We’re now several weeks into an NHL postponement and there is still no clear timeline on when professional hockey will return. While fans of the sport have received small tidbits of news over that time, including college signings and contract extensions, the thirst for discussion has rarely been quenched.
With that in mind, we’re happy to continue our new feature: The PHR Panel. Three times a week, our writing staff will give our individual takes on a question many hockey fans have been wondering about. If you’d ever like to submit a subject for us to discuss, be sure to put it in the comments. This series will run each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
To catch up on the previous edition, click here.
Today, we’ll each give our thoughts on the upcoming 2021 expansion draft.
Q: Which team should be most afraid of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft?
Brian La Rose:
This is a tough one to answer a year out as a lot will change between now and then. Who is added over the offseason in trades and free agency can certainly affect things. So too can teams deciding to sign players to early extensions or holding off in order to leave them exposed to protect someone else.
Personally, I’m of the opinion that teams with strong defensive depth are the ones that should be the most worried. With a 7-3-1 protection system, anyone with a fourth defender worthy of keeping either risk losing them or their fifth-best forward if they switch to the alternative eight skater protection list.
Using that mindset, Carolina comes up as a team that should be concerned about Seattle’s draft.
Their surefire protectees at this point on the back end are Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, and Brady Skjei. But does Haydn Fleury take another step forward next year and become tougher to leave exposed? Are they able to get Dougie Hamilton signed to an extension? If so, he’s another must-protect player. What about Jake Bean, a well-regarded prospect that will be eligible to be picked. It’s reasonable to think that they may want to protect four defensemen which means only four forwards could be protected. But with a strong and relatively forward corps as well, they’re setting up to lose either a strong defenseman or a top-six forward. Having depth is great but a year from now, they’re going to lose an impact player.
When looking at the upcoming expansion draft, there are a number of teams that may have to give up some very good players to the incoming Seattle franchise. While I can easily point to teams like Toronto and Tampa Bay as franchises that have a lot of talent, the team that seems to currently have the most talent at risk is the St. Louis Blues. Granted, there are still quite a few questions that need to be asked, including what will the team do with Alex Pietrangelo? If they re-sign him, then the team is overloaded with defensemen and might have to consider the 8 players and a goalie scenario as opposed to 7-3-1.
However, I sense that even if the team does find a way to bring Pietrangelo back—which I think is likely—then the team will have to ship out a blueliner (maybe Justin Faulk) to give the team some salary cap relief and keep a 7-3-1 scenario, considering all the talent. The Blues have quite a bit of offensive firepower with a lot of young talent. The team will obviously keep Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz if he is extended, likely Brayden Schenn–maybe David Perron, maybe not. That’s the veterans. What about Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Sammy Blais? They are key young pieces with a ton of talent. That still leaves quite a few players exposed, including Oskar Sundqvist, Ivan Barbashev, Zach Sanford…
So, no matter what moves they make, the Blues should lose a quality player. Don’t forget in goal…before Jordan Binnington came along, Ville Husso was considered their goalie of the future. Could he be the goalie of the future in Seattle now?
The expansion draft format, which will be the same for Seattle as it was for Vegas, is designed to hurt every team. The protection schemes combined with the exposure requirements ensure that each club must expose at least one or two players of value. However, the rules are most unfavorable not to the teams with the most high-end talent, but to the teams with the most depth, specifically those with considerable youth and homegrown talent signed long-term.
While rosters are sure to change before the Expansion Draft occurs—meaning projections will become much more accurate following the upcoming off-season—there are several teams who already look like they could be in trouble protecting their top assets from exposure. In my opinion, the standouts are the Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals. Each of these teams have strong depth in both forwards and defensemen, including valuable young players. The Flames, Hurricanes, and Predators will all have to make tough calls on the blue line between established veterans and budding young standouts, while the Islanders, Lightning, and Capitals won’t have much choice but to expose young defenders but will also face a crunch at forward that could cost veteran difference-makers.
However, at least each of these teams has a chance at postseason glory this year (hopefully) and next before their rosters take a hit. The Sabres should be the team most afraid of the expansion draft because they look primed to lose a key young player before they are even done putting together a contending squad. With many strong defensemen and a growing core of impressive forwards, Buffalo will have to expose notable names. On defense, only two of Rasmus Ristolainen, Henri Jokiharju, Brandon Montour, and Colin Miller can be protected alongside Rasmus Dahlin, while upfront the team must protect centerpieces Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart, and Victor Olofsson, not to mention the presumed top-six forward they have long been rumored to be seeking this summer, leaving few spots for a large group of up-and-comers including Casey Mittelstadt, Tage Thompson, Rasmus Asplund, and Dominik Kahun.
When this year’s trade deadline was approaching and rumors started swirling around the Minnesota Wild, a few interesting names hit the news. The team was apparently considering a move of either Mathew Dumba or Jonas Brodin, two players who seemed to be core contributors that were still young enough to be part of a retooled competitive window.
The reason may well be the expansion draft, where new Wild GM Bill Guerin will still be in tough thanks to his predecessors.
Remember that players who have no-movement clauses require automatic protection from the draft, eating up precious spots. The Wild have four such players: Zach Parise, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Suter, and Jared Spurgeon. If the draft rolls around and all four players are still on the roster (and refuse to waive their clauses), it’s going to be hard for the Wild to protect all of their young talent. Remember, even Zuccarello will be turning 34 just a few months after the draft.
Brodin is an unrestricted free agent in 2021, meaning he may end up on the trade block no matter what, but if they had any inkling of extending the reliable defender it would only complicate things further.
No doubt this was also a consideration when Guerin almost traded Parise to the New York Islanders at the deadline. Moving the veteran forward would really be a blessing for the team, despite how difficult it would be to see a franchise (and Minnesota) legend leave town.