Canadiens Have Options to Protect Players From the Kraken

The Seattle Kraken expansion draft is fast approaching; on the 21st of July, where general manager (GM) Ron Francis will be selecting his players from each NHL team. I will be paying close attention to the Montreal Canadiens and what GM Marc Bergevin will do to protect the players he cherishes the most. There are three different ways Bergevin can deal with Francis and maintain better control of who is picked. One is to go the 7-3-1 protection route, which means protecting seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. Two, he could go for the 8-1 approach that allows him to protect any eight players he chooses along with one goaltender. Third, he can make a side deal with Francis, ensuring the Kraken GM selects the player Bergevin wants him to take.

The 7-3-1 Protection Method

The 31 currently active NHL teams have until July 17 to submit their protection lists, and the rules for the Kraken expansion remain the same as with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017. Last expansion draft with the Golden Knights, the Canadiens went with the 7-3-1 method and lost defenseman Alexei Emelin. That year, all but six teams went with the 7-3-1 method, which is the best way to protect players, given that teams usually have 13 forwards and 7 defensemen on their roster. If the Canadiens go this route again, they will risk losing one of their top four defencemen who helped them get to the Stanley Cup Final.

Alexei Emelin
Alexei Emelin (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With the 7-3-1 method, the Canadiens will have to make the distressing choice as to whom to expose from their defensive core. Due to his no-movement clause (NMC), Jeff Petry will automatically have to be protected, and Shea Weber is the other defenceman that will almost certainly be protected, leaving one of Joel Edmundson or Ben Chiarot exposed with Brett Kulak. Edmundson and Chiarot play a very similar game, with Edmundson being a little more consistent and reliable. Still, the biggest and smartest reason to protect one over the other will be contract length. Edmundson has three years left on his contract, while Chiarot is a free agent (FA) after next season. Edmundson should be the third defensemen protected.

Joel Edmundson
Joel Edmundson, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Of the forward group, Brendan Gallagher is the only one with an NMC, so he has to be protected; Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson are both pretty safe bets to be protected as well. This leaves four more to add, which will be interesting given the Canadiens only have three forwards under contract who could be exposed to the draft: Jonathan Drouin, Paul Byron, and Jake Evans. Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield are exempt, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Artturi Lehkonen are restricted free agents (RFA)s, and the rest are free agents. The free agents can be picked by the Kraken and count as drafted from the Canadiens, but Seattle would have to be sure they could sign them, so them being selected is unlikely. Only one of Kotkaniemi or Lehkonen could be protected if all the others are, leaving Bergevin with a tough decision.

If Bergevin values his forwards more than his defencemen, then he will go with the 7-3-1 setup. The decision will be hardest when it comes to which of the five remaining players is left exposed; Kotkaniemi will be protected, not much doubt in that, so it’s actually down to four. Evans will be good insurance if Phil Danault doesn’t re-sign, so he is probably safe. Lehkonen is a younger but slower version of Byron, who will also have a lower cap hit. This narrows the choice down to Drouin or Byron, and both have high cap hits; Byron is on the downturn of his career, and Drouin has off-ice issues. The best thing for Drouin could be to leave Montreal, therefore he could easily be the forward left unprotected.

Protected:

Forwards: Gallagher (NMC), Toffoli, Anderson, Kotkaniemi (RFA), Byron, Evans, Lehkonen (RFA)

Defense: Petry (NMC), Weber, Edmundson

Goalie: Carey Price (NMC)

Exposed:

Forwards: Drouin, Danault (FA), Joel Armia (FA), Eric Staal (FA), Corey Perry (FA), Michael Frolik (FA), Tomas Tatar (FA)

Defence: Chiarot, Kulak, John Merrill (FA), Erik Gustafsson (FA),

Goalie: Jake Allen

The 8-1 Protection Method

The second protection option is for the Canadiens to protect any eight skaters they please, plus one goaltender. With this method, the organization is in a position to protect more defencemen if they choose, or if they were deep in the forward group, they could protect one extra forward and no defensemen. The Canadiens will not be leaving all their defencemen exposed in this expansion draft so that we can forget that idea right now. This will all come down to whether or not Bergevin feels comfortable protecting only four forwards because the real point of this method is to protect four or more defensemen.

Marc Bergevin
Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

The only reason Bergevin would do this is if he values his defensemen more than his forwards, and, to be frank, if it weren’t for his “big four,” the Canadiens probably would not have advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs. Who the Habs protect on defense is pretty easy: everyone but Kulak. The forward group isn’t that tricky either: along with Gallagher, Toffoli and Anderson will be protected. I don’t see Bergevin letting Kotkaniemi go for free, so he will most likely be the fourth forward protected as well.

Protected:

Forwards: Gallagher (NMC), Toffoli, Anderson, Kotkaniemi

Defense: Petry (NMC) Weber, Edmundson, Chiarot

Goalie: Price

Exposed:

Forwards: Drouin, Evans, Byron, Lehkonen (RFA), Danault (FA), Armia (FA), Staal (FA), Perry (FA), Frolik (FA), Tatar (FA)

Defense: Kulak, Merrill (FA), Gustafsson (FA)

Goalie: Allen

Bergevin Makes a Side Deal

The final way Bergevin can protect his assets and have better control over who Francis takes at the expansion draft is to make a side deal with him, guaranteeing the Kraken choose the player Bergevin wants them to. Of course, this would involve trading a player – and possibly a pick or prospect too – but it puts Bergevin more in control of the asset he loses.

Paul Byron Montreal Canadiens
Paul Byron, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Bergevin has 11 picks in the upcoming entry draft, five of them in the first three rounds. He could easily trade a second-round pick to Seattle to convince them to pick a player like Byron or Kulak. Or outright trade the player(s) with a pick or two to get Seattle to select a player who is signed, but in the AHL, like Laurent Dauphin or Joel Blandisi – this is a highly improbable move, but you never know. Bergevin is a master at making trades and rarely comes out on the losing end; if he’s going to go this way, he will do whatever he can to make his team better and not lose anyone important.

Who Will Be Drafted by Seattle?

The consensus around the Canadiens on social media is that either Allen or Chiarot will be selected. Allen would be a huge loss for the team, the Canadiens have needed a steady backup for years and finally have one, so I can see Bergevin doing what he can to save him. Chiarot, on the other hand, is a loss, but someone that can more easily be replaced, Canadiens rookie Alexander Romanov – who is exempt from the draft – could step up and fill Chiarot’s shoes, but he won’t be at Chiarot’s level, at least not this next season. The Canadiens can also sign a UFA or trade for another top-four defenceman – which they should be doing anyway.

Ben Chiarot Montreal Canadiens
Ben Chiarot, Montreal Canadiens (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The question asked was “who will be drafted?” No one knows what Bergevin will do; all we know is that he will want to control which player is drafted as much as possible. Bergevin will want to protect his big four defensemen and his backup goalie, which leads me to believe he will go with the 8-1 method and expose more forwards. This will also force Seattle to pick an easily replaceable player. The only top-six player Seattle could grab would be Drouin, who they may shy away from due to his recent leave-of-absence, but it could be the best for both the Habs and Drouin if he is chosen.

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Byron seems like the logical player for Bergevin to try to convince Seattle to take; his cap hit of $3.5 million is just too much for a fourth-line player. He could provide Seattle with an experienced leader and great penalty killing. It may cost a pick or two, but if the Canadiens can get the Kraken to select Byron, it will be a win for the team. Drouin’s uncertainty will probably keep Seattle from drafting him, and if Bergevin really wants them to take him, it would probably cost a first-round pick to do so, which would be too much of a loss for the Canadiens.


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