All NHL teams must submit a protected players list for the 2017 Expansion Draft by 5:00 p.m. Eastern time on June 17. The Vegas Golden Knights will draft from teams’ exposed player lists, and their selections will be announced on June 21. Players with effective no-movement clauses (NMC) must be protected by their teams unless they agree to waive their clauses.
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No Movement Clauses
Group Three Free Agents (players that have played in the NHL for seven years or those who are at least 27 years old) qualify for no-trade clauses (NTC) and NMCs in their contracts. While no trade clauses only prohibit movement by trade, a no-movement clause restricts movement by trades, waivers, or sending a player to the minors without his consent. If a team wishes to move a player with a NMC (and that player does not agree to waive it), the contract has to be bought out or terminated.
For the purposes of the expansion draft, players with NMCs must be on a team’s protected player list. Players whose NMCs expire June 30, 2017, will not have to be protected for the expansion draft. Clubs are not obligated to protect players that only have a NTC though.
The NHL released a list of players who are exempt from the expansion draft due to their NMCs. First and second-year professionals, as well as unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from the draft–however, they will not count towards a team’s protected player list.
Preparing for the Expansion Draft
Teams have to establish which players they want to protect and coordinate with players that have effective NMCs. The Tampa Bay Lightning traded Valtteri Filppula at the trade deadline due to the impending expansion draft. In 2013, the Lightning signed Filppula to a five-year, $5 million average annual value (AAV) contract that included a NMC and modified NTC. The trade to the Philadelphia Flyers complied with his modified NTC.
With the constraints of the draft and only being able to protect either a combination of eight skaters and one goaltender or seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, the Lightning moved Filppula to avoid exposing a young player with whom they see a long-term future.
Other teams may follow the Lightning prior to the Expansion Draft by trading players with NMCs to avoid having to protect them or ask them to waive their clause for the draft. Around the league, there are players that may be asked to waive their NMCs because of their unfavorable contracts or to protect valuable players who are more likely to be drafted if exposed.
The Anaheim Ducks could ask defenseman Kevin Bieska to waive his NMC for the expansion draft, in favor of protecting their other defensive assets. Bieksa signed a two-year deal in 2015 that carries a $4 million cap hit. His contract expires at the conclusion of next season, but it may be more beneficial for the Ducks to either trade Bieska before the draft or ask him to waive his NMC. Since Bieksa is already 35 years old, it is more likely the Ducks will ask him to waive his NMC, than it is that they will find a trade partner.
If Bieska is not asked to waive is NMC, the Ducks would likely protect eight skaters and one goaltender because of their abundance of talented defensemen. Besides Bieska, they have Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler and Josh Manson to consider.
The Ducks need to establish whether Fowler is a part of the team’s long-term plans because his contract expires in 2018. If it does not look like Fowler will remain a member of the Ducks, they could trade him before the draft and then decide how to best proceed–whether it is to protect the remaining four options or still to ask Bieksa to waive his NMC so they could protect seven forwards and three defensemen (Lindholm, Vatanen and Manson).
On the other hand, if the Ducks do see a future with Fowler, general manager Bob Murray could look to trade Vatanen or Manson. Vatanen carries a cap hit of $4.875 million until 2020, and Manson will look for a raise from his $825,000 salary. Since the Ducks have so much invested in their defense financially, they may be looking to trade their higher-priced assets since they have young defensemen, like Shea Theodore, in their system.
The Ducks could still retain their best defensemen by asking Bieska to waive his NMC and then protecting Lindholm, Vatanen, Fowler and Manson. Even if Bieksa is not drafted, his contract expires when Fowler and Manson are both going to be free agents, giving the Ducks the salary cap flexibility they need.
Scott Hartnell is signed through 2019 with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 34-year-old signed his current six-year, $4.75 million AAV contract with the Flyers. In 2014, the Blue Jackets traded R.J. Umberger in exchange for Hartnell. His contract contains a NMC, but the Blue Jackets may consider asking him to waive it before the expansion draft.
If the Blue Jackets were to protect eight skaters and one goaltender, then the Hartnell contract would become a problem. Forwards Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky also have effective NMCs, so without asking Hartnell to waive his NMC, they would only be able to protect one other forward–which would leave all but one of Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, Alexander Wennberg and Brandon Saad exposed.
Even if the Blue Jackets were to protect seven forwards and three defensemen while retaining Hartnell, it would be challenging. Columbus will likely look to protect Saad, Atkinson, Jenner, and Wennberg. Adding Dubinsky and Foligno brings their protected list to six forwards. For the final slot, Columbus may prefer to protect Matt Calvert, William Karlsson, or Josh Anderson. It may be too risky to expose those players and hope they are not selected while protecting Hartnell and his steep contract.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will be protecting rookie goaltender Matt Murray at the expansion draft, which would expose former starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins have two options–trade Fleury before the draft, or allow Fleury to be drafted by the Golden Knights.
Fleury re-signed with a four-year contract in 2014. Extending through 2018-19, Fleury’s cap hit is $5.75 million. Along with his NMC, he also has a modified NTC. Rather than trading him at the deadline to a team making a playoff push, the Penguins decided to retain Fleury for goaltending depth for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If the Penguins do not find a trade partner before the draft, it is highly likely that he is selected by the Golden Knights. Although his cap hit may be considered high, the Golden Knights may feel that him being an experienced, Stanley Cup-winning goaltender compensates for that. Also, his salary would contribute to the minimum cumulative cap hit needed from the expansion draft ($43.8 million, 60 percent of the 2016-17 salary cap).
However, it is unlikely that the Penguins allow Fleury to be drafted in the expansion draft. The Penguins will likely look to trade Fleury instead to ensure a return for their asset. If Fleury is traded before the draft, the Penguins must acquire another goaltender who meets the exposure requirements. That goaltender must be a pending restricted free agent (RFA) or under contract for the 2017-18 season.
Ryan Callahan was traded from the New York Rangers to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2014. When his contract expired at the conclusion of that season, he re-signed with Tampa Bay on six-year, $5.8 million AAV contract. Included in that contract is a NMC and a modified NTC for the last two seasons.
Since joining the Lightning, Callahan has not played a full season due to his injuries. This season, he has only played 18 games. Callahan’s style of play is conducive to injuries, and being forced to protect him does complicate things for the Lightning. Already, the Lightning moved Filppula who has a NMC. Now the Lightning have to figure out what to do with Callahan and his NMC.
Unless the Lightning trade some of their forward assets, to avoid losing them in the draft, they may have issues protecting all of their players. Steven Stamkos (and his NMC) will be protected for the draft. The Lightning will likely also look to protect Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Jonathan Drouin. If Callahan waives his NMC, the Lightning will have two more forward slots to protect Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Pacquette. However, if Callahan is protected, then the Lightning would likely lose one of their exposed forwards that may be more valuable than Callahan due to their durability, age, and offensive potential.
Waiving NMCs with Public Protection Lists
Bieska, Hartnell, Fleury, and Callahan are players that may be asked to waive their NMCs for the expansion draft. Teams may ask players to waive their NMCs to protect players they have no other option but to protect.
The Ducks, Blue Jackets, Penguins and Lightning are not the only clubs that have to consider asking a player to waive their NMC. The Rangers, for example, could reevaluate their defense based on their postseason and consider either Marc Staal or Dan Girardi to waive their NMCs in favor of Brendan Smith.
Salary cap constraints will be in consideration by teams questioning whether to ask a player to waive his NMC. If general managers want to avoid asking players to waive their NMC, they do have the option of exploring a buyout.
NHL general managers wanted protection lists to be kept private, citing how player relations could be affected by their valuations and protection choices. Players with NMCs have to be informed of their exposure status regardless, because teams need their consent first.
NHL has concluded Protected and Available Lists WILL be made public and distributed to media simultaneously with distribution to teams.
— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) March 29, 2017
With the protection lists being publicized, it puts managers and players under a microscope. Fans will find out if a player is asked to waive his NMC, which could be demeaning to the player–and that will likely be factored into every decision a general manager makes. If a player is asked to waive his NMC and is not selected by the Golden Knights, that manager and player will have to coexist, but their relationship could be strained.
*All salary cap data courtesy of CapFriendly.