The rules governing the upcoming NHL expansion draft are getting clearer. And thanks to the reporting of Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston and ESPN’s Craig Custance, we’ve gained some new insights this week as to how the league’s GMs will handle the upcoming wrinkle for the 2017 offseason. The short version? It’s going to be tricky for a team to protect all of its top players. For some, it might be downright impossible. And at a minimum, it’s going to cause a big headache for a few franchises as soon as this summer.
The biggest sticking points that might leave valuable players exposed to the draft:
- A team can only protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie or eight skaters overall and a goalie.
- Players with no-movement clauses running through the 2017-18 season must be protected.
- Teams must expose at least two forwards and one defenseman who play at least 40 games this coming season or a combined 70 in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
After the Stanley Cup, we looked at the looming goalie dilemma for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who would be obligated to protect Marc-Andre Fleury due to his no-movement clause, but would almost certainly prefer to protect playoff star Matt Murray. Combing through the contract database of GeneralFanager.com, five teams seem as though they’ll have some tricky situations to resolve before the expansion draft. Here’s a look at what players they must protect, their top potential expansion draft targets and why they’re vulnerable to some serious pain sometime in the next year. Plus, Neil Greenberg breaks out the Fancy Stats to shed some light on what each team should do.
Note to readers: This is based on the best information we have right now, but the draft rules are not 100-percent settled and doubly tricky since the league is literally making up the rules as it goes. See something amiss? Think another team is in a bigger bind? Let us know in the comments.
Players that must be protected: F Corey Perry, F Ryan Getzlaf, F Ryan Kesler, D Kevin Bieksa
Most appealing remaining players: F Rickard Rakell, F Jakob Silfverberg, D Cam Fowler, D Sami Vatanen, D Hampus Lindholm, D Simon Despres, G John Gibson, G Frederik Andersen
The Problem: The Ducks have two dilemmas. They have two very good goalies and can only protect one (and any expansion team would love to have either Gibson or Andersen). The Ducks also have three forwards they’re obligated to protect and either three or four defensemen they’d probably like to keep in addition to Bieksa, who is also a must-protect thanks to his no-move clause. If they opt to protect eight total skaters to keep all of those blueliners, they’d have to expose at least one of Rakell and Silfverberg, or possibly both if the Ducks prefer to retain five defensemen. If they want to cover Rakell and Silfverberg – the team’s fourth and fifth-leading scorers during the past season — they’d have to expose at least two defensemen from a group of Fowler, Vatanen, Lindholm and Despres.
Vatanen and Lindholm are both restricted free agents this summer. Are there any contractual loopholes Anaheim could manipulate to help with player protection? They’ll certainly explore all possibilities. More likely, at least one of Anaheim’s impressive young defensemen is dealt for a forward or draft assets prior to the expansion draft. — Hume
What they should do: Gibson and Andersen each made a similar amount of saves last season, but not all saves are created equal. For example, the average shot distance against Gibson during even strength was 37.9 feet, almost five feet further than the ones Anderson had to deal with (33 feet). In other words, the defense allowed a higher quality of shot against Andersen, yet his even-strength save percentage was slightly higher than Gibson’s: .9296 vs. 9216.
And before you point to Gibson having the better save percentage on the penalty kill (.935 vs. .886 for Andersen), consider his average distance against was 21.4 feet while Anderson had to deal with a shot averaging 13.9 feet away. That’s roughly the difference between a shot originating at the face-off dots compared to one in the crease, a huge difference in terms of scoring percentages.
