NHL Offseason Preview: Expansion Draft

The+Seattle+Kraken+will+host+the+latest+NHL+expansion+draft+as+they+look+to+field+their+roster+for+the+upcoming+season.+%28Courtesy+of+Twitter%29

The Seattle Kraken will host the latest NHL expansion draft as they look to field their roster for the upcoming season. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Chris Hennessy, Staff Writer

With