Jets Will Face Tough Decisions in Seattle Expansion Draft

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Winnipeg Jets are going to face some difficult decisions when the time comes to submit their protection list for the 2021 Seattle Expansion Draft.

Related: Jets’ Free Agents: Who Stays & Who Goes

The Jets have more talent and depth in their group of forwards that will need protecting this time around, compared to the 2017 Vegas Expansion Draft, and it could prove costly come June 2021.

While the main core will be protected – that is no secret – the Jets are likely to lose a young, up-and-coming depth piece. It’s the reality of the situation, and every team faces it, but it still sucks.

2017 NHL Expansion Draft Recap

NHL teams had two options in 2017 and that will stay the same for the 2021 Expansion Draft. They can choose to protect seven forwards, three defencemen, and one goalie, or they can protect eight skaters and one goalie. Only seven teams chose to protect eight skaters and one goalie in 2017, likely because they needed to protect more than three defencemen.

Kevin Cheveldayoff Winnipeg Jets
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff managed the 2017 Expansion Draft well, but can he do it again? (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Jets’ 2017 protection list is as follows:

Forwards: Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Mathieu Perreault, Adam Lowry, Bryan Little, Andrew Copp, Joel Armia

Defencemen: Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers

Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

Notable exposed players included: Toby Enstrom (who waived his no-movement clause), Marko Dano, Ondrej Pavelec, and Ben Chiarot.

The Vegas Golden Knights selected forward Chris Thorburn, but that did not come without a price. The Jets traded their 13th overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft to Vegas in exchange for their 24th overall selection.

Former Jet Chris Thorburn was selected by the Golden Knights in the 2017 Expansion Draft. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It wasn’t a huge price to pay, but the Jets had to pay something for the Golden Knights to select Thorburn. Many teams that did the same thing and some had to pony up even more than the Jets did (see the Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers).

Related: Jets’ Top 5 Late-Round Draft Picks

It’s safe to assume a lot of “expansion consideration” trades will happen again in 2021 but hopefully, the Jets are not one of them. More on that later.

Projecting the Jets’ 2021 Protected List

Yes, a lot can change from now until June 2021, but let’s try to grasp what Cheveldayoff might do with his roster.

Adam Lowry Winnipeg Jets
Adam Lowry’s current contract will expire at the end of the 2020-21 season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Jets will likely go with the 7-3-1 protection option again, but the seven forwards will not be an easy choice much like it was in 2017. Here is my prediction:

Forwards: Blake Wheeler (NMC), Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp.

Defencemen: Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, Sami Niku

Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

Notable players left exposed: Bryan Little, Jack Roslovic, Mathieu Perreault, Mason Appleton, Jansen Harkins, Logan Stanley, Tucker Poolman, and Mikhail Berdin.

Related: Jets’ Future Should Include Appleton & Harkins

The Jets got lucky (or Cheveldayoff is a genius) with Little’s full no-movement clause changing over to a modified no-movement clause next season, meaning he doesn’t have to be protected. With that said, leaving Roslovic and Appleton unprotected along with Little will be a tough pill to swallow.

Jack Roslovic Winnipeg Jets
The Jets will likely have to expose one of Roslovic or Copp to Seattle in June 2021. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Seattle selecting Little would be the best thing for the Jets. It will free up his $5.2 million contract with three years remaining after the 2020-21 season. It will give Seattle a veteran player in their lineup and an added cap hit to help reach at least 60 percent of the salary cap.

Related: Jets Must Find Way to Sign Copp Long-Term

Lowry is an interesting piece of the puzzle since he will become an unrestricted free agent in 2021. Do the Jets re-sign and protect him? Do they leave him exposed and unsigned? I think the Jets will re-sign and protect him.

If the Jets re-sign defenceman Dylan DeMelo long-term, I would replace him with Sami Niku as one of the three defencemen protected. We’ll have to wait until free agency to see what happens with him unless Cheveldayoff re-signs him sooner.

Dylan DeMelo Winnipeg Jets
The Jets should be trying to sign DeMelo long-term and protect him from Seattle. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Protecting Hellebuyck was an easy decision, but leaving Mikhail Berdin exposed could be scary if he continues to impress next season. Whether or not Laurent Brossoit re-signs with the Jets, I still think he should remain unprotected. I have Berdin valued higher than Brossoit; he is five years younger and he can become Hellebuyck’s backup within the next season or two.

Swinging a Trade

We can dive into endless ideas and options for the Jets, especially when it comes to swinging a trade for Seattle to select the player the Jets want to be selected. I would rather focus on the fact that they won’t need to make such a deal unless it comes at a bargain price.

A few teams overpaid in 2017, and it will have even worse consequences for the Jets in the long run. I have said it before in previous articles: the Jets have drafting abilities like few other teams which makes their picks that much more valuable.

Winnipeg Jets Executive Vice President and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff
Cheveldayoff will have to pony up a lot more in an expansion trade this time around. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

With that said, I can’t see Seattle taking a deal at a cheap cost because of the options available from the Jets’ exposed list of players. They will likely be able to select a veteran with some salary, a young, up-and-coming talent, or an already cemented depth piece like Copp or Lowry if the Jets choose to expose one of them instead.

Standing pat and trusting their protected list is going to be the Jets’ best option. Everyone will have to accept the fact that Winnipeg (like all other teams) will have lost an important part of their team once the 2021 Expansion Draft is over.

Final Prediction – Who Does Seattle Take?

My final prediction is based on my protected list above while assuming DeMelo does not re-sign with the Jets.

I think Seattle will find their veteran players with high salaries elsewhere and go with the Jets’ Roslovic.

Related: Winnipeg Jets’ 3 Worst Contracts

I can’t see Seattle wanting to take on Little’s cap hit for the first three seasons of their existence, and his contract takes him to age 36.

Jack Roslovic Winnipeg Jets
I predict Roslovic gets selected by Seattle in the June 2021 Expansion Draft. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how things shake out come June 2021. A lot of NHL teams will have difficult decisions on their hands including Seattle when they assemble their team.

Related: 3 New Jets Who Surprised in 2019-20

Even though it’s tough to see a player go this way, it will be nice to see a 32nd team added to even out the divisions.