This is collaboration between Vegas Golden Knights writers Thomas Conroy and Shayna Goldman analyzing the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft by each division.
The Vegas Golden Knights are in their final stage of preparation for this month’s NHL Expansion Draft. Team management has held multiple mock drafts since the beginning of the New Year, in order to prepare themselves for the unexpected.
Existing franchises are also in the process of finalizing their protected lists, and the majority of them are still debating over which player deserves the final spot to remain with the team. The league’s top stars and players with a no-movement clause in their contract have no need to worry this summer. However, the odds are high that clubs are going to lose a quality player to the Golden Knights without receiving anything of value in return.
Rules for the Expansion Draft
All 30 NHL franchises have two options to choose from when protecting players for the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft: they can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender.
The league has exempted all first and second-year players from eligibility in the expansion draft. Plus, all players that have missed at least 60 games due to injury in the recently completed season have also received an automatic exemption from the draft.
Now, that we have briefly gone over the rules, let’s preview the Atlantic Division (by the final regular season standings):
The Canadiens are in the midst of a radical roster change, as head coach Claude Julien prefers a team that concentrates on forechecking and defending in front of the net. The final forward spot on the protected list will be the Canadiens toughest decision, and it could come down to Charles Hudon or Tomas Plekanec.
Hudon is a talented young forward that is ready for the challenge of the NHL, but he’s battling a fan favorite in Plekanec, who might only be made available in the expansion draft to give the Canadiens much needed cap space to make offseason moves.
The decision might come down to whether or not the Canadiens can make a legitimate run for the Stanley Cup next season. If team management believe they can, then Plekanec, with a proven track record, will stay. But if not, then Hudon with a promising future, will be protected — a new era in Canadiens hockey will have officially begun.
The battle for the final forward spot on the Senators protected list could become a three-way fight between Zack Smith, Ryan Dzingel and JG Pageau. Each had an up-and-down season, but the Senators must determine which player can raise their game and become a solid contributor on the ice. The wildcard in this scenario is if Dion Phaneuf accepts the Senators request for him to waive his no-movement clause in his contract, which would leave him unprotected in the expansion draft. It might be too enticing for the Knights not to select a quality veteran who could provide a presence on the backline.
It seems logical that the Bruins will use the 7-3-1 protected list format because they have an abundance of talented forwards within their organization. The final spot on the forward protected list could come down to two players — Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes. Their decision might be influenced by gaining necessary cap space if the Bruins protect Hayes ($2.3 million) over Beleskey ($3.8 million). Each has shown the ability to be a quality third-liner who can occasionally put the puck in the net. The Bruins must decide which player is more valuable to the team’s overall success.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs have a good mix of young talent that could make their future look quite bright. Don’t be surprised, though, if they become active in the trade market prior to submitting their protected list to the league office. The interest might center on two Leafs forwards, Brendan Leipsic and Matt Martin, as each had consistency issues on the ice last season. Trading one away for a veteran defenseman might be the best solution for the Maple Leafs moving forward.
Tampa Bay Lightning
No one should be surprised that the Lightning have the deepest roster in the NHL, and they will lose a quality player in the expansion draft. GM Steve Yzerman can easily fill out his protected list, and the league consensus expects Vegas to choose one of the forwards, Alex Killorn, Vladislav Namestnikov and J.T. Brown, who are talented and have the potential to be a top line star. The Golden Knights must do their homework on each player before making their selection.
You hate to write that team chemistry wouldn’t be affected by losing a player in the upcoming expansion draft, but the Panthers fall under that category. Quietly, the Panthers are entering their window of opportunity to contend for a Stanley Cup title. The Panthers have two tough decisions to make on their expansion draft protected list as they must chose between Jonathan Marchessault and Jussi Jokinen on the frontline and Jason Demers and Alex Petrovic on the backline. Team management must decide which two players they ill can afford to replace in the lineup.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings are slowly returning back to respectability with a group of young players who are ready to make an impact in the Atlantic Division next season. The key to their continued success is not losing a quality talent in the expansion draft. All reports indicate that Andreas Athanasiou and Darren Helm could find themselves left out of mix and exposed to Vegas for the taking, The Red Wings front office must decide if the roster has enough experienced players to guide the youngsters through next season. If not, then Helm will be protected.
The Sabres are a talented, young team, but they will be under the direction of a new head coach next season. New Sabres GM Jason Botterill will have some difficult decisions pending, especially which goaltender to protect in the expansion draft.
He will have to choose between Robin Lehner, Anders Nilsson and Linus Ullmark, with Lehner being the odds-on favorite to be protected because the Sabres surrendered a first-round draft pick to acquire him from the Ottawa Senators in 2015. However, Lehner is a restricted free agent this offseason, and the Sabres could leave him exposed in the draft. If Botterill is fully committed to Lehner, then he will protect him and not allow the Golden Knights an opportunity to solely negotiate a contract with the talented netminder.
Thomas Conroy covers the Vegas Golden Knights for The Hockey Writers Network He has been writing about sports since 2007, first as a contributor for Bleacher Report and Football Nation. Recently, Conroy was a co-editor for the Bolts Beat website on Fansided. To read more his work, please him on Twitter @tsconroy