After 55 years of expansions, the National Hockey League will have grown from the Original Six teams to 32 clubs by the time the 2021-22 season begins. The league finally got the process right by the time they welcomed in the Vegas Golden Knights (2016-17). The new team immediately had success and went as far as the Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals during their inaugural season.
From 1967 on, the league brought in teams, who were left to pick from a heap of second-rate players to fill their lineup. Some teams had success early like the Philadelphia Flyers with Cup wins in 1974 and 1975, as well as the New York Islanders with four consecutive Cup wins during the 1980-83 stretch.
But many hockey fans cringed at the early Washington Capitals, Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers. The Winnipeg Jets — not an expansion franchise but adopted from the World Hockey Association — had a rough start too.
The Capitals earned just eight wins and 21 points during the 1974-75 season. In 1992-93, the San Jose Sharks set the all-time record for the most losses with 71 — ouch! The Seattle Kraken will feast in choosing quality players from all other teams save for the Golden Knights, who are exempt.
Who will the Edmonton Oilers have to give up in the expansion draft? Zack Kassian immediately comes to mind. He can skate, score, pass and possesses a physical side that both the Oilers and the Kraken will harbour. Although there is a no-trade clause in his new four-year contract, there are exceptions.
Who is Exempt?
Players who are rookies or are in their second year, as well as any unsigned draft picks, are exempt from the expansion draft and do not need protection. Below is a list of talent that will be exempt in alphabetical order. Players subject to exposure are Tyler Benson (F) and William Lagesson (D).
- Bergland, Filip (D)
- Bouchard, Evan (D)
- Broberg, Philip (D)
- Lavoie, Raphael (F)
- McLeod, Ryan (F)
- Maksimov, Kirill (F)
- Rodrique, Olivier (G)
- Samorukov, Dmitri (D)
The Oilers will be permitted to protect just 11 players (or eight, depending on their selections). With the team brimming with slick talent, a player of Kassian’s calibre may be made available. The question is, will the Oilers protect him?
The list of available players will include those with current NHL contracts and offers both defence and forward positions. The goaltender (one) will have different rules applied.
Who Must Be Exposed?
1. A defenseman who is under contract in 2021-22 and has played in 40 or more games during the prior season or at least 70 games in the prior two seasons.
2. Two forwards who are under contract in 2021-22 and played at least 40 games the prior season or at least 70 games in the prior two seasons.
3. A goalie under contract in 2021-22 or one who will be a restricted free agent at the end of his existing contract prior to 2021-22. If a team chooses to make a restricted free agent goalie available, that goalie must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the team’s protected list.
Who Else May Be Protected?
Teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender.
There are other common scenarios that simply must include eight skaters and the goalie. For example, most teams stayed with the seven forwards, three defencemen one goalie format for the Golden Knights draft, however, teams can go 4-4-1, or any other combination. It will be up to the individual teams to decide how deep to go in protecting for the different positions.
The Oilers will likely expose the following players: Kassian, James Neal, Andreas Athanasiou, Josh Archibald, Jujhar Khaira, and Jesse Puljujarvi, as well as defenders Matt Benning and Adam Larsson.
unrestricted free agents (UFAs) over the next two seasons are Patrick Russell, Joakim Nygard, Tyler Ennis, Riley Sheahan, Kris Russell, Mike Green, Gaetan Haas, Alex Chaisson, Mike Smith.
Of course, it is an absolute no-brainer to protect Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, Kailer Yamamoto and to a lesser degree Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Ethan Bear, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse and perhaps Stuart Skinner also are likely to be protected.
Who Will the Oilers Lose?
My hunch suggests Kassian will go to the Kraken. However, the Oilers just signed him in January to that four-year contract worth $3.2 million annually. Additionally, the 29-year-old has come into his own (to a degree) after a tough first decade in the league.
The problem for the Oilers is with the new trend towards slick, faster, and lighter players, Kassian is a bit of a throwback perhaps suited to a different environment. Last season, for example, he pounded Matthew Tkachuk as the Calgary Flame turtled.
The league suspended Kassian, but he didn’t care. He warned Tkachuk that the issue wasn’t settled, this, after he was suspended.
How He Ended Up in Edmonton
Kassian was drafted 13th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2009 and was later traded to Vancouver in the Cody Hodgson swap-debacle of 2012. Edmonton picked him up from Montreal in 2015 for goaltender Ben Scrivens. That season, the Canadiens had picked up Kassian from the Canucks in a trade for Brandon Prust and a fifth-round draft pick.
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He has never quite found a home that suits his style, although Edmonton has been as close to a fit for Kassian as he has experienced so far in his NHL career.
He scored 15 goals twice for Edmonton during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 (59 games) seasons and scored 14 times for Vancouver during the 2013-14 season. He is capable of 20-plus goals if he can keep his head in the game and his focus on the play. Despite his volatility, his upside is worth the gamble.