Islanders’ Projected Protection List for the Seattle Expansion Draft

The New York Islanders have several big decisions to make when they submit their protection list to the NHL on July 17. In all likelihood, the team will utilize the 7-3-1 protection method, whereby they can keep seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goaltender protected from selection by the Seattle Kraken. With these 11 players, combined with the young players that are exempt, most notably Oliver Wahlstrom, Noah Dobson, and Ilya Sorokin, the team should still be in good shape for next season.

Seattle will have the opportunity to select one player from each of the league’s other teams besides the Vegas Golden Knights. Many of these teams, like the Isles, will be looking to use the draft to free up some cap space in advance of free agency opening up on July 28. Others will be looking to keep their cores together to prepare for another playoff run.

THW’s Islanders coverage team of Jon Zella, Mike Fink, James Nichols, and Jonathan Amatulli predict who the Islanders will keep protected from Seattle, as well as prime candidates to be selected by the Kraken.

Jon Zella

Forwards: Josh Bailey, Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau

Defensemen: Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock

Goaltender: Semyon Varlamov

I leave Leddy exposed to keep the young D-core together, though it will present problems for the team on defense moving forward. I could be convinced to leave Eberle unprotected to keep even more of the D together and re-sign Palmieri. I have to believe Lamoriello has a move already planned that, frankly, may not include anyone on the roster and saves everyone from expansion.

Mike Fink

Forwards: Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Nicolas Roy*

(*PROJECTED TRADE WITH VGK* – Nick Leddy to Vegas for Nicolas Roy and a second-round pick)

Defensemen: Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock

Goaltender: Semyon Varlamov

Simply put: the Islanders are looking to contend but also have to manage three underlying obstacles this offseason: age, cap space, and draft capital. While all three are things a rebuilding team would want and are not as important for a team in a Cup-contention window, the Islanders still need to rebuild on those attributes.

Nick Leddy New York Islanders
Nick Leddy, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Islanders enter the expansion draft with the likelihood of a veteran being selected between Leddy, Bailey, or even Eberle. If they are planning to leave Leddy unprotected (with Pelech, Pulock, and Mayfield on the roster), they might as well trade Leddy to find assets and cap space to move around. His offensive capabilities make him an intriguing piece for a shortlist of teams. A trade opens up $5 million in cap space and if someone like Bailey is selected, the Islanders suddenly have $11 million to work with, as well as draft assets to add to the prospect pool or use as trade bait.

James Nichols

Forwards: Josh Bailey, Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Kieffer Bellows, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, J.G. Pageau

Defense: Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield

Goaltender: Semyon Varlamov

Most of who should be protected by the Islanders seems obvious. Luckily, the likes of Dobson, Wahlstrom, and Sorokin are exempt from the expansion draft, keeping intact three important pieces for the Isles’ future.

You’ll notice in the forward group that Kieffer Bellows was protected over Eberle. Eberle has an M-NTC and can be left unprotected. A young forward with scoring upside like Bellows (who won’t cost you much) should be intriguing to the Seattle Kraken. The Islanders should protect him over Eberle, with the intention that Lou Lamoriello can re-sign Kyle Palmieri should Seattle take Eberle.

Kieffer Bellows New York Islanders
Kieffer Bellows, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Regardless of Bellows’ playing time in the 2020-21 season, head coach Barry Trotz, continuously reiterated how important this player is for the future of the Islanders.

“Thank God we’ve still got him,” Trotz said of Bellows after the 2020-21 trade deadline as rumors were swirling of his possible departure. (from, ‘Islanders’ Barry Trotz: ‘Thank God We Still Have Kieffer Bellows’ | NYHN +,’ NYIHockeyNow, 04/13/2021).

In a perfect scenario, Eberle is taken by Seattle, and Lamoriello can re-sign Palmieri for a few fewer dollars than Eberle’s current average annual value, giving the Islanders some cap room to play with.

As for the defenders, Pulock and Pelech are no-brainers. The debate comes down to Leddy or Mayfield. And with that, all you have to look at is AAV for Leddy, and then Mayfield, and the choice should be pretty simple. Mayfield showed how good he is in the playoffs, and the team-friendly contract gives him the edge in value.

Some have claimed the Islanders should expose Varlamov to relieve some cap space and ride Sorokin into the future. Sorokin certainly seems poised to take the next step as a starting goaltender, but that’s just not how Lamoriello operates. He loves a solidified net, and builds from his goaltenders and out. Not to mention, Varly had a Vezina-worthy season in 2020-21. Varlamov will remain with the Islanders and continue to help Sorokin transition to the North American game and lifestyle, at least until his contract ends after the 2022-23 season.

Jonathan Amatulli

Forwards: Josh Bailey, Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier (RFA), Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau

The main factor in the Islanders’ protection of their forwards is how they decide to attack pending unrestricted free agents Cizikas and Palmieri. The forwards are candidates to be protected by New York, but will likely only be kept if they agree to an extension prior to the July 17 deadline to submit protection lists.

Casey Cizikas New York Islanders
Casey Cizikas, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Without a new deal in place, the Isles will most likely practice sound asset management by protecting those that will definitely be part of the team next year. Many teams are projected to make verbal agreements with veterans to sign a new contract after the expansion draft so they don’t have to be protected; this is an option for the Islanders and Cizikas so they don’t have to use one of their spots on him.

Alternatively, the team could opt to sign and protect Cizikas and will away one of their more expensive contracts to help stay under the flat salary cap. Eberle could be a candidate to be exposed to Seattle in the hopes that the Kraken will take on his salary if a deal is made with Cizikas or Palmieri before the protection list deadline. 

Defensemen: Adam Pelech (RFA), Scott Mayfield, Ryan Pulock

With young blueliner Dobson exempt from the draft, the Isles really only have four candidates to earn protection from the Kraken. The odd man out could likely be Leddy, due in large part to his $5.5 million cap hit through next season. With Pelech and Pulock not going anywhere anytime soon, the Isles could opt to protect Mayfield at a team-friendly $1.45 million ticket to ensure he remains with the team through the remainder of his deal. Losing Leddy could force the Isles to promote one of Sebastian Aho, Thomas Hickey, or youngster Samuel Bolduc to become a regular next season.

Goaltender: Semyon Varlamov

No debate here – Ilya Sorokin is exempt so the veteran needs to be kept around. While Sorokin was adjusting to life in North America and the rate of play in the NHL, Varlamov was capturing the larger share of action and stealing games when the team needed him to. His play over the last two playoffs speaks for itself, and he’ll remain a large part of the Isles’ plans in net for the remainder of his contract.

Islanders Outlook

Our panel agrees on most of the protection list, but each has a different prediction as to how the team might approach the expansion draft. Whether it’s a trade, signing an unrestricted free agent before the draft, or just standing pat and hoping for the best, the Isles need to think about all the implications of moves made over the next two weeks. The remainder of the month will be very telling as to the future of the team, and it should be fun to watch.

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