as well. But, those restricted free agents are all AHLers. So let’s focus on the five, shall we?

Those five, by the way: Brandon Saad, Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, Matt Calvert, and William Karlsson. Saad is the highest paid player on the team. Atkinson was the leading scorer in the regular season and playoffs. Jenner scored eighteen goals in the regular season and two more in the playoffs. These are the obvious three to be protected.

That means the Blue Jackets are protecting Wennberg, Foligno, Dubinsky, Hartnell, Saad, Jenner, and Atkinson on offense. It’s not a bad lineup. But it also means the Jackets expose some important players as well.

Columbus Defensemen

The Blue Jackets must protect Seth Jones. He’s currently a top-pairing defenseman for Columbus, and he’s only 22. Jones is an incredibly important player for the future of the Blue Jackets. Besides Zach Werenski, who’s exempt, Jones is the best defenseman on the Jackets. There’s nobody to protect ahead of him.

That means the Jackets have two more spots for three more defensemen under contract next season. Those players: David Savard, Jack Johnson, and Ryan Murray. In the playoffs, Murray was hurt. But he’s the youngest out of this group of defensemen, and as the Blue Jackets are a young team, might be more valuable down the stretch.

NHL Expansion Draft

Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard (58) skates with defenseman Jack Johnson (7) (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

The Blue Jackets also have to imagine that whichever one of these defensemen is not protected may well be the Vegas choice. Therefore, they should be fine with whoever they don’t protect.

Jack Johnson gets protected. He’s the elder statesman of the Blue Jackets blue line, but he played the second most minutes a night in the playoffs (behind Jones). He added two points in that time. In the regular season, he played the third most minutes of any defenseman (behind Jones and Savard). He’s important to the Jackets.

The Blue Jackets will protect David Savard, who is 26. He played top 2 minutes throughout the regular season, and played in the top 3 in the playoffs. He’s more important to the team than Murray. He stays, despite the age difference.

Goaltenders & Exempt Players & Vegas’s Choice

The goaltenders on the Columbus Blue Jackets are all available, meet the minimum requirements, and are under contract next year. Sergei Bobrovsky has a no movement clause. And he’s about to win a second Vezina. There is no other decision.

Which leaves the exempt players of the Columbus Blue Jackets. David Clarkson, who otherwise has an NMC that he would be unlikely to waive, is exempt due to injury. The rest of the following list is age-related. The following players are exempt from the NHL Expansion Draft:

Pierre-Luc Dubois, Sonny Milano, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Zach Werenski, Gabriel Carlsson, Markus Nutivaara.

Not a bad list. The defensemen stepped up in the playoffs. The Blue Jackets forwards are young, fast and skilled. That’s a good list and one that sets up the Blue Jackets for the future.

Vegas’s Choice

And we’re doing this all in one. The Vegas Golden Knights are able to select from the following players from the Blue Jackets: Matt Calvert, William Karlsson, Josh Anderson, Alex Broadhurst, Lukas Sedlak, Ryan Murray, Scott Harrington,  Oscar Dansk, Joonas Korpisalo, and Anton Forsberg.

NHL Expansion Draft

Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo (70) against the Toronto Maple Leafs (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Out of these players, the best choices are Korpisalo, Murray, Karlsson, and Josh Anderson. Korpisalo is a young goaltender who posted a .905 SV and a 2.88 GAA in fourteen games this season. He’s got a little bit of development ahead of him, but that might be a project Vegas is willing to take on.

Then there are the forwards. Anderson had 29 points in 78 games and is 23. Anderson added 2 points in 5 playoff games. Karlsson scored 25 points in the regular season then threw in 3 more in the playoffs. He’s 24.

Murray’s a young defenseman with potential who scored 11 points in 60 games. Murray became injured this season, and he might be risky as a selection this season.

Columbus can choose to save one of these players by one move: pay Josh Anderson. Vegas is highly likely to select Anderson. Especially if he’s a restricted free agent and unsigned. The Blue Jackets paying him close to the three million he may be worth would decrease those chances. Vegas should want cheap players. Anderson is worth the money – don’t keep him cheap.

If this happens, I see the Vegas Golden Knights selecting William Karlsson. It just makes sense. A young center with the ability to score in the playoffs and in the regular season. Good player for the future of the Golden Knights. This is actually one of the deeper selection pools in this NHL Expansion Draft.

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