A recent news item suggests strongly that the NHL is about to expand. The only groups that submitted completed applications to join the NHL were a group from Las Vegas headed by Billionaire, Bill Foley and a group from Quebecor, a large Canadian media company for a franchise in Quebec City.
The applications from these two groups/cities is the beginning of what could be a long and arduous process. Nevertheless, minds begin to race to think about what current NHL players might be left open in an expansion draft.
You Got Rules
There has been no expansion since the NHL’s salary cap era began after the 2004-05 lockout. The anticipated expansion would be new ground for the league.
During the last expansion draft in 2000 when the NHL added the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild, the rules were as follows: Existing NHL teams could choose one of the two following combinations to protect from their current roster – one goalie, five defensemen, and nine forwards or two goalies, three defensemen and seven forwards.
Believe in The Yzer-Plan
In five short years as the Vice President, Alternate Governor and General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Steve Yzerman has built a sizable amount of goodwill with the Lightning fan base. With his staff, Yzerman has the team on the precipice of a multi-year Stanley Cup run now.
The pieces are in place and the salary cap is definitely manageable to keep the Lightning in the hunt for Lord Stanley’s hardware. The fly in the ointment however, could be losing a key player in the expansion draft.
Under the first option of keeping only one goalie to go along with five defensemen and nine forwards, if I were general manager, this is what my list would look like:
Andre Vasilevskiy – Right off the bat, the decision is difficult. Ben Bishop is the main reason that his team has made the playoffs the last two years. The issue is that if this expansion draft takes place next off-season, Bishop will be 30 for the majority of the 2016-17 season. Add to that, the fact that he has been hurt twice in the last two years around playoff time (long season taking its toll?) and Vasilevskiy is the prudent choice. Vasy, who is eight years younger than Bishop has more longer term upside.
Victor Hedman – The tall Swede will be a multiple Norris Trophy finalist and eventual winner over the next few years. This is an absolute no-brainer. Although the Lightning lost the Stanley Cup this past season, Hedman drew rave reviews for his play, especially against Chicago’s most potent offensive stars like Patrick Kane.
Anton Stralman – Here is the unsung hero of the Lightning defensive corps. Stralman does not get credit for being a top tier defensemen but watching him day after day, you come to the understanding that he is an anchor. He may not be flashy in any zone but he does the right thing ninety nine percent of the time. Paired with fellow swede, Hedman, this could very well be the top two defensive pairing in the league.
Andrej Sustr – This will probably be the most controversial pick among Lightning fans. There are many in the Tampa Bay area who are anti-Sustr. They point to his gangly gait on the ice which has been described as reminiscent of a baby giraffe learning to walk. Okay, so I wrote that about a year ago but many Bolts fans seem to be overly critical of the young defensemen. The potential in the six foot eight inch blue liner is tremendous. A big part of Hedman’s success in the defensive zone has to do with his reach, Sustr’s is longer. Besides, who will play center on the team’s basketball team.
Nikita Nesterov – More and more we see the offensive defensemen in the league jumping plays to give their teams a boost. Nesterov is virtually a prototypical offensive defenseman. So much so that Coach Jon Cooper went with the unconventional 11-7 format during the long playoff run. The extra defender? Nesterov, who Cooper played on the power play and in certain offensive faceoff situations In the opposing zone. This is not to say that Nesterov is limited as an offensive specialist, as he gets more NHl games under his belt, the thought is that he will become a solid all around defenseman and worth the save in an expansion draft.
Anthony DeAngelo – DeAngelo was the number one pick for the franchise in the 2014 draft. He has been compared to Dan Boyle of the New York Rangers in his ability to control the puck and quarterback the power play. At 19 years-old today, DeAngelo should be ready to make the Lightning roster, if he doesn’t this year, by the time of the expansion draft. It would be a crying shame if he is left unprotected as he is about to embark on what could be a stellar professional career.
If these five defensemen are the players to be saved, it would leave the following players available for either expansion team: Braydon Coburn, Matt Carle, Slater Koekkoek, Jason Garrison and Luke Witkowski.
Steven Stamkos – Provided Yzerman locks up the Lightning captain for the next eight years. This is the mother of all no-brainers.
Tyler Johnson – The center of the Triplets Line. At 24 years-old, Johnson is the catalyst for what was the best offensive line in the NHL last season. Enough said.
Ondrej Palat – The big Czech forward is the Left Wing on the Triplets, integral part of the team and like Johnson, Palat is also 24 with his best hockey in front of him.
Nikita Kucherov – The Russian Rifle is the youngest (21) of the Triplets and possesses a wicked wrist shot.
Alex Killorn – The longer the playoffs went on for Tampa, the better Killorn played. Lined up with Stamkos on the first line shows the faith and confidence that Cooper has in this Harvard grad. Big, strong and fast are just some of the traits that Killer shows night in and night out.
Jonathan Drouin – Thus far, the number three pick overall in the NHL draft has been enigmatic in his NHL career. It has been a difficult transition for Drouin from the Juniors to the NHL. This season should answer any lingering doubts about the skills that Drouin possesses.
Ryan Callahan – Along with Stamkos, Callahan is one of the leaders on this team. He is the energy guy that leads his young cohorts with something as simple as finishing a check or digging in the corner for a puck. Callahan is vital to the near future of the franchise.
Brian Boyle – Mr. Versatility. Drafted as a defenseman by the Los Angeles Kings, Boyle went back to his roots for a few games last season when the injury bug hit the Lightning defensemen. Centering the fourth line, leading the penalty kill top line, even playing some on the power play to get a big body in front of the opposing goalie. Boyle does it all. Team first is his motto and if Cooper asked him, no doubt that Boyle would put on the goalie gear if needed.
Cedric Paquette – This last choice was difficult but in my mind, the nod has to go to Paquette if nothing else because of his youth. Working his way to the third line, he showed a scoring touch that impressed last year. Not afraid to hit or be hit, this young forward is another energy guy that can lift the team with his play.
The unprotected six from the forwards are in no particular order: Valtteri Filppula, J.T. Brown, Erik Condra, Vlad Namestinikov, Jonathan Marchessault and Adam Erne.
Attempting to protect the roster under the first scenario was a challenge. The second scenario is going to be downright problematic. Sure, the Lightning will be able to keep both Bishop and Vasilevskiy as their netminders, but now they are limited to three defensemen.
The defensemen to keep would then be Hedman, Stralman and DeAngelo. This one hurts. Losing Nesterov and Sustr would cause harm to the team. The hope would be that some of the younger D-men in the system could or would be ready for some NHL ice time.
The forwards would be limited to seven and in this scenario, Boyle and Paquette would be the odd men out.
One thing for certain is that an imminent expansion draft will put NHL GM’s in a difficult spot. The limitations of whichever scenario is chosen would be challenging to say the least.
Every decision Yzerman has made for the Lightning during his tenure has always been with his eye on the Stanley Cup prize. An expansion draft would be the greatest hurdle he would have to overcome.