The NHL is expanding, and with that comes a general manager’s worst nightmare: the expansion draft.
Reports coming out of the general managers meeting in Boca Raton, Florida suggest that an expansion draft could be coming as soon as the summer of 2017. As things stand, teams would be allowed to protect seven forwards and three defensemen from being drafted. Alternatively, any combination of eight skaters could be protected. In addition, teams will only be able to protect one goaltender on their roster. This will have massive implications on the future of the current 30 franchises, and it will force them to make some very tough, if not unwanted, decisions.
A team like the Anaheim Ducks that has drafted and traded extremely well over the past decade, will be the first to loathe the idea of letting players go for nothing. Since it will be a reality that they will inevitably have to face, it’s worth examining which players they should protect were the expansion draft to happen tomorrow. Keep in mind, general manager Bob Murray will have to worry about protecting players that can help his team now as well as those that will be of use three to four years down the road.
First order of business: does Anaheim take the seven/three protection system, or eight skaters of their choosing? Considering how young and talented they are on defense, it would make sense to keep more than three defensemen, so let’s take a look at those first:
1. Hampus Lindholm
The no-brainer pick. At only 22 years of age, Lindholm has already established himself as one of the premier defensemen in the National Hockey League. Much like Shea Theodore, his outstanding mind for the game allows him to be a dominant defenseman in spite of his underwhelming frame. As a restricted free agent this summer, Lindholm is due for a considerable raise.
2. Shea Theodore
Theodore was fantastic filling in for the injured Cam Fowler earlier in the season, leading some to wonder if the promising young blueliner has already surpassed Fowler on the depth chart. Still on an entry-level contract through 2018, it would make sense to protect the future of Anaheim’s blueline. A tantalizing combination of skating, smarts, and positional awareness, Theodore is already one of the franchise’s very best blueliners.
3. Simon Despres
Things get a little dicey after Theodore and Lindholm. Though he’s dealt with a myriad of injuries since being acquired last spring, Despres has already cemented his importance to the Ducks. He adds size, physicality, and excellent passing to an already deep blueline. Only 24, he’s signed at a reasonable $3.7 million cap hit through 2021. With a team-friendly deal and a ton of potential, there’s no reason for the Ducks not to protect Despres.
4. Josh Manson
Manson has leap-frogged over Fowler in the organizational depth chart. His chemistry with Lindholm can’t be understated, as the two have become one of the very best defensive pairings in the entire league. He’s the right kind of crazy, willing to absolutely pummel an opponent when need be, yet he’s also capable of playing some seriously fantastic hockey. Like Despres, he possesses a dynamic blend of nastiness and puck-moving ability. Still on an entry-level contract through 2018, Manson’s deal will look insanely valuable as he reaches his full potential.
Just as it’s worth discussing why the aforementioned quartet deserve protection, it’s also worth discussing why other guys were omitted from the list. Sami Vatanen and Fowler are excellent players, and their panache for offense could help basically any team. Their games are limited though, and require a strong defensive partner to make up for their shortcomings without the puck. Murray would be well-served to focus on keeping more complete defensemen, and unfortunately Fowler and Vatanen fall short in that regard. Losing either of the two for nothing would be a tough pill to swallow, but the Ducks have amassed such a strong crop of defensemen that their losses wouldn’t have anywhere near the impact they might have on any other team.
Coming tomorrow: Four Forwards The Anaheim Ducks Must Protect In The Expansion Draft
(Photo: Amy Irvin/The HockeyWriters)
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