This trade season is one like never before. The addition of the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18 and the Expansion Draft that goes along with it add a whole other layer to trade-making this year. With each and every transaction, the expansion draft protection formula can change. Even in 2000, when the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets were welcomed into the league, the expansion rules were not a strict and general managers did not have to be as paranoid about their moves. This time around, everything is different. What does it all mean? For fans, there is a real possibility that this could be the quietest Trade Deadline in recent memory. Buyers interested in impending free agent rentals may not have to worry about the draft implications, but the sellers potentially taking back roster players with term certainly do. Trading is hard enough, especially in a season with very few teams significantly out of the playoff race, and expansion will only increase those barriers. Luckily, there are several teams that need to make moves prior to the deadline or they could risk being in very sticky situations when the Knights get ready to make their selections. With teams like the Minnesota Wild, Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Anaheim Ducks, who have so much talented, veteran depth at multiple positions, there is really not much that they can do; they’re going to lose a good player. For others, a sensible contract extension can solve all of their problems. However, for these teams, making a trade before it’s too late may be exactly what they need. We’ve looked at the defense conundrums of the Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes and the goaltending scenario of the Philadelphia Flyers, but there a quite a few more teams with problems up front that need solving:
Luckily for the Blackhawks, it’s hard to remember a deadline where GM Stan Bowman didn’t add a veteran forward. This year they may really need one though, regardless of their Cup run condition, to protect young scorer Ryan Hartman. The 22-year-old winger has 13 goals and 10 assists in his first full season with Chicago, and if nothing changes it would likely be his last season in Chicago. In setting their protected list for the Expansion Draft, the Blackhawks must protect Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Artem Anisimov due to their no-movement clauses. They would, of course, have protected those four anyway, but other than that group, the team has only two other players that meet the draft criteria of having two unprotected forwards that have played in 40 games this season or 70 games over the past two seasons and have term remaining on their contract: Marcus Kruger and Hartman. Kruger is not a great loss, but retaining Hartman is a major priority as the deadline approaches. The ‘Hawks could simply re-sign 30-year-old Andrew Desjardins or 34-year-old Jordin Tootoo, who both hit the 40/70 benchmark, but are impending free agents. However, the pair have combined for one point in 63 man-games this season and may not strike Bowman as players worth keeping, since they are nearly guaranteed to not be selected by Vegas. Richard Panik and Dennis Rasmussen are both restricted free agents who would also qualify if given an extension, but the team might think twice about exposing either player when they don’t have to. If push comes to shove, Chicago would surely rather lose Rasmussen or have to re-sign Desjardins if it means that Hartman is safe, but acquiring an affordable, serviceable forward with years remaining on his contract prior to the deadline may be the easier move for Bowman and company.
Despite their performance this season, the Stars are very much built like a team trying to make one last run at a Stanley Cup. Only five players on Dallas and on the AHL’s Texas Stars have both two years of professional play under their belt and term remaining on those contracts. The rest of the team is composed of impending unrestricted free agents and the AHL squad is mostly restricted free agents. Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza have no-movement clauses and are obviously safe, as is All-Star Tyler Seguin. However, without any further moves, Dallas would have to leave 25-year-old center Cody Eakin and team enforcer Antoine Roussel exposed in the draft. With the likes of Radek Faksa, Brett Ritchie and (probably) Valeri Nichushkin needing to be protected as well, the Star’s may have to leave one or the other on the table, but certainly not both. Roussel is having a career year, on pace to beat his career-high 29 points while also skating a career-best 15 minutes per game. Eakin, who missed time earlier this year and has been held to just six points in 33 games, is regardless coming off of three straight seasons of 35+ points and is just entering his prime. If they want to protect one or both, moves need to be made. Dallas is not short on extension options, with UFA’s Patrick Sharp, Patrick Eaves, Jiri Hudler, Lauri Korpikoski, Adam Cracknell and even the injured Ales Hemsky meeting the 40/70 criterion. However, if the Stars want to make up for their disappointing season, trading several of those players for picks and prospects at the deadline seems likely may eliminate some choices. In the process of moving out that trade capital, it may simply be easier for GM Jim Nill to add one or two qualifying forwards along the way.
New Jersey Devils
As previewed in their Trade Deadline Primer, the Devils have a similar conundrum to the Stars. Outside of their core forwards, the young New Jersey team is mostly made up of impending restricted free agents. There’s no reason that New Jersey should have to break up their strong group of Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, and Mike Cammalleri with no other priority protectorates, but as of now one of that group would have to join Devante Smith-Pelly as potential future Knights. No one else on the roster currently meets the 40/70 mark and also has term remaining on their current deal. Upcoming unrestricted free agent P.A. Parenteau could be exposed if re-signed, but he represents one of New Jersey’s best trade chips at the deadline as they look to continue their rebuild. Beau Bennett and Jacob Josefson would also qualify if re-signed, but Josefson has struggled all season and is either a trade candidate or a player the Devils could move on from and it’s doubtful that New Jersey would expose Bennett after just trading for him at the NHL Draft last June. The easiest move for GM Ray Shero is probably to just bring in another body to expose via trade prior to March 1st.
New York Rangers
The Rangers are going to lose a talented forward in the expansion draft, there’s no question about that. However, they would currently have to expose two top forwards instead of just one. New York has seven forwards who meet exposure criteria – Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, and Michael Grabner – and another player in obvious need of protection in RFA center Mika Zibanejad. The draft rules allow them to protect seven forwards, and given Nash’s no-movement clause, the odd man out is likely the 2016-17 rebound star Grabner. However, until another player becomes exposure-eligible or an eligible player is acquired, another Rangers’ impact forward would have to join Grabner and would be even more likely to be selected. Now, the fact that New York has seven forwards already lined up for protection actually helps them. They don’t have to consider whether or not they want to expose other impending restricted free agents, because they don’t have that option. They probably have already come to grips with the fact that they will likely lose Grabner. Thus, the extension and subsequent exposure of Jesper Fast, Brandon Pirri, Oscar Lindberg, or possibly even Matt Puempel would satisfy the two-forward criteria. However, the other route that remains is to acquire an a qualifying forward and save RFA negotiations for the summer.
The streaking Senators are in the midst of a surprising playoff-caliber season, but may need to turn some attention to Expansion Draft preparation before it’s too late, because they have a few different issues to consider. Recent reports have indicated that Ottawa may ask Dion Phaneuf to waive his no-movement clause so that they can protect Erik Karlsson, Cody Ceci, and Marc Methot along with seven forwards. Another newsworthy rumor has been that the Senators may leave struggling star Bobby Ryan and his $7MM yearly cap hit exposed in the draft. If Ottawa cannot get Phaneuf to waive his clause and choose instead to protect all four defensemen, then their expansion problem with forwards is beyond help; they will lose a talented scorer whether they expose Ryan or not. That seems highly unlikely though, so assume for now that Phaneuf agrees or the Sens expose Methot. Unfortunately, they are still not out of the weeds, with or without Ryan. The Senators have six forwards who qualify for exposure by having years remain on their contracts and playing 40 games this year or 70 over the past two: Ryan, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Derick Brassard, Kyle Turris, and Zack Smith. Stone, Hoffman, and Turris lead the team in goal-scoring, while Brassard is recently-acquired and Smith is fresh off a contract extension. Ottawa has no interest in losing any of those five, and the Ryan rumor would mostly serve to open up another spot to add both RFA’s Ryan Dzingel and Curtis Lazar to the protected list. However, just exposing Ryan wouldn’t be enough; the Senators need another qualifying forward to meet the two-player quota. Should they trade Lazar, which has been talked about, and decide to keep Ryan, then Ottawa will need two qualifying forwards. The Senators are quietly facing quite the conundrum. Luckily, their recent move to bring in Tommy Wingels from the San Jose Sharks could help them solve their problems. Ottawa will likely want to steer away from extensions for ineffective veterans Chris Neil and Chris Kelly, but if they can re-sign Wingels and Jean-Gabriel Pageau prior to the Expansion Draft, then they will cover their bases. Two new extensions during trade deadline season, the stretch run, and the postseason is somewhat of a daunting task for the Sens though, who may choose to bring in one or two qualifying forwards via trade instead.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Despite the immense number of Leafs forwards in their first or second pro seasons, the team’s expansion problems are not all that bad. In fact, their controversy comes down to one player: Leo Komarov. Toronto can comfortably protect centerpieces Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk from exposure, and probably don’t have to worry about the massive Matt Martin contract being scooped up by Vegas either. However, the only other Toronto player who meets the 40/70 rule and has remaining term is Komarov. If the Leafs had to make a tough call, Komarov just turned 30 and is having a down year, so the loss wouldn’t be huge. They shouldn’t have to make that call though. There is more than enough room for Kadri, Bozak, van Riemsdyk, Komarov, Connor Brown, and even two more on the protected list. Nearly a 20-goal scorer last year and reportedly a great mentor for some of the Leafs’ young stars, Komarov has earned his spot in Toronto and the team likely wants to keep him around. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy extension fix. Brooks Laich and, if he plays seven more games, Ben Smith present the only players who could meet qualification if they were to re-sign and Laich has been buried in the minors all season while Smith has just three points in 29 games. Of every team in trouble with balancing their forwards for the Expansion Draft, Toronto seems the most likely to go out and get a forward to expose via trade if they want to protect Komarov.
The Capitals are in nearly an identical situation to the Dallas Stars. Qualifiers Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Tom Wilson are safe, as are impending restricted free agents Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. However, there is one spot left on the protected list, but the number of unrestricted free agents on the team make it that Lars Eller and Jay Beagle are the only other forwards who can cover the two 40/70 exposure slots. The team faces a chance of losing one, but they shouldn’t have to offer up both. Eller is in his first year in Washington and it cost two second-round picks to get him, while Beagle is a career Cap and a face-off dynamo. The Capitals likely know which one they would prefer to keep, but will need to make a move to protect him. Expensive extensions for T.J. Oshie or Justin Williams just to then let Vegas take them doesn’t make any sense, but that strategy may work for veteran Daniel Winnik. Also, the team would probably like to bring back 24-year-old sniper Brett Connolly, but he likely doesn’t make the extension short list. They might look to re-sign him to meet the quota in hopes that the Knights take goaltender Philipp Grubauer instead as has been rumored.