Although it still feels like a long way out, the expansion draft for the NHL’s Seattle franchise will take place the season after next. That’s close enough that we have a better idea of who the Anaheim Ducks might leave exposed entering the expansion draft, should they still be on the roster.
Since it’s the time of year for lists – the naughty list, the nice list, the wish list – let’s take a look at another future list. The list of players most and least likely to be exposed in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.
7, 3, 1: The Ducks’ Magic Numbers
The rules of the 2021 Expansion Draft are the same as the rules from the 2017 Expansion Draft that made the Vegas Golden Knights so competitive in their first season.
That means several things for Anaheim, including a decision about how many players they want to protect, and in what configuration. The options are seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters and a goalie.
Judging by the team’s current roster, it feels like seven skaters, three defensemen and one goalie would be their choice. The team has only one player currently with a no-movement clause in their contract and that is Ryan Getzlaf, but he will be a free agent by the expansion draft, so assuming he doesn’t sign an extension with another no-movement clause, he won’t have to be protected.
The draft is now close enough where the Ducks’ weaknesses might still be their weaknesses on expansion draft day. Since their defense is so top-heavy, it would suit them to protect their best three defensemen (but I’ll go into that in a bit) and their dynamic duo on offense in Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg (again, more on that in a second). That exhausts the defense protection spots and leaves five open at forward.
Let’s take a look at Ducks players who are most likely to be under contract in 2021 and how likely they are to be protected or left exposed.
Protect the Swedes
This article won’t include players who are unrestricted free agents before the 2021-22 season (except for one). I will include restricted free agents because they are more likely than not to remain with Anaheim, especially if they are part of the Ducks’ future core.
The dynamic Swedish duo of Silfverberg and Rakell are the most consistent source of offense on Anaheim’s roster. Rakell will still be in his prime and Silfverberg — although he will be approaching the latter stages of his career — has the all-around game and leadership ability to be productive until his mid-to-late thirties.
Bob Murray also loves Silfverberg. Why would he sign the Swede to a five-year extension and say of him, “He can play the game, but he’s also a role model. He does all the right things,” only to expose him two-and-a-half seasons later?
The Case for Kase
Ondrej Kase is a compelling case. The promising forward has shown an ability to be a very productive NHL player over short bursts, which have been interrupted by injury. Since he’s become a full-time NHL player, Kase has produced at more than a point-per-game pace. The only exception has been this season, which was also interrupted by injury.
He’s a restricted free agent in 2021-22, meaning the Ducks would have to re-sign him. Still, even if he remains the player he is now, rather than the point per game player he’s been in the past, he will provide valuable depth scoring once the Ducks solidify their primary scoring.
You could cite his injury history and the fact that he’s been mentioned in trade rumors as evidence to counter this argument, but if Kase can remain healthy and on the roster, he would continue to be a valuable asset for Anaheim. Considering he will still only be 25 at the time of the expansion draft, there would be plenty of service left ahead for him as well.
Younger Is Better
I lump Ducks youngsters Sam Steel, Max Jones, Isac Lundestrom and Troy Terry together because they could comprise the next core group of Ducks forwards.
They are all still relatively unproven and each youngster has had their moments and their setbacks. Terry, Steel and Jones have all been scratched this season at different times, and none of them have flashed to the point where we can definitively say that, in a season and a half, any of them will be untouchable.
Lundestrom has spent most of the season with the American Hockey League’s San Diego Gulls but has also shown promise over two stints with the Ducks since being drafted in 2018.
However, if you consider players currently on the Ducks’ roster, and the fact they will probably go with the 7-3-1 protection strategy, these three fit right in perfectly for a team trying to turn over their roster and get younger.
Protecting all four of these young players would leave Nick Ritchie and Adam Henrique out to dry, but I’ll get to that in a bit as well.
Top Pairing Insurance
The law firm of Josh Manson and Hampus Lindholm will be defending the Ducks blueline for years to come, and it’s unlikely Murray will expose either of them to start their own practice in Seattle.
All kidding aside, it became painfully obvious how important both players are to the Ducks when they both missed time with injuries in November, and the team fell off a cliff going 3-6-4 in that month.
It can take a long time to develop young defenders and trading for a top-pairing defenseman isn’t easy either, so the Ducks will need to hold onto what they already have.
Gibson’s Got Nothing to Worry About
There is absolutely no way the Ducks expose John Gibson. That goes without saying. Even if another Anaheim goaltending prospect like Lukas Dostal blossoms in the time between now and the expansion draft, he won’t have to be protected because he won’t be eligible due to his lack of pro service time.
Could Fowler Be Exposed?
Cam Fowler has bounced back from a disappointing 2018-19 season. The aforementioned top-heaviness of the Ducks’ defense also makes him an appealing candidate for protection.
However, if Murray wants to use the expansion draft as a potential “get out of a bad contract” situation, Fowler is a candidate to be exposed. His contract carries a $6.5 million cap hit until 2025-26.
That means Fowler will be a free agent at age 35. Corey Perry was bought out at 34. Presently, the Ducks need Fowler, and at the pace young defensemen develop, it’s likely they will by the summer of 2021 as well.
Mahura or Guhle…Or Neither?
For Josh Mahura and Brendan Guhle, it would depend on what the Ducks choose to do with Fowler. With the 7-3-1 format, if Lindholm, Manson and Fowler were protected that would leave both Mahura and Guhle off the “island.”
Both are young defenders who have shown they can produce at the NHL level but haven’t yet proven themselves as consistent NHL players. After next season, it might be more obvious who the Ducks and Murray value more.
If one of these two breaks out before the expansion draft, the Ducks may choose to protect Guhle or Mahura and leave Fowler exposed, but for now, they’re both likely to be exposed.
Elite 1C Returns?
Derek Grant’s case is interesting as well. Grant is an unrestricted free agent following this season, meaning it’s not a foregone conclusion that he will even be with the Ducks next season.
There is a reason for Grant to re-sign, though. He’s played on six different NHL teams since turning pro in 2011, but his two best seasons (including this one) have come in Anaheim. They’ve also been his only two NHL seasons where he hasn’t been traded. It appears Grant likes the stability he’s found in Anaheim, and he plays his best here.
If his contributions this season continue at their current pace, Grant will likely be offered a raise from his $700,000 by multiple teams interested in depth scoring. You won’t blame Grant for signing with someone else if he’s offered a better contract elsewhere, but if the Ducks re-sign him, he’ll likely be around for the expansion draft. If Grant is re-signed, he might be worth protecting.
Henrique Headed for Exposure?
Adam Henrique has always been a streaky offensive player who is responsible in the defensive zone. He’s on pace to have another year on par with his previous seasons when it comes to offensive production.
Unfortunately for Henrique, he turns 30 this year and is on Anaheim’s books for another four seasons after this one, for $5.82 million apiece. If the Ducks wanted to try to use the expansion draft to get out of a bad contract, Henrique’s contract has the most potential to cause the Ducks to want to expose him.
Henrique already has a modified no-trade clause where he would submit a 10-team “no-trade” list if the Ducks wanted to deal him. Trading him would be much harder than exposing him in the expansion draft and enticing Seattle take him off their hands, if they chose to.
Ritchie Ready to Go North
Until he suffered his knee injury, I was convinced Nick Ritchie wouldn’t make it through the season as a Duck. He was too obvious a candidate for a “hockey trade” playing for a franchise now crowded at left wing. Ritchie continues to produce disappointing numbers compared to the expectations for a player drafted as high as he was.
He’s a restricted free agent following the 2020-21 season, meaning the Ducks would need to protect him if they wanted to retain his rights. We’ve been waiting for Ritchie to break out for a while now, and by the time the expansion draft comes around, he will have had five full NHL seasons to prove himself. He just wouldn’t be worth protecting in the expansion draft at that point.
Shore Sure to Be Exposed?
Devin Shore will be a restricted free agent after this season, and he shouldn’t be that expensive for the Ducks to re-sign. That means he will likely be on the Ducks’ for the expansion draft.
However, with the young core the Ducks would already have to protect along with Rakell, Silfverberg and Kase, Shore would have to be exposed.
How much would Murray be willing to spend for a player he might only have for a season? It’s hard to know, but if Shore is on the roster in 2021-22, he’d be Seattle bait.
The 2021 Expansion Draft still feels a long way out. The Seattle franchise hasn’t settled on a name yet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to extrapolate who might be available to them from the Ducks. While Anaheim’s young players haven’t truly established themselves yet, there will be enough worth in protecting them that the Ducks may need to expose older players like Henrique or Fowler. Either way, next summer will be very interesting.