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.
The last time we gathered here to determine the Detroit Red Wings’ expansion draft considerations, the team was in a steep downward decline. Yet they still ended up losing a bit of a diamond in the rough, as the Vegas Golden Knights selected forward Tomas Nosek. Nosek’s been a contributor in a bottom-six role every season in Vegas’ history, robbing Detroit of some quality depth. Now, with Detroit having hit the rock-bottom of their rebuild, their expansion situation looks fairly clear-cut this time around. With a lot of young talent exempt (and no Jimmy Howard/Petr Mrazek goalie controversy), the Red Wings and general manager Steve Yzerman are in a good position coming into 2021’s Seattle expansion draft.
Eligible Players (Non-UFA)
Riley Barber, Tyler Bertuzzi, Adam Erne, Robby Fabbri, Dylan Larkin, Frans Nielsen, Richard Panik, Vladislav Namestnikov, Michael Rasmussen, Givani Smith, Evgeny Svechnikov, Hayden Verbeek, Jakub Vrana
Notable Unrestricted Free Agents
The key decisions start with Detroit’s young forward group. They’ll undoubtedly be going with the seven forwards/three defensemen protection scheme. Four of those forward spots are relatively clear-cut, with Larkin, Bertuzzi, Fabbri, and recent acquisition Vrana being protection locks. That leaves three spots remaining, but with a mix of four veterans and young forwards competing for them.
The veteran of those candidates is Namestnikov. Signed to a two-year, $4MM deal prior to 2020-21 to provide some veteran presence during their rebuild, Namestnikov had his worst offensive season to date with just 17 points in 53 games. His defensive metrics were mediocre, which is on-brand for the versatile Russian forward. Detroit was Namestnikov’s fourth team since the beginning of 2019-20, and if left unprotected, Seattle could be his fifth.
However, there’s a trio of three younger forwards who could also vie for those spots. Erne, Rasmussen, and Svechnikov all looked good with the Wings this season. It was an especially important season for Svechnikov, who’s struggled with frequent injuries. He rebounded this year for eight points in 21 games while posting incredibly impressive possession metrics. Erne had a nice rebound season after a ghastly 2019-20 performance, scoring 11 goals and 20 points in 45 games. While his 15.5% shooting rate doesn’t scream sustainability, the 26-year-old showed nice flashes this season. There’s also Rasmussen, who’s still a developing project despite already playing in over 100 NHL contests. Drafted ninth overall in 2017, Rasmussen’s now totalled 30 points in 102 NHL games, including 12 points in 40 games last season. He’s consistently posted decent possession results, suggesting that the goal-scoring touch he had in juniors could be coming.
Detroit faces a similar quandary on defense with three names fighting for two spots. Hronek’s protection is a foregone conclusion, but Stecher, Cholowski, and Lindstrom are names that could fall into those last two spots.
Stecher sits as effectively a more impressive Namestnikov. Joining Detroit as a free agent prior to this season, Stecher settled nicely into a top-four role, posting admirable defensive metrics considering the hacked-together situation that was Detroit’s defense. However, like Namestnikov, he’s under contract for just one more season and there’s no guarantee that he stays. There’s also a pair of younger defenders in Cholowski and Lindstrom. Cholowski was a first-round pick in 2016 and showed great potential in his 2018-19 rookie season, but has stagnated at all levels since then. Detroit is willing to play the wait-and-see game with the young defender, who may see a full-time role again next year after just 16 games played in 2020-21. Lindstrom’s a year younger and doesn’t have as much upside, but he’s cobbled together four assists in 29 NHL games and could have third-pairing potential.
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.
There are very few pickings here that the Kraken would be interested in, and Detroit is likely to emerge from the expansion draft unscathed. While Detroit will have some depth forwards exposed, Seattle can likely find cheaper and better options elsewhere. Seattle could end up taking an AHL skater with limited upside like Lindstrom or Smith, or take a pending UFA like Glendening if they really don’t like any of their options.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. Contract information courtesy of CapFriendly.