At the end of the 2020-21 season, we will welcome a new team to the NHL in the Seattle Kraken. With the new franchise comes the 2021 Expansion Draft, which will pose interesting questions for the New York Islanders given their current roster. The draft could be a tool for the Islanders to shed some contracts that are taking up a lot of their cap space and here are three skaters that are expected to be left unprotected.
It should be noted, some players aren’t eligible to be selected since they are either on rookie contracts or pending free agents (to further understand the expansion draft rules, read this). While the three skaters in this article aren’t likely to be selected in the Expansion Draft, it shouldn’t be a surprise if they are ultimately unprotected.
Right Wing Jordan Eberle
Jordan Eberle has been one of the key pieces of the Islanders’ offense in recent years. He is constantly shuffled in the top lines and has proven that he is worth the deal the Islanders gave him in 2019. At the same time, he is 30 years old and, more importantly, making $5.5 million a year. Leaving him unprotected for Seattle to pick up would give the Islanders enough cap space to be flexible in their offseason moves.
If the Kraken choose Eberle, it would leave a major hole in the Islanders’ offense. In the two seasons since he was traded from the Edmonton Oilers, he has been a top-five scorer on the team and played a crucial role in their playoff success. He has the killer instinct to find and create scoring opportunities, which is pivotal for a top-line scorer. The Islanders would have a difficult time replacing him if he was selected by Seattle.
Defenseman Johnny Boychuk
Johnny Boychuk is 36 years old and is earning $6 million per season. As much as the right-handed defenseman is a staple on the team’s defense, the front office should be ready to expose him in the expansion draft. It’s unlikely that Seattle would select the veteran who is playing his final years in the NHL, but a new franchise might want him to mentor their young players.
The Islanders will likely leave Boychuk unprotected, but Seattle probably won’t select him since they will be trying to snag younger players, especially for their defense. However, if they wanted a player with grit to be a veteran presence and mentor, he could be a possible choice given his Stanley Cup experience with the Boston Bruins. Losing Boychuk wouldn’t be terrible for the Islanders, either. The front office would need to find a replacement on defense, but would have more flexibility to do so in free agency.
Left Wing Andrew Ladd
This is the most obvious choice for the Islanders to leave unprotected. Andrew Ladd has failed to live up to his billing since he was acquired in 2016 from the Winnipeg Jets. The declining forward costs $5.5 million per season and is 34 years old. The Islanders may try to move him one way or another, but if he is still around by the end of the season, expect him to be on the list of unprotected players.
If the Kraken chose to take on Ladd’s contract despite his declining production (since 2016-17), the Islanders would be excited. The move would allow more roster flexibility and give more mobility in free agency to bring in a star player. It would also end what has been a disappointing tenure in New York. Of all the skaters to expose, Ladd might be the one the Islanders would most anticipate the Kraken selecting.
How Will the Islanders Handle the Expansion Draft?
The Islanders have the rare opportunity to take advantage of the expansion draft. With only $8.9 million in available cap space, they have little room to add to a roster that reached the Eastern Conference Final this past season, especially considering they’ll have to re-sign restricted free agent Mathew Barzal with most of that money. The expansion draft will allow the Islanders to protect most of their core while the Kraken may willingly take on an expensive contract to reach the cap floor.
Seattle may not select any of the three players mentioned above. The Islanders will try to protect their young players, but might be forced to leave a star like Josh Bailey or Scott Mayfield unprotected. Still, no one should be surprised or shocked if Eberle, Boychuk, and Ladd are left available in the 2021 Expansion Draft.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.