Over the next few weeks, leading up to June 17th, when each team must submit their list of protected players from the Expansion Draft, there is going to be a flurry of activity. The Vegas Golden Knights are expected to make several side deals regarding the selection process, while the other 30 teams will be working through trade proposals with one another as well. Many teams will also make smaller moves, such as extensions and buyouts, to make the expansion process easier on themselves. Examples could include potential extensions by Carolina or San Jose if they decide they would like to protect Lee Stempniak or Mikkel Boedker respectively. However, there remain several teams that must re-sign a current player, following logic anyway, prior to Saturday the 17th, or else risk having to expose and possibly losing a major piece instead. Each team must expose two forwards and one defenseman that played in at least 40 games this season or 70 games over the past two seasons and also have term remaining on their contract. While meeting these quotas is not a problem for some teams, others lack the roster depth in long-term contracts to do so. No team wants to be pressured into exposing a valued player just to fill that quota, so instead they will sign another current player with the caveat that he will be left unprotected in the Expansion Draft. Such situations played out all year long, with Blackhawks’ forward Jordin Tootoo, Hurricanes’ defenseman Klas Dahlbeck, and, the most publicized of all, Flames’ defenseman Matt Bartkowksi. Yet, unsolved situations still exist. Below are some of the most dire situations and who could benefit from an extension in the near future in order for their team to comply with Expansion Draft rules:
Team: New Jersey Devils
Situation: The re-building Devils nonetheless have a solid core of forwards that they would like to keep together: Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, and Mike Cammalleri. New Jersey should be within their means to protect this group, expect that it leaves only Devante Smith-Pelly as a forward meeting the 40/70 qualification. Even for those who doubt the effectiveness going forward of the oft-injured 34-year-old Cammalleri, surely the Devils could find a better player to sacrifice than he or Smith-Pelly if they so choose.
Expected Extension: As a young team, the devils are chock full of impending restricted free agents. However, not all RFAs are created equal. Beau Bennett, Jacob Josefson, and Stefan Noesen are all candidates for extension and exposure, but Bennett played a bigger role for New Jersey than even Smith-Pelly in 2016-17 and Noesen played the best hockey of his young career after a mid-season trade from the Anaheim Ducks. Josefson has shown next to no progress in six years in New Jersey. Look for the Devils to try to work out an extension with the 25-year-old center to fill the hole in their expansion plan.
Team: New York Rangers
Situation: The Devils’ cross-town rivals are in a similar situation. The Rangers have put together a core of forwards that is the envy of most teams in the league, but it could soon be torn apart. Many feel that backup goalie Antti Raanta will be Vegas’ choice, but New York doesn’t want to give them any reason not to go that route and instead steal a good young forward. The team is already reserved to the fact that 2016-17 breakout star Michael Grabner has to be exposed, but they would rather protect all five of Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes, in addition to Rick Nash, whose No-Movement Clause prevents exposure, and impending RFA Mika Zibanejad. The only problem is that this protection scheme leaves only Grabner as a 40/7o forward.
Expected Extension: The Rangers are not without options for a forward to extend and expose. RFA’s Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg, Brandon Pirri, and Matt Puempel would all meet the quota criteria if handed a new deal, as would UFA Tanner Glass. While New York may not be eager to lose any of the four, none significantly outshine Raanta or Grabner in terms of selection value anyway, giving the team every reason to get an extension done with one or more. Fast seems certain to get a new contract from the Rangers anyway, so don’t be surprised if such a deal lands in the next week or two.
Team: Washington Capitals
Situation: The reigning President’s Trophy winners may have a handshake agreement in place with pending UFA T.J. Oshie, but there is a reason that they’ll wait to make it official: the Capitals face expansion problems as is and can’t afford to add another contract to the mix. Most of Washington’s protection lineup is straightforward: Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, and impending RFA’s Evgeny Kuztensov and Andre Burakovsky. This leaves two forward slots open to choose between Lars Eller, Jay Beagle, and Tom Wilson. This is a difficult decision in itself, but unless a move is made, the Capitals would actually have to choose just one, leaving the other two to meet the 40/70 quota. That is a real tough situation for the Capitals.
Expected Extension: Adding to the confusion of the situation is upcoming RFA Brett Connolly, who by all accounts outplayed all three of the players he is competing for protection with. Other than re-signing UFA Daniel Winnik, Connolly presents the only real extend-and-expose option for Washington. The Capitals would definitely like to retain Connolly, but if they choose to re-sign and sacrifice him to save one of the others, Vegas might just take the bait. Like the Rangers, Caps backup goalie Philipp Grubauer is expected to be a target of the Knights and who Washington chooses to expose at forward may be inconsequential. However, there is risk there. Washington could overpay Connolly in salary or term in an attempt to ward off a selection, but that could come back to bite an often cap-strapped squad. A lot remains unknown in the Capitals’ expansion strategy.
Team: Winnipeg Jets
Situation: Unlike many teams whose youth has benefited them in the expansion process, as their core is mostly ineligible as first or second-year players, the Jets have many players who are just over that hump and in need of protection. Unfortunately, to protect all of those players, the Jets also fall short of the two-forward quota. Locks for protection are captain Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little, and Mathieu Perreault, but Winnipeg would clearly like to make youngsters Adam Lowry, Joel Armia, and Andrew Copp part of that mix too. Veteran center Shawn Matthias was underwhelming in his first year and Winnipeg and is up for exposure, but he is the last man left who meets the 40/70 qualification. In order to protect all seven of these key forwards, the Jets must extend another player currently on the roster who fits the bill
Expected Extension: The situation seems obvious – long-time winger Chris Thorburn, whose days with the organization date back to Atlanta, is an impending unrestricted free agent who has remained loyal to the franchise throughout his career as they have in turn. Extending Thorburn would be completely harmless, as he stands almost no chance to be selected and can then continue to anchor the Jets checking line for another year or two. The only other 40/70 player is Marko Dano, who has incredible upside, but has yet to put it together at the NHL level. Vegas may have interest in Dano, but Winnipeg should stick to protecting their established young players and let the Golden Knights take the risk of selecting and trying to negotiate a new deal with the under-performing RFA.