Over the last few weeks, we have been breaking down each team’s situation as it pertains to the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Which players are eligible, who will likely warrant protection, and which ones may be on the block to avoid the risk of losing them for nothing? Each team is required to submit their protection lists by 4:00 PM CDT on July 17th. The full eligibility rules can be found here, while CapFriendly has an expansion tool to make your own lists.
In the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, the Boston Bruins were able to protect all of their key forwards but had to make a difficult choice of who to protect on defense other than Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug. The third spot came down to physical veteran Kevan Miller and skilled youngster Colin Miller. It was a lose-lose, as whoever they did not protect was expected to be selected by the Vegas Golden Knights. The Bruins opted to stay loyal to the veteran and watched a promising young blue liner find success elsewhere.
This time around, the Bruins are again able to protect their most valuable assets, with a little luck from some timely expiring contracts, and this time around don’t have any hard choices to make on defense. Yet, the team will again have to expose talented young defensemen and very likely will suffer another tough loss.
Eligible Players (Non-UFA)
Patrice Bergeron (NMC), Charlie Coyle (NMC), Brad Marchand (NMC), Peter Cehlarik, Jake DeBrusk, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic, Cameron Hughes, Ondrej Kase, Joona Koppanen, Karson Kuhlman, Curtis Lazar, David Pastrnak, Nick Ritchie, Zach Senyshyn, Craig Smith, Chris Wagner
Notable Unrestricted Free Agents
The Bruins are guaranteed to lose a good player to the Seattle Kraken, but it could be much worse. Career Bruins Krejci and Rask, who are still playing at an elite level, are currently unrestricted free agents and have essentially made it known that they will play only in Boston or else retire. The duo would have no choice if under contract and exposed in the Expansion Draft, but their long-term contracts expired just in time. Trade Deadline addition Hall, who proved to be a terrific fit, is also a UFA and has expressed interest in re-signing in Boston. Seattle is unlikely to select the former MVP if his mind is set on staying with the Bruins. Even valuable depth pieces who are not necessarily locks to re-sign with Boston but have at least discussed the possibility, such as Kuraly, Miller, and Reilly, are currently free agents and have free will over their next move whether selected by the Kraken or not. The Bruins essentially have lucked into upwards of six additional protection slots by way of timely free agency for players who would like to return to Boston.
With the actual protection slots that the team does have, many of the decisions have been made for them. No-Movement Clauses for icons Bergeron and Marchand, as well as local product Coyle, will keep the trio protected. Bergeron and Marchand would have been obvious protections anyway and, even after a down year, the versatile, two-way Coyle likely would have been as well, in hopes that he returns to form following much-needed knee repairs this off-season. In net, by default the team will keep promising young goaltender Vladar as starter Rask and backup Halak are free agents, future starter Swayman is exempt, and minor leaguer Booth was seemingly signed for the exact purpose of meeting the exposure requirements.
Elsewhere on the roster there are some automatic protections as well. Young stars McAvoy and Pastrnak are no-brainers for protection, especially after both were nearly NHL All-Star selections this year. Carlo, another standout young defenseman, will also surely be protected, as will veteran winger Smith who the team just signed to a bargain, multi-year deal last off-season.
On defense, there is one spot open and while there may have been some debate as to who to protect before this season, Grzelcyk quickly ended that conversation. The 27-year-old puck-mover had a career year across the board as he stepped into the void left by Krug’s free agency departure and proved himself invaluable to the Bruins. Had he failed to do so, he may not have been the easy choice with other younger defenders in the mix.
While Boston is surely happy that they can protect the only defensemen under contract who have proven themselves as top-four options, and also have some potential UFA returners and exempt prospects who could play key roles next season, the team is still set up to possibly take a big loss on the blue line in the draft. Exposing all three of Lauzon, Zboril, and Clifton gives Seattle multiple young options to consider stealing from the Bruins. Lauzon would be the biggest hit, definitely on defense but possibly on the whole roster. The 24-year-old is a reliable defensive presence who is dominant on the penalty kill, is physical, and is not a liability moving the puck or contributing in the offensive zone. He may not have enormous upside, but could be an NHL starter for many years to come. Zboril, also 24, finished seventh in voting for the NHL’s All-Rookie team this year and was one of the AHL’s top defensemen last year. While he did not do as much with his opportunity this season compared to Lauzon, Zboril is a balanced defenseman with arguably more upside that Lauzon who could take a major step forward once he overcomes some bad tendencies and polishes his game. Clifton, though unlikely to play above the bottom pair in the NHL, plays a physical, high-intensity brand of hockey that makes him a refreshing addition to the lineup as an extra man. While he is limited in some areas, Clifton is nevertheless an eye-catching presence on the ice. Any of the three affordable young blue liners would be unsurprising selections by Seattle.
In contrast, the forwards remaining – especially with two protection slots yet to be claimed – are far less likely to be chosen. For starters, the biggest available name, DeBrusk, will not be available. Despite a very poor 2020-21 campaign, DeBrusk is still a 24-year-old forward with a 27-goal season and two 40+ point seasons on his resume. In DeBrusk’s first three seasons, he played at an 82-game pace of 25 goals and 49 points. While his production this season was far from that mark, the Bruins are not ready to give up on him that easy. At $3.675MM on the final year of his current contract, DeBrusk is a palatable cap hit in exchange for the upside. While it is true that he may need a chance of scenery, the Bruins will not just give him away; they will hold out for a fair trade or not move him at all. If DeBrusk is still a Bruin by this weekend, he will almost definitely be protected.
One spot left up front and so many options. All have their reasons for, but also have reasons against protection. Of the remaining group of available names, Ritchie was far and away the top scorer. However, the big winger’s production was heavily weighted on his early season power play role. As the year wore on, Ritchie’s production disappeared and by the end of the playoffs he had been demoted to the fourth line. A restricted free agent with limited ability given his offensive and defensive shortcomings, the Bruins can hope that Seattle bites based on Ritchie’s goal scoring numbers this year, but it is unlikely. Even if the team wants him back, they will probably not protect him.
The same goes for Kase. On talent alone, Kase should be protected and if left unprotected should be the obvious selection for the Kraken. However, his injury history makes both teams wary. Kase missed all but three games this season due to concussion issues and his future is unknown. The Bruins may want to keep Kase around after trading for him just last year, but not at his $2.6MM qualifying offer given the injury risk, meaning they likely plan to make him an unrestricted free agent anyway. Also knowing Seattle is unlikely to risk an expansion selection on a player who may never be healthy, it would be surprising to see Kase protected.
Seemingly just a throw-in to the Hall trade, Lazar was a great fit with the Bruins down the stretch and in the postseason and if not selected in the Expansion Draft looks to anchor the fourth line and contribute to the penalty kill in Boston next year. However, he is one year away from unrestricted free agency and has bounced around the NHL with limited sustained success in his young career. The Bruins are unlikely to protect him and know Seattle is unlikely to select him for the same reasons. As for fellow fourth liner Wagner, the local product was worth a multi-year deal at $1.35MM AAV to the Bruins, but not to most other teams. Expecting the Kraken to pass, the Bruins probably do not protect Wagner. The team also knows that in the event that Lazar or Wagner are in fact taken by Seattle, they have plenty of defensive-minded forwards waiting in the AHL for opportunity.
So who gets the final protection slot? The smart money is on young Frederic. The 2016 first-round pick is a budding fan favorite in Boston with his hard-nosed style and willingness to drop the gloves. Frederic also showed good offensive ability in the NCAA and AHL prior to his arrival as an NHL regular this season. He still has some holes to his game with growing left to do, but the Bruins lacked grit and physicality at times this season and know they can get at least that from Frederic, if not more. With a higher ceiling than any other bottom-six forward in consideration (not including a healthy Kase), Frederic offers the most potential value to the Bruins.
Projected Protection List
Skater Exposure Requirement Checklist
When Vegas had their expansion draft, a minimum of two forwards and one defenseman had to be exposed that were under contract and played either 40 games in the most recent season or 70 over the past two combined. Due to the pandemic, those thresholds have been changed to 27 games played in 2020-21 or 54 in 2019/20 and 2020-21 combined. In creating our expansion list for each team in this series, we will ensure that these criteria are met.
The Seattle Kraken are not holding their breath about the Bruins’ protection list. They know that regardless of the final decisions they are getting a good player, even with Boston protecting their core. That could be a promising young defenseman like Lauzon or Zboril, a bottom of the lineup role player like Ritchie, Wagner, or Clifton, or maybe even a high-ceiling, low-floor risk in Kase. Seattle could also have plans to offer a godfather deal to one of the Bruins’ impending free agents, with Hall obviously the most intriguing of the bunch, or to use the sheer number of possible expansion losses as a way to goad Boston into making a side deal to select a certain player at a cost (Moore perhaps?). Regardless of the result, the Kraken will get something good from the Bruins.
Contract information courtesy of CapFriendly.