And finally, Andersen provided the team with a higher percentage of quality starts in 2015-16, showing that if the Ducks are going to be forced to rely on only one netminder, Andersen, despite being four years older than Gibson, is the better bet. — Greenberg
Players that must be protected: F Brandon Dubinsky, F Nick Foligno, F Scott Hartnell, F David Clarkson, D Fedor Tyutin
Most appealing remaining players: F Brandon Saad, F Boone Jenner, F Alexander Wennberg, F Cam Atkinson, D Ryan Murray, D Seth Jones, D Jack Johnson
The problem: The Bluejackets have a bunch of great young players they’ll want to protect. But they also have a lot of older players they’ll be forced to protect. It wouldn’t be surprising if GM Jarmo Kekalainen approached Hartnell, Clarkson or Tyutin with a Vince Vaughn-esque pitch to waive their no-movement clause for an expansion draft. If he can’t entice them into a possible move to Sin City, Columbus risks exposing Johnson and Atkinson – the top point-scorer on last year’s team – or up-and-comers such as Wennberg, Jenner or Murray. — Hume
What they should do: Deciding which defensemen to keep is going to be tough for most teams, which is why there should be better options than Johnson available in the expansion draft. As a result, keeping Atkinson appears to be the safer play, though they’ll still need to get one of the NMC players to budge.
So it's pretty much a given that any unprotected 1st line talent (like Thornton or Sharp, despite age) will be taken.
— Carolyn Wilke (@Classlicity) June 16, 2016
Atkinson not only led the team in scoring, but his 1.95 even-strength points per 60 minutes last season is above the 1.8 threshold reserved for top-line players. Plus, after adjusting for score effects and special teams, only Foligno was on the ice for more un-blocked shot attempts in the team’s favor. — Greenberg
Players that must be protected: D Dustin Byfuglien, D Toby Enstrom, D Tyler Myers
Most appealing remaining players: F Blake Wheeler, F Bryan Little, F Marko Dano, F Mark Scheifele, F Joel Armia, D Jacob Trouba
The problem: It’s really all about Trouba. Protecting seven forwards won’t be any problem, but cutting that number to four leaves at least one of Wheeler, Little, Dano, Scheifele or Armia uncovered. With Byfuglien, Enstrom and Myers all locked in, not only is Trouba exposed under the 7-3-1 option, but he might be the best defenseman available on the projected draft board (outside of Anaheim’s group, at least). His name was in trade rumors entering this offseason. This won’t do anything to quiet them. — Hume
What they should do: If they have any chance to keep Jacob Trouba, the Jets should do it. The University of Michigan standout and former member of Team USA at the World Hockey Championships has progressed nicely through the first three years of his NHL career. Among the nine blueliners with at least 200 NHL games in their first three seasons prior to their 22nd birthday, only three — Erik Karlsson, Seth Jones and Drew Doughty — have been on the ice with better puck possession numbers than Trouba since 2007-08, the earliest the data is available. Two of them, Karlsson and Doughty, are Norris finalists this year. — Greenberg
Tampa Bay Lightning
Players that must be protected: F Ryan Callahan, F Valtteri Filppula
Most appealing remaining players: F Tyler Johnson, F Ondrej Palat, F Alex Killorn, F Jonathan Drouin, F Vladislav Namestnikov, F Nikita Kucherov, D Matthew Carle, D Jason Garrison, D Anton Stralman, D Braydon Coburn, D Slater Koekkoek
The Problem: Even assuming star forward Steven Stamkos leaves in free agency this summer, the Lightning have a volume issue. They have a lot of really good players and a lot of their top young players have seen a lot of action the past few years, making them eligible for the draft. According to the expansion draft tool of GeneralFanager.com, the Bolts have 35 skaters eligible for the draft. Given that number, it seems like Tampa will have to utilize the 7-3-1 option, which means someone on their blue line will be ripe for the picking.
