Over the next few weeks, we will be 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.
Presumably by design, the Dallas Stars were able to protect all of their core players in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and have done so again this year. Last time, Vegas selected capable center Cody Eakin, but it was a relatively painless loss for the team. Ironically, it could a very similar result this time around as Seattle takes their pick. The Kraken do have a couple other intriguing options, but the Stars should again escape somewhat unscathed.
Eligible Players (Non-UFA)
Jamie Benn (NMC), Alexander Radulov (NMC), Tyler Seguin (NMC), Nicholas Caamano, Blake Comeau, Jason Dickinson, Radek Faksa, Denis Gurianov, Roope Hintz, Tanner Kero, Joel L’Esperance, Adam Mascherin, Joe Pavelski
Notable Unrestricted Free Agents
The Stars really have not left much up to the imagination when it comes to the Expansion Draft. In 2017, they protected Benn, Faksa, Seguin, Klingberg, Lindell, and Bishop and there is no reason to believe that all of those core players won’t be protected again. In fact, No-Movement Clauses ensure that Benn, Seguin, and Bishop, as well as Radulov, must be protected. Klingberg and Lindell remain reliable top-four defensemen and Faksa is a strong defensive center who just signed a long-term extension last off-season.
There also isn’t much competition for spots to force any of these players out of the protection slots they owned four years ago. With three forwards and a defensemen still able to be protected, there is plenty of flexibility. On the back end, elite young Heiskanen is the obvious choice to join Klingberg and Lindell, which only leaves free agent Oleksiak and 34-year-old veteran Sekera as exposed players with any reasonable value. Up front, top scorer Pavelski and young top-six forwards Hintz and Gurianov, who signed new deals alongside Faksa last summer, seem almost certain to be protected to complete the protection group.
Could there be a surprise selection? Unlikely, but if so it will come at forward. Dallas may be thinking that Pavelski’s age and contract could make him expendable in favor of a longer-term investment. The 36-year-old was phenomenal in 2020-21, but entering the final year of his contract and at a price tag of $7MM, Pavelski is an expiring asset in more way than one and if selected by Seattle his cap space could come in handy this off-season. With that said, the Stars will have a hard time replacing Pavelski’s production for next season with any potential off-season addition. As they look to get back to the postseason, Pavelski would absolutely come in handy. Maybe they are instead wary of Faksa’s declining offense, especially on a long-term deal. If they feel that there is another young forward on the roster who could be a better future piece, they may not mind getting out from underneath his remaining four years. However, Faksa’s real value comes in his physicality, face-off ability, and other two-way strengths. The $3.25MM AAV on his contract is not a major issues given his continued assistance in those areas.
As improbable as it may be that Pavelski or Faksa are not protected, the next question would be who might take their place. Seemingly the only candidate would be 25-year-old forward Dickinson, a versatile player whose role with the Stars has been ever-increasing over the past five years. However, Dickinson is not an irreplaceable asset, especially compared to Pavelski or Faksa. Dickinson himself helped to replace a similar player in Eakin, who Dallas allowed to be selected in the last round of expansion. History could repeat itself this year. Yet, Dickinson is also a restricted free agent, meaning the Kraken would have to value him enough to make him one of their maximum ten non-termed players selected in the Expansion Draft.
Projected Protection List
G Ben Bishop (NMC)
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.
GM Jim Nill has telegraphed his expansion moves going all the way back to October. In less than a week’s time early that month, the Stars extended aging veterans Sekera and Khudobin knowing full well that they would meet Expansion Draft exposure requirements at positions where, at the time, they didn’t have any other options. Nill did not plan ahead the same way at forward and at the end of this regular season the team did not have any players to meet the exposure quota. However, he took care of that quickly by re-signing two impending unrestricted free agents over the past two months in Kero and Comeau, both of whom just needed a new deal to meet the requirements for exposure, but neither of whom were key players this season and signed affordable extensions.
Khudobin’s extension may have had additional ulterior motives. Whereas Comeau, Kero, and Sekera are not exactly attractive options for the Seattle Kraken, Khudobin is. An experienced netminder who has been one of the best backups in the NHL for much of his career and was Dallas’ starter this season in place of the injured Bishop, Khudobin would be a nice pickup for Seattle as either a member of their inaugural roster or as a valuable trade chip. Yet, Dallas has Bishop returning to health and top prospect Oettinger ready to share the net. The Kraken selecting Khudobin would arguably be doing the Stars a favor.
While Khudobin has long been the expected target of Seattle, the aforementioned Dickinson could be a candidate for selection. Young players Caamano, Mascherin, or Gleason could be other outside-the-box options. The Kraken may also be interested in striking a deal with UFA Oleksiak, who many expect to re-sign with Dallas, but otherwise would be one of the better defensemen on the open market this off-season. Oleksiak – assuming the Stars have a handshake extension in place – would be the biggest potential loss for the team, but they know the risks of leaving him unsigned. No Seattle pick should come as surprise or sting too much for Dallas, which is exactly how Nill planned it.