We’re continuing to break down each team’s situation as it pertains to the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, coming up next week: which players are eligible, and which will likely warrant protection or may be on the block. Each team is required to submit their protection lists by 4pm CDT on June 17th. The full rules on eligibility can be found here, and CapFriendly has provided a handy expansion tool to make your own lists.
The Columbus Blue Jackets surprised everybody with a 108-point finish this season, good for 4th in the NHL. Breakout seasons by Alexander Wennberg, Zach Werenski and Seth Jones propelled the team to its best finish ever, and erased any early-season doubt for embattled coach John Tortorella. Despite the strong finish, however, the Blue Jackets faced the defending (and now eventual) Stanley Cup champions in the first round, losing 4-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Blue Jackets are also one of a few teams that faces significant expansion draft issues. The team will lose one significant player no matter how they structure their protection list, and how good that player may be will depend on what the Blue Jackets do with veteran forward Scott Hartnell.
Eligible Players (Non-UFA)
The Blue Jackets will lose a significant player, that much is certain. There is too much depth in the organization and not enough protection slots. The Blue Jackets will most likely use the 7F/3D/1G protection scheme over the 8F/1G because the team will protect at least three defensemen: Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, David Savard, and Jack Johnson..
Up front, Columbus must protect Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, and Scott Hartnell. All three have NMCs, and none were asked to waive the clauses before Monday’s deadline. Assuming that none of the above are bought out (more on that later), the Blue Jackets are left with four protection slots, yet have at least seven players worthy of protection. Brandon Saad, Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, Matt Calvert, William Karlsson, Alexander Wennberg, and Josh Anderson are all significant enough to warrant protection, and yet three will be exposed in the expansion draft.
No-brainer protections go to Saad, Atkinson, Jenner, and Wennberg. That leaves one of Karlsson, Calvert, and Anderson available for Vegas. Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch thinks Anderson is the most valuable of the unprotected, and would almost certainly be selected by Vegas. Anderson’s 17G and 12A were a nice surprise, and the Blue Jackets will miss him.
All that may change, however, if the Blue Jackets have further plans for Scott Hartnell. The team did not ask Hartnell to waive his NMC clause, implying that the Blue Jackets either have a side deal in place with Vegas, or they plan to buy out Hartnell.
The Blue Jackets may have made a deal with Vegas so that Vegas does not select a certain player in exchange for a prospect or draft pick. If that is the case, the Blue Jackets do not have to worry about opening up a protection slot, and can leave Hartnell alone. Alternatively, the Blue Jackets may buy out Hartnell’s contract, freeing up a protection slot and $3.25MM in cap space next season. Hartnell will be 35 next year, and may not factor into Columbus’s future plans.
On defense, the Blue Jackets will most likely protect valuable young commodities Seth Jones and David Savard, exposing either Ryan Murray or Jack Johnson. Johnson may not put up gaudy numbers—5G and 18A in 82 games—but he still averaged the third most ice time during the season with over 21 minutes a night. He then ramped that up to just under 26 minutes a night in the playoffs. On the other hand, Murray is much younger—23 versus 30—and may have more potential in management’s eyes. Murray will also be an RFA next season while Johnson will be a UFA. And despite Murray’s injury history, the Blue Jackets may opt to go with potential over stability.
In goal, the Blue Jackets must protect Sergei Bobrovsky because of a NMC. That exposes one of Joonas Korpisalo or Anton Forsberg. Korpisalo just signed a two-year extension worth $900K, which allows Columbus to satisfy its goaltending exposure requirement.
Finally, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Blue Jackets are talking to Vegas about David Clarkson. Friedman notes that Columbus may send a first-round pick or a prospect to shed Clarkson’s salary. Clarkson’s playing career is all but over, and he will most likely spend the rest of it on LTIR. However, by moving Clarkson, Columbus has much more wiggle room in the offseason to sign key RFAs, and Vegas has help to reach the salary cap floor.
Projected Protection List
F Brandon Saad
F Brandon Dubinsky (NMC)
F Nick Foligno (NMC)
F Cam Atkinson
F Boone Jenner
F William Karlsson
F Scott Hartnell (NMC)
D Seth Jones
D David Savard
D Ryan Murray
G Sergei Bobrovsky (NMC)
What happens to Scott Hartnell is a toss-up at this point. There is no indication whether Columbus has a deal in place or plans to buy him out. Given Hartnell’s dedication to the organization, however, it may be hard for Columbus to justify buying him out to fans.
Columbus will lose something of value. The silver lining is that they will only lose one player through the draft. That means that, barring any trades, even if they cannot make room for Josh Anderson, Jack Johnson, or Joonas Korpisalo, they still retain at least two of those players through the expansion draft. The Blue Jackets will be a different team after the expansion draft, but it may not be as dire as some predict.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images