Hedman is not listed among the appealing players because of his pending free agency ahead of the 2017-18 season. While that may scare off a selection in the expansion draft and allow the Bolts to leave him unprotected, would the Lightning really want to encourage him to test the market when every team in the league would clamor for his services? It’s more likely the Bolts get a contract extension done ahead of time and one of the Carle-Garrison-Stralman-Coburn quartet finds himself in Vegas. Unless …
Adding to the Lightning’s predicament, their goalie situation bears watching. Vezina finalist Ben Bishop will head into free agency after the 2016-17 season, but Andrei Vasilevskiy looks like the goalie of the future in Tampa. It seems the Bolts would be best served by protecting the latter and letting Bishop’s UFA status serve as a deterrent in the expansion draft. But the Lightning can’t like the idea of another star free agent potentially walking away (again, assuming Stamkos departs this summer) and getting nothing in return. — Hume
What they should do: The first job of any defenseman is to prevent the other team from getting a shot on goal. After all, if they can’t get a shot on net, they can’t score. Of the four blueliners in question — Carle, Garrison, Stralman and Coburn — Carle was on the ice for the most adjusted even-strength shot attempts against per 60 minutes last season. And he did so without starting his shifts significantly more often in the defensive zone, nor did he face particularly stiffer competition.
Carle also allowed the closest shots of the group on the penalty kill, with opponents averaging attempts 26.7 feet away, 12 feet closer than Garrison (38.1) and twice as close as either Coburn (54.3) or Stralman (51.9).
If the Lightning are paring down their choices for which defensemen to expose, Carle is the first one on the list. — Greenberg
Players that must be protected: None
Most appealing remaining players: F Jason Spezza, F Tyler Seguin, F Cody Eakin, F Radek Faksa, F Valeri Nichushkin, F Antoine Roussel, D John Klingberg
The problem: The Stars present one of the most complicated – but fascinating – cases when it comes to the expansion draft. Jamie Benn is a free agent in the summer of 2017, but even if they work out an extension prior to the expansion draft, the Stars probably won’t feel too much pain in protecting only seven forwards. They also won’t have any problem covering three defensemen, at least as of right now … That’s because the Stars only have two defensemen under contract for 2017-18 – Klingberg and Stephen Johns. Patrik Nemeth, who averaged 15:38 of ice time last season, will be a restricted free agent. Four members of last season’s blue line — Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, Kris Russell and Jordie Benn — are all free agents this summer.
The problem Dallas faces is that it both needs to improve its blue line to build on a breakthrough season that saw the Stars post the best record in the Western Conference, and also expose at least one defenseman at the end of next season under the 40/70 rule. Right now, the Stars’ only options are Klingberg (who will certainly be protected after scoring 58 points last season) and Nemeth. If Johns plays over 70 games next season, he’d be another option, but they’re more likely to protect him and fellow prospect Esa Lindell. If the Stars’ preference is to keep the Klingberg-Johns-Lindell trio beyond the expansion draft, they’ll have to sign multiple defensemen only to then expose them to the expansion draft. And if the Stars want to take a step forward, they need to be as good or better than the defensive corps Dallas utilized last season.
Dallas has a little over $13 million in cap space to add or retain at least one-to-two NHL-caliber defensemen and any forward help to round out the roster. And anyone courted this summer will know full well they’ll likely be made available for the expansion draft unless they’re given a no-movement clause. Perhaps Dallas can counteract those fears with additional dollars or term, but that doesn’t sound like a fun free agency period for GM Jim Nill. — Hume
What they should do: The Penguins are the latest team to show that driving puck possession during the regular season is a barometer of postseason success. And the Stars are not far off from title contention, ranking fifth in score-adjusted Corsi for the 2015-16 campaign. That’s why making sure any blueliner they add this offseason is on the plus side of shot differential is a must. Among the team’s defensemen who played at least 500 even-strength minutes last season, only Jordie Benn was below 50 percent in score-adjusted Corsi. Klingberg was the highest at 55.4 percent.
That significantly narrows down the free-agent pool. Of the blueliners available who played at least 500 minutes last season, five have a score-adjusted Corsi rate in excess of 50 percent. Two of those, Demers and Goligoski, played for Dallas. One of the others, 37-year-old Brian Campbell, is risky due to age but may be perfect to leave exposed to the draft if he’ll take a two-year deal. Ben Lovejoy, who just won a championship with Pittsburgh, and Zach Trotman are the other two. The rest of the unrestricted free-agent pool would just drag Dallas down. — Greenberg