It’s been nearly two days since the 30 existing teams of the NHL released the lists of who they’d expose to the Vegas Golden Knights in Wednesday’s Expansion Draft and who they’d protect. A lot of decisions surprised me. Here I will explain one move that each team made that I didn’t expect, and suggest a move I’d have made if I were in the shoes of that team’s general manager.
I’m surprised the Ducks bought out defenceman Simon Despres. The reasoning I’ve seen is that Despres missed nearly the entire season with an injury and hasn’t been particularly quick in his recovery. All that makes sense. The buyout doesn’t. As you know, the Ducks were required to protect veteran Kevin Bieksa, who has a no-movement clause in his contract, leaving them with only two spots to use on defencemen they’d actually want to keep. Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm are their best two blueliners, so it also makes sense that they’d protect them, however, they stand to lose one of Sami Vatanen or Josh Manson. I think the Ducks should have explored the possibility of trading a mid-tier draft pick or two to Vegas in exchange for them picking Despres, someone who wouldn’t be playing for them anyway. Vegas would get some draft picks, and if Despres managed to return, they’d get a blueline option, or they could buy him out later. Anaheim, a team very clearly still in “win now” mode, would survive the expansion draft without losing anyone who played for them last season, which would be an expansion.
The Coyotes’ big surprise was trading Mike Smith to Calgary for Chad Johnson. Prior to the trade, the Coyotes could expose either 35-year-old Mike Smith, a UFA in 2019, or Louis Domingue, an RFA in 2018 who is ten years Smith’s junior. After the trade, the Coyotes have Chad Johnson, who has to be protected as he is a UFA on July 1, meaning they need to expose Louis Domingue. Granted, Domingue had a sophomore slump this season, but he’s a decent young goaltender, and it’s not worth it to me to leave him exposed. I’d have held off on making the trade after the Expansion Draft. Even if I lose Smith in this scenario, I’m losing an aging veteran on a huge contract and keeping the up-and-comer.
Relatively small compared to the above, but I was surprised that, out of two Millers, the Bruins chose to protect Kevan and not Colin. In 2015/16, Colin posted a 52.1 ESCF% and 16 points in 42 games versus a 49.8 ESCF% and 18 points in 71 games for Kevan. This season, Colin posted a 60.0 ESCF% and 13 points in 61 games versus a 53.7 CF% and 13 points in 58 games for Kevan. Kevan is also 29 years old, compared to Colin, who is 24 years old and likely has more potential moving forward. It’s obvious why he was protected, and that’s because he’s bigger and more physical. If I were deciding, I’d go with skill and potential rather than the bigger body.
Buffalo’s biggest surprise was protecting Tyler Ennis over William Carrier. Carrier, 22, didn’t produce a lot of offence this season, only eight points in 41 games, but Ennis is 27 years old, has missed more and more time with injuries, and seen his production dry up. While Vegas will pick veteran players in the expansion draft in order to be competitive this coming season and get themselves safely over the salary floor, every young player that can be molded into a core player will entice the Golden Knights. If I’m in charge, I’m not leaving myself open to losing a young potential asset like that.
Just as I was surprised that Arizona traded Mike Smith to Calgary, I was surprised Calgary traded for Mike Smith. Prior to the trade, the Flames have flexibility in goal. They could sign Brian Elliott, who had an overall decent season playing the majority of Calgary’s games this season, and have a goalie three years younger than Smith, and Chad Johnson and Tom McCollum are available for exposure, with Jon Gillies waiting in the wings for a backup job. Trading Smith was unnecessary for Calgary, both in terms of their goaltending situation and expansion draft requirements. If I’m making the decisions, I’m not taking on that kind of salary on a player at the edge of decline when I can perhaps convince a younger goalie to stick around.
My biggest surprise with Carolina was not protecting Lee Stempniak. Stempniak is only three new franchises away from being the most travelled player in NHL history, but I’m not sure Stempniak, who I bet would like a regular home, cares all that much about it. Also, Stempniak has been more productive than Brock McGinn or Phillip Di Giuseppe, although both are younger. If I’m the decision-maker, I’m at least seeing if Stempniak would rather I keep him, as I’m not convinced about either McGinn or (after this season) Di Giuseppe.
The Blackhawks surprised me by protecting Brent Seabrook unless they asked him to waive his no-movement clause and he chose not to. It’s not so much that they’d want to keep him, that much is obvious. It’s more that I feel it’s time to explore the possibility that Chicago’s Cup window is closed. As such, it feels like Seabrook, whose stock has fallen in recent years, would be a prime target for a salary dump, even if the Blackhawks lose him for nothing in expansion. Meanwhile, 25-year-old Trevor van Riemsdyk is available for the taking. If I’m charge, I keep the younger guy.
Colorado was garbage this season, so it was hard to parse through their protected list for a legitimately unexpected move. For Colorado I decided on the decision to protect Nikita Zadorov, who had zero goals and 10 assists, plus a 47.7 ESCF% in 19:02 per game for 56 games, as opposed to Mark Barberio, who had two goals and 13 points, plus a 51.6 ESCF% in 18:14 per game for 60 games. Barberio’s performance didn’t even drop off that drastically after he was claimed off waivers, posting strong even strength numbers with several Avalanche players. If I’m in charge, Zadorov is exposed instead of Barberio.
William Karlsson is available for Vegas to take, while Scott Hartnell is protected. Now, I know Hartnell has a no-movement clause in his contract. Also I, especially in light of the whole Dion Phaneuf mini-fiasco, understand the sacrifices a player makes at the negotiating table to secure an NMC and that it is their right to use it. I don’t blame Hartnell for not waiving, but I’m surprised Columbus didn’t ask. This isn’t just a case where they did and they’re not saying, like Winnipeg until this past weekend, they specifically didn’t ask. If I’m charge, I’m asking an aging, declining, and expensive player like Hartnell to waive so I can try protecting Karlsson.
I’m surprised Dallas opted to protect defenceman Stephen Johns instead of Dan Hamhuis. Granted, Johns is considerably younger, but Hamhuis had a 51.9 ESCF% this season versus Johns’ 51.2 ESCF% and 16 points versus Johns’ 10. Hamhuis averaged 19:21 per game while Johns averaged 18:15 per game. I’d say Hamhuis has some bounce-back potential for this season, and with a potential Cup contender who needs to add some experienced point-producing defencemen to re-stock after dismantling their 2016 iteration. I’d have protected Hamhuis because of the bigger role he plays for the team now, which is an important consideration for a team trying to win now.
Jimmy Howard played better in the games he did play, a 0.927 Save% versus the 0.901 Save% of Petr Mrazek, but Howard played only 26 games while Mrazek played 50. Howard is 33 years old while Mrazek is 25. It’s only natural that Mrazek would be the goalie the perennial playoff qualifier-turned-bottom feeder protects, right? Wrong. Surprisingly, they picked the old guard rather than the young guy, who posted a 0.924 Save% in 54 games in 2015/16. Needless to say, I protect Mrazek instead of Howard if it’s up to me.
I’m kind of surprised Mark Letestu was protected over Jujhar Khaira. Letestu did have the best season of his career this season, scoring 35 points as mostly a fourth-line centre and penalty killer, but since Khaira was re-signed, he’s been pretty touted. If nothing else, Khaira had a 52.1 ESCF% in ten games this season, while Letestu had 45.8. Essentially, I’m protecting young depth with play-driving ability rather than a likely flash-in-the-pan, impressed as I am with Letestu’s performance.
I was surprised that Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk were protected. Sure they’re young, but they’re not major players on the Panthers’ roster. What I would have done is, instead of the 8-1 configuration they used, use the 7-3-1 configuration. Instead of Petrovic, I’d protect Jason Demers, and instead of Pysyk, I’d protect Reilly Smith, Jussi Jokinen, and Jonathan Marchessault. Demers came just two points short of 30. Smith and Jokinen were seventh and eighth in Panthers scoring, respectively. Smith scored 37 points after having scored 50 the previous year, and Jokinen scored 28 in 69 games, a 34-point pace, after having scored 60 the previous year. Marchessault scored 30 goals and 51 points, and while it is likely a fluke for the diminutive 26-year-old, he could score much less than that and still justify his $750K cap hit. Petrovic or Pysyk could wind up getting picked in this scenario, but neither are as major a loss as the players I’d protect instead.
I’m surprised that Derek Forbort was protected instead of Brayden McNabb. Forbort scored 18 points and posted a 51.5 ESCF% this season, which is respectable for a defensive defenceman, but McNabb, even though he only scored four points in 49 games this season, posted a 60.2 ESCF%, and had previously scored 24 points in 2014/15, something he could realistically get back to in a full season. I’d protect McNabb.
I was not surprised to see Eric Staal exposed or Nino Niederreiter protected. Minnesota has a number of talented forwards, more than can be protected, so it’s only natural that they’d lose one. The surprise was that Matt Dumba was left exposed. I’m not surprised that Marco Scanella was exposed, as he’s 27 years old, but Jared Spurgeon, a bit more injury-prone a defenceman and also 27, was protected. Dumba scored 34 points in 76 games this past season, and I don’t see a situation in which, provided there are no deals, Dumba doesn’t get picked to be the team’s no.1 defenceman in the near future. I’d risk Spurgeon so I could guarantee I keep Dumba if given the choice.
With performances like 39 points and a 56.9 ESCF% in 2013/14 and 34 points and a 50.8 ESCF% in 2015/16, I feel like Shaw is the model of a modern bottom-six forward with throwback appeal. He is physical despite his smaller stature but also fairly productive offensively and a positive possession player. That has remained true of Shaw in Montreal, but I doubt the wisdom of protecting him over Alexander Radulov. With 54 points this past season, Radulov proved he wouldn’t be a problem for an NHL team. If I’m in charge, I sign Radulov to an extension and protect him instead of Shaw, a top-six forward rather than a bottom-six forward.
Nashville got to Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final this season. If not for an injury to Ryan Johansen, occasionally sloppy play (according to my eye test), and some suspect officiating, they could have even won it. As such, I believe that they can continue trying to compete, and to that end would want to retain as much scoring as possible. James Neal, admittedly inconsistent since his 41 goals in 2011/12, had a down year, but in 2015/16 he finished with 31 goals and 58 points and was an All-Star. I’d risk exposing Calle Jarnkrok to keep Neal, as I’d want to retain as much offence as possible to try and win. Perhaps, if I wanted to ensure Jarnkrok didn’t get picked, I could trade a draft pick, or a prospect like Pontus Aberg for them to pick a non-essential player like third-string goalie Marek Mazanec. I’m not sure I’d be able to swing that deal for a more marquee player such as Neal. I wouldn’t deviate from the “protecting Subban, Josi, Ellis, and Ekholm” plan in order to protect more forwards though.
I’m surprised the Devils felt the need to protect Mirco Mueller, who they acquired from San Jose. More accurately, I’m surprised they felt the need to trade for a young defencemen with a questionable ceiling so that they’d need to limit the number of forwards they protect. I don’t make that trade, and use the spaces I open up forwards on Michael Cammalleri and two others. Cammalleri had the fourth-highest point-per-game on the Devils. The remaining two spots I’d figure out later, but I’d want to protect Cammalleri.
Is protecting Adam Pelech in the expansion draft the dumbest move any team made? Well let me think about th-yes. Yes it was. The Islanders left forwards Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, and Ryan Strome, and defenceman Calvin de Haan exposed. That’s the Isles’ second-, fifth-, eighth-, and tenth-highest-scoring players on the Isles’ roster this past season. I’d completely revamp the Isles’ picks. On defence, I’d protect de Haan, Travis Hamonic, and Nick Leddy. At forward, I’d protect Bailey, Nelson, and Strome, in addition to John Tavares, Andrew Ladd, and Anders Lee. For the other forward, I suppose I’d protect Casey Cizikas, the highest-scoring player outside the Isles’ top-10, rather than 38-year-old Jason Chimera, whose exposure I feel would be a worthy gamble.
My surprise was that the Rangers didn’t buy out Staal the way they bought out Dan Girardi. Staal has become similarly bad to Girardi, and I don’t think he’s worth protecting in the expansion draft. I’d buy him out, or at least try to persuade him to waive his no-movement clause, so I could protect Brendan Smith in his place.
I was shocked to see Ottawa expose Bobby Ryan in the expansion draft. Sure, he only scored 25 points this season, but he scored 56 last season and rebounded in the playoffs with 15 points in 19 games. I have a strong feeling that Ryan will end up getting taken. I would have protected him instead of Ryan Dzingel. Perhaps Dzingel would have been taken, or perhaps Clarke MacArthur, who scored nine points in 19 games in the playoffs after coming back in time for the regular season finale, would have been taken instead. MacArthur would offer a contract with some years left, and a sizeable-but-not-too-much contract to help them stay above the salary floor.
My surprise for Philadelphia is that they didn’t do more to protect Matt Read. Despite his age and scoring decline, his 54.7 ESCF% was the best among Philadelphia regulars. His strong possession results even held up with some of the team’s worst possession players like Andrew MacDonald (50.5) and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (52.6). I would have looked at trading someone like Bellemare, or perhaps Jordan Weal, in order to keep him. Someone who can carry bad depth players is himself a good depth player.
My biggest surprise with Pittsburgh is that they’re bothering to go through all these motions at all and haven’t simply made a joint announcement with Vegas that they’re taking Marc-Andre Fleury. Seriously though, my biggest surprise is that the Pens felt the need to go with the 8-1 arrangement. Sure two of Olli Maatta, Ian Cole, or Brian Dumoulin would be at risk, but wouldn’t it be worth it for Pittsburgh to keep their Stanley Cup-winning forward core intact? To that end, I’d go with 7-3-1, protect Dumoulin along with Kris Letang and Justin Schultz, and along with Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel, I’d protect Nick Bonino, Bryan Rust, and Carl Hagelin, the next-highest-scoring three forwards who are both exposure-eligible and under 30.
For San Jose, the thing that surprised me the most was which defencemen they chose to protect. Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic weren’t surprised. Burns was a Norris candidate this season, and Vlasic, despite the second-worst possession ESCF% on the team (48.1) is typically better than that. Justin Braun, the other blueliner protected, had the only ESCF% worse than Vlasic, 47.0, and isn’t at the same standard Vlasic normally plays at. I would have protected Paul Martin, who may be 36, but had a 51.8 ESCF%.
My biggest shock was Ryan Reaves being protected. I remember reading a tweet (I don’t remember where to find it) suggesting that the Blues would want to protect Reaves, and the tweet came with a bunch of comments laughing at how absurd that sounded. Turns out it was true. Reaves’ 46.4 ESCF% was the third-worst among roster regulars this season, and Reaves’ 13 points were 16th on the team. With the typical benefits of an enforcer such as Reaves not holding up to scrutiny, this was a puzzling decision. And one doesn’t even need to debate the merits of having an enforcer or Reaves himself. He wouldn’t have been picked, assuming GMGM is a smart man. They could have protected David Perron, who was fifth on the team with 46 points and posted a 51.1 ESCF%. They could have protected Dmitrij Jaskin, who is much younger, and even if he doesn’t pan out would make for a good fit on a skill-oriented fourth line. I’ve got St. Louis losing Perron.
I’m a little surprised that the Lightning aren’t protecting any of their young defencemen. I would perhaps have risked losing Braydon Coburn in order to protect Slater Koekkoek. Koekkoek’s youth will make him an enticing pick for the Lightning.
Toronto surprised me by protecting Matt Martin. Unlike St. Louis, who I read was rumoured to want to protect Ryan Reaves well before the draft, I had no indication Toronto would protect Martin. Martin fell from 19 points to nine and posted only a 48.0 ESCF%. As with Reaves, losing him and his $2.5M cap hit would be a benefit all by itself, but Vegas wouldn’t even take him. Not protecting him would allow them to protect prospects Kerby Rychel or Brendan Leipsic.
I was surprised Vancouver had such slim pickings, both for Vegas to pick from and for Vancouver to protect. That’s not a joke. There isn’t anything I’d do differently with Vancouver, because there is just so few options. Not even Colorado has this few legitimate options.
The Capitals’ most surprising move for me was not protecting winger TJ Oshie. Timothy Jimothy had so much success this season with Washington that I’d think the Caps would try to sign him and protect him. I’d leave Tom Wilson exposed, due to his much-lower scoring. Perhaps I could trade Wilson to Vegas in exchange for them using their pick on Brooks Orpik.
It’s hard to decide what about the Jets’ decisions surprised me. As disappointed as I am about Marko Dano being exposed while Joel Armia, Andrew Copp, and Adam Lowry are all protected, it doesn’t surprise me considering how much Dano got the shaft in Winnipeg. If I had to pick, it’s Toby Enstrom being exposed. For the last week and some leading up to Sunday, it seemed more and more like it was going in that direction, but I still hoped Tyler Myers would be the one exposed. Enstrom is the difference between the Jets having depth on the left-hand defence and basically none. Myers is a worse player and more injury-prone. Someone who was so fragile this season would be a worthy gamble in my opinion. Bonus: I would leave Lowry or Copp off the protected list so I could protect Dano.
There were some surprises with these protected lists, and I’m sure there’s going to be more to come on Wednesday when Vegas makes their picks. Expect at least one dim-witted move.