No-trade clauses, a lack of cap space, and exciting young players will all play a role in the Seattle’s decision-making as the 2021 Expansion Draft approaches.
The rules for the expansion draft will be the same as they were in 2017 with the Vegas Golden Knights, which means any player with a no-trade clause must go on the list of protected players, unless the clause is waived.
The New York Rangers, as they prepare for the expansion draft, can either protect eight skaters (seven forwards / defensemen) and one goalie, or seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie. They are expected to choose the latter in order to protect more players.
Luckily, given that the Rangers are a young team, players in their rookie or second NHL season cannot be selected by Seattle. Additionally, Henrik Lundqvist and Marc Staal, who both have no-trade clauses, will have their contracts expire following the 2020-21 season, before the draft.
Navigating the 2021 Expansion Draft will not be easy, but the Rangers did a great job preparing for the 2017 version, and they can use those decisions as a blueprint for the upcoming one.
The Rangers had offered no-trade clauses like candy and it caught up with them after the 2016-17 season. Lundqvist, Staal, and Dan Girardi all had no-trade clauses and all were coming off disappointing seasons, although Lundqvist was excellent in the postseason.
However, having to protect both Staal and Girardi meant the Rangers could only protect one other defenseman: Ryan McDonagh, with Brady Skjei exempt because he was in his rookie season.
The Rangers decided to buy out Girardi’s contract. Though they were still paying him, they were able to add Nick Holden to the protected list. Holden was coming off of the best season of his career. The physical blueliner scored 11 goals and 23 assists in the 2016-17 season.
While Holden struggled and was traded to the Boston Bruins the following season, the Rangers had one less no-trade clause to worry about. They also received a third-round pick in that trade, and selected Joey Keane. The 20-year-old defenseman is off to stellar start with the American Hockey League’s Hartford Wolf Pack this season, and has tallied six goals and 15 assists in 30 games.
The Rangers left backup goalie Antti Raanta off their protected list, and protected Lundqvist. They also protected forwards Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, and Rick Nash.
That left forwards Michael Grabner, Jesper Fast, and Oscar Lindberg off the protected list, as well as Raanta.
Keeping Rick Nash
A key decision was hanging on to Nash despite the fact that he had a quiet season offensively, continued struggling in the playoffs, and had a cap hit of just under $8 million per season. He had a no-trade clause but the Rangers could have bought out his contract or asked him to waive it and then could have traded him. The following season, he waived the clause and was traded to the Bruins for Ryan Lindgren, Ryan Spooner, who was later traded for Ryan Strome, and a first-round pick, which they used to trade up to grab top prospect K’Andre Miller.
The Vegas Golden Knights passed on Grabner in the draft, and despite having another strong season in 2017-18, he was traded to the New Jersey Devils for a second-round pick and Yegor Rykov. The return showed that teams still valued Nash more than Grabner, and protecting Nash was a smart decision.
The Rangers also caught a break when Vegas selected Lindberg who struggled to make the lineup and, after a brief stint with the Ottawa Senators last season, is now playing in Switzerland.
The Golden Knights could have used a great penalty killer like Fast or Grabner on their disastrous penalty kill against the San Jose Sharks in Game 7 of the opening round of the 2019 Playoffs. They allowed four power-play goals while trying to kill off a major penalty, and blew a 3-0 lead to be eliminated.
The Rangers will not be able to protect every good player in the 2021 Expansion Draft. The league has designed it so Seattle will be competitive immediately. However, the Rangers can still protect their best players and not give up any draft picks, just as they did in 2017.
Looking Ahead to 2021
The Rangers are already in significantly better shape in terms of no-trade clauses than they were in 2017. With Lundqvist and Staal’s contracts set to expire before the Seattle draft, the only Rangers that will have no-trade clauses will be Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, and Zibanejad. All three are having great seasons, so protecting them would be a no-brainer for the Rangers anyway.
Lundqvist’s expiring contract means the team can protect Alexandar Georgiev as well as Igor Shestyorkin, who is off to a great start with Hartford in his first season in North America. That will give the Rangers more time to see which of those two will be their goalie of the future.
The Rangers are also in great shape to protect their defensemen. Since Lindgren, Adam Fox, and Libor Hajek are all rookies, they will be exempt. That means the Rangers can protect Trouba, Brady Skjei, and Tony DeAngelo. Given that most of the team’s top prospects are defensemen, they could end up moving one or more of these players; but being able to protect them means they do not have to rush or force a trade.
In 2017, the Rangers protected their most valuable defensemen, and then traded two of them, McDonagh and Holden, the following season. They received talented prospects in both trades.
The forwards are in a murkier situation, just as they were leading up to the 2017 Expansion Draft. Trades will likely be made this season ahead of the deadline.
On a positive note, Kaapo Kakko will be exempt from the draft. While Kakko is a key piece of the team’s future, Kreider and Fast will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season and there’s a good chance at least one of them will be traded. During the rest of this season and next, the Rangers will also have to evaluate other young forwards, such as Strome, Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil and Brett Howden (as long as they aren’t traded), and will then have to decide who to protect.
The 2021 Expansion Draft is something general manager Jeff Gorton will have to keep in mind. The Rangers will need to figure out which players are the most valuable in 2021 just as they did in 2017. That said, it wouldn’t hurt to have Seattle pick the wrong player, just as Vegas did.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.