When the National Hockey League celebrates its 100th birthday in November 2017, it’ll do so with 31 member clubs. The Vegas Golden Knights will begin play in 2017-18 and the hockey operations departments of the 30 currently-existing NHL teams are frantically preparing for the expansion draft process, slated for June 2017.
The Calgary Flames are among the teams preparing for the expansion draft, but there aren’t a lot of mysteries surrounding who the team will protect or expose in the selection process.
Who Will Be Protected?
The Flames are likely to go for breadth when it comes to protecting players, opting to protect 11 players (1 goalie, 3 defenders, 7 forwards) rather than 8 (via the 1 goalie, 8 skaters method). They’re set up reasonably well, as the 1/3/7 set-up allows the Flames to basically protect everyone important to their franchise.
Here’s a quick rundown of who will most likely be protected given performance over the first third of the regular season:
- A goalie (either Chad Johnson or Brian Elliott)
- D T.J. Brodie
- D Mark Giordano
- D Dougie Hamilton
- F Mikael Backlund
- F Sam Bennett
- F Troy Brouwer
- F Micheal Ferland
- F Michael Frolik
- F Johnny Gaudreau
- F Sean Monahan
As the list reflects, the Flames will likely be able to protect all of their most important internal pieces in the expansion process.
Who Will Be Exposed?
The names that will likely be left exposed by the Flames aren’t a bunch of scrubs by any means, but there’s hardly the names that will likely be available from other NHL clubs – and as the team’s able to protect their key players, there are few big pieces available for Vegas to select.
- G Tom McCollum
- D Ryan Culkin
- D Jyrki Jokipakka
- D Brett Kulak
- D Tyler Wotherspoon
- F Lance Bouma
- F Freddie Hamilton
- F Emile Poirier
- F Hunter Shinkaruk
- F Matt Stajan
Who Gets Picked?
Based on the players expected to be exposed to Vegas, there are several different options available for the Golden Knights.
A 25-year-old Finn, this left shot defenseman has cemented himself as a solid third-pairing defenseman – first in Dallas, now with Calgary. He’s not exactly an offensive powerhouse, but he’s likely to be inexpensive depth. He’s a pending restricted free agent after 2016-17 and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after the 2017-18 season.
A physical heart-and-soul type, this 26-year-old winger thrives when used as an energy player. He’s got an underrated shot and plays at a high tempo, but he shouldn’t be considered an offensive threat. He’s been used a lot by the Flames on their penalty kill. He’s signed for one more season at a $2.2 million cap hit.
He’s more expensive than Bouma at a $3.125 million cap hit through 2017-18, but Stajan is a veteran who has really helped out Calgary’s youngsters during their transition years. A quietly effective two-way player, Stajan’s been used extensively on Calgary’s PK and has enjoyed a resurgence of sorts this season as he’s emerged as one of the Flames’ best possession players despite playing on the fourth line.
Just 22 years of age, Kulak has been dipping his toe into the NHL pond in each of the past couple seasons with the Flames. While he’s not quite as established at the NHL level as Jokipakka, this left-shot defenseman has arguably a higher offensive upside and has featured on the Flames’ power play at various points this season. He’s a restricted free agent following this season.
A 23-year-old left shot defender, Wotherspoon is essentially an older, more defensively-oriented version of Kulak. He’s got less offensive upside but is arguably a more consistent player. He’s a restricted free agent following this season.
Acquired by the Flames from the Vancouver Canucks last spring, Shinkaruk is a talented offensive left winger that unfortunately finds himself behind Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk on Calgary’s depth chart. He’s just 22 years of age but hasn’t quite achieved a foothold at the NHL level yet. He has one season remaining on his entry-level deal.
One of three Flames first round selections in 2013, Poirier had a tremendous first pro season offensively but has struggled to fully round out his game. He’s got good instincts and good compete, and might benefit from a clean slate and a fresh start in another organization (as he’s been surpassed on the Flames’ depth chart by several younger prospects in recent seasons). He has one season remaining on his entry-level deal.
Most likely the Golden Knights opt for one of Jokipakka or Kulak. Both are likely to be really inexpensive depth options for their blueline. The other options (Bouma, Stajan) are arguably too expensive for the roles they’ll be filling for Vegas; if George McPhee’s new club eats a hefty contract in the expansion process, it’ll be on a player that can fill a top-six (or top-four) role for the fledgeling team.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.