The NHL General Manager’s meetings concluded with discussion around how a potential expansion draft would work and what impact it will have on current teams. A few key points that came from those conversations are as follows…
1.) If the NHL were to expand by one team, each franchise would lose no more than one player. If there are two expansion teams, it would mean that each team could lose up to two players.
2.) Teams could have a few different options on who they protect. They can either protect eight skaters and one goalie, whereas those skaters can be forwards or defensemen or they can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie.
3.) Unsigned draft picks are automatically protected, such as someone playing overseas or in college, as are first-and-second-year pros. Keep in mind, that means that AHL seasons will have counted toward their professional tenure. So, for example, both Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry will be past that point and could be drafted if the Penguins don’t protect one of them.
4.) A final decision could be made prior to this summer’s NHL Entry Draft, which will be held on June 24-25.
It’s still early in the process, so there’s sure to be tweaking. There are also still a lot of questions surrounding an eventual expansion draft, such as whether or not players with no-movement clauses are protected. But, given what we know now, it’s safe to say Penguins’ GM Jim Rutherford will have some very tough decisions to make in the near future.
Which Approach Best Suits the Penguins?
First, consider that the Penguins’ roster will be much different in the summer of 2017, which is when an expansion draft is likely to happen.
Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino and Trevor Daley will hit unrestricted free agency that spring, while Brian Dumoulin, Conor Sheary, Derrick Pouliot and Matt Murray will be restricted free agents. Names will also be added and subtracted this offseason and throughout the 2016-17 season. Will the possibility of a 2017 expansion draft have an impact on decision-making in the near future?
At this point, considering what contracts will remain from the current Penguins’ lineup, their best option will likely be protecting eight total skaters and a goalie. That would leave the ability to protect their stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, as well as youngster Daniel Sprong who will need protected from my understanding due to playing long enough to burn a year of his entry-level deal this season. Of course, that remains to be seen when more details are released.
That leaves room for one more forward and then four defensemen, which will likely include Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Dumoulin and Pouliot. The really tricky part of the equation is at the goaltender position.
Is it Fleury or Murray?
Teams obviously covet goaltending. True NHL starters aren’t exactly easy to come by and while I don’t believe you need stellar goaltending to compete for a championship, you do need consistently good net-minding. That will be a focus of any expansion team.
Consider the first six picks of the 2000 expansion draft when the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild joined the league.
Exposing Marc-Andre Fleury will almost assuredly mean his departure. Very few teams have the luxury of a Matt Murray already in their system, so most goalies of Fleury’s echelon will be protected. And, what organization wouldn’t love to have someone of that caliber manning the crease while you build a franchise?
For the Penguins, it’s an unfortunate case of having to choose between the future of the franchise and the current workhorse who got them this far. I’m a huge supporter of Fleury and appreciate the work he has done in Pittsburgh but the answer is easy.
Given the Penguins’ cap situation and the fact that Murray will be signing his first non-entry-level deal, combined with his age and extremely high ceiling, Murray has to be protected. I knew that a decision at the goaltender was approaching for Pittsburgh but it seems that outside of normal business decisions, their hand is going to be forced.
The expansion draft will continue to be a hot topic and as more details are released, we can dive further into options forthcoming.