3 Teams the Red Wings Should Target Ahead of the Expansion Draft

The Detroit Red Wings find themselves in an advantageous situation heading into the Seattle Expansion Draft. While they are poised to lose a player just like every team (except for the Vegas Golden Knights), they are not in danger of losing anything or anyone that they can’t replace fairly easily. Couple this fact with Detroit’s staggering amount of cap space, and the Red Wings look like a team that could take advantage of teams that are in a much worse expansion situation than they are.

Related: THW’s Ultimate Mock Expansion Draft: Meet Our Seattle Kraken

With the very real threat of losing a quality player for nothing, some teams are in the unenviable position of having to sell off some players at a discounted price. This is a situation that the Red Wings should be looking to capitalize on. Their roster currently projects to have a few holes in it, and that’s before they lose a player to the Seattle Kraken. And yet, Detroit has the opportunity to come out of the expansion process stronger than they were when they entered. How do they do that? It starts by calling up these teams:

Tampa Bay Lightning Fire Sale

Surely the reigning Stanley Cup champions can’t wiggle their way around the salary cap again, right? Entering this offseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning are already $3.5 million over the $81.5 million salary cap, and that’s without some key pieces being signed. There’s no way around it: the Kraken are going to get a quality player from Tampa Bay, and that could provide a little relief to the Lightning’s salary cap picture. However, due to their overwhelming collection of talent, the Kraken could also target some enticing young players that don’t carry the kind of cap hit that Tampa Bay general manager Julien Brisebois would like to rid himself of.

Julien Brisebois Tampa Bay Lightning
Julien Brisebois, General Manager, Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Defensemen such as Erik Cernak (24 years old) and Cal Foote (22 years old) could be on the outside looking in on the team’s protection list. While Cernak is an established middle-pairing defenseman at this point in his career, Foote offers the same upside as a pending restricted free agent. Losing either player for nothing would sting as the Lightning need to retain as many of those young players as possible in order to prolong their contending window.

A move between the Lightning and the Red Wings would be mutually beneficial. If the Red Wings were to take on a player like Tyler Johnson, who carries a $5 million cap hit for three more seasons, they could help the Lightning clear up cap space. In taking on Johnson, the Red Wings would also be in a position to ask for a player like Foote as the kicker to entice them into making the deal. Detroit would be adding a player that could play in the middle six as well as a young defender and former first round pick that could push for a roster spot next season. The Lightning gain salary relief while using a player as bait that the Kraken could have otherwise taken for nothing.

This isn’t the only maneuver the Lightning and Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman could pull off, but most would be along the same lines. Surely these two GMs that have plenty of experience working together can find a way to help each other out.

Washington Capitals Goaltending

If I were Yzerman, I would be circling this situation like a vulture in the sky.

The Washington Capitals can only protect one of Vitek Vanecek (25 years old) or Ilya Samsonov (24 years old) ahead of the expansion draft. Vanecek, the 39th pick of the 2014 draft, made his NHL debut this season and carried the baton as the Capitals’ starting goaltender for most of the season as Samsonov battled injuries and Covid. He finished with a record of 21-10-4, a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.69 and a save percentage (SV%) of .908. The native of the Czech Republic arrived in Washington this season after compiling a record of 71-43-22 through parts of five seasons with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL).

In Samsonov, the Capitals have a goalie that many pointed to as their goaltender of the future ahead of this season. Selected 22nd overall in the 2015 draft, he played in just 19 regular season games this season, with a record of 13-4-1, a 2.69 GAA and a .902 SV%. Through 45 games all-time in NHL, he has a 2.61 GAA and a .908 SV%. While these numbers aren’t terrible, many fans are looking for more from the young Russian goaltender, especially after his performance in this year’s playoffs.

Kraken GM Ron Francis would set his team up for long-term stability to selecting one of these goaltenders in the expansion draft. While you can debate both Vanecek and Samsonov’s ultimate upside, there’s no denying that both are good, young goaltenders that have shown promise at varying levels of competition. Losing either one for nothing would not be great asset management by Capitals GM Brian MacLellan.

It just so happens that the Red Wings are currently lacking a designated “goalie of the future”. This is a prime opportunity for Detroit to scoop up a good young goaltender without paying a premium to do so. With Thomas Greiss still signed for next season, the Red Wings already have a veteran in place to mentor and platoon with the guy they acquire. Yzerman has extra picks and some mid-grade prospects that he could dangle, but I would be interested to see if the Capitals would take back their first round pick (acquired for winger Anthony Mantha) in exchange for Samsonov.

The future in the crease is arguably the Red Wings’ biggest hole, and the expansion draft could be Yzerman’s best opportunity to address the situation.

Maple Leafs Defense

Most of the chatter connecting the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Red Wings pertains to whether or not the team in blue can acquire winger Tyler Bertuzzi from the team in red. Part of the chatter is whether or not that move could or should be made before or after the expansion draft. One of the reasons I believe the Maple Leafs would like to make that move sooner rather than later is because it could help clear up their expansion draft picture.

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

As it stands, the Maple Leafs look set to expose defensemen Justin Holl and Travis Dermott. While Holl has proven thus far to be the better player, Dermott (24 years old) is five years younger than Holl (29 years old) and he’s left-handed, which is something Detroit’s blue line is currently lacking. With just over 200 games of experience in the NHL, he fits the Robby Fabbri-mold of a player that the Red Wings can take on from a contender and give an expanded opportunity to.

Yzerman and Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas could probably work out something that would see Bertuzzi and Dermott swapping teams, though Toronto would definitely have to throw more value into the deal. The Maple Leafs would avoid losing a promising young defender, and the Red Wings would add to the left side of their defense while also adding additional future assets.

Of course, Yzerman could always just throw a draft pick Toronto’s way to snag Dermott, but that route is a lot less exciting.

Seize the Opportunity

These aren’t the only teams the Red Wings can target. The Carolina Hurricanes’ defense is something to take a look at, the Anaheim Ducks have some young forwards set to be exposed and the New York Islanders have some players Detroit could bring in as potential trade bait heading into next season. The point here is that the Kraken aren’t the only ones capable of exploiting the teams with protection issues. With about as close to a clean slate as you can get in the salary cap era, the Red Wings have the cap space and roster spots to orchestrate a move that takes advantage of this unique event as well.

Buckle up, Hockeytown: things could get very interesting very soon.

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