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:
Calgary Flames – Defensemen
As currently constituted, the Flames would be forced to expose a great defenseman in the Expansion Draft. Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton are clearly the three blue liners that Calgary wants to protect from exposure. However, they are also the only three that meet the “40/70” mandate of having a player with term on their contact who has played 40 games this season or 70 games combined over the last two seasons. Each team is required to expose one defenseman that meets these qualifications, but the Flames don’t have one outside of their core three. Both Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland meet the game totals, but are unrestricted free agents. Jyrki Jokipakka is an unrestricted free agent. No other defenseman in the entire organization who has played more than two pro seasons is signed beyond 2017. The Flames only option right now, assuming they have no interest in bringing Wideman or Engelland back, is to extend Jokipakka for the purpose of making him available by the June 21st draft date. However, if they want to take their time negotiating a new deal with the centerpiece of their return for Kris Russell, or if they’re worried that he is more likely to be selected with a new deal than as a free agent, the Flames must look to strike a deal for a qualifying defenseman. They will need blue line help this off-season anyway, so look for Calgary to be major players in quality veteran defenseman with term, should any hit the market.
Carolina Hurricanes – Defensemen
Carolina is in a similar position to Calgary, but don’t even have a choice of three defensemen to choose from if they don’t make a change; the Hurricanes would have to expose (and would surely lose) All-Star Justin Faulk. That, of course, won’t happen, but the ’Canes must make a move to avoid it. Carolina’s highly-touted young defense is actually what creates this problem. Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, and Noah Hanifin are all amazingly still in their second pro seasons and exempt from selection. Ron Hainsey is an unrestricted free agent and a prime trade candidate. That leaves three others who could possibly fit the bill for GM Ron Francis. 23-year-old Ryan Murphy has a year left on his contract, but remains 24 games shy of reaching the 40/70 benchmark. Would the Hurricanes play Murphy, who has all but been cast aside in Carolina, for the remainder of the season just to expose him? The other option is to extend an impending free agent like Klas Dahlbeck, who otherwise qualifies, or Matt Tennyson, who needs just ten more games to reach the mark. Neither is likely to be selected by Vegas, but would at least cover the requirement for the ’Canes. The question then becomes whether the team is willing to extend either one when they are so loaded with young talent on the blue line that they would rather not have blocked by mediocre players. Acquiring a qualifying defenseman who presents an upgrade over the pair, but not a surefire expansion pick may make more sense.
Philadelphia Flyers – Goalies
As has been touched on before, teams with goalie qualification problems have been easy to spot this season. Goaltenders don’t have a games-played mandate for exposure, but must have term on their contracts. Going into this season, the Montreal Canadiens had no protection for Carey Price, but fixed that by giving backup Al Montoya an extension, and the Anaheim Ducks had plenty of goalies, but none that qualified other than John Gibson until they extended AHL keeper Dustin Tokarski. The Minnesota Wild decided to follow in the Ducks’ footsteps recently, protecting Devan Dubnyk by extending Alex Stalock rather than backup Darcy Kuemper. That leaves just one team, the Flyers, with goalie problems (what else is new). Their situation is unique though, as Philadelphia is not looking to protect a starter by re-signing or acquiring a backup. Instead, they need to protect prospect Anthony Stolarz. With Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth set to become unrestricted free agents, Stolarz is the only keeper in the system who qualifies for exposure, and Vegas would surely jump on the promising young goaltender. However, neither Mason nor Neuvirth have played nearly well enough this season to warrant an extension of starter-level money, especially when both would be unlikely to be selected in the draft. The Flyers have few options though, as they don’t want to spend substantial trade capital on a new starter for the future, only to watch him be selected by the Knights. The Flyers are likely scouring the NHL for backup-caliber goalies with term on their contracts and on teams who have the flexibility to move them. It’s a narrow search, and if no deal can be made, Philadelphia will have little choice but to overpay to bring back one of their underwhelming NHL keepers.
Stay tuned next week for Part II: Forwards, featuring six more troubled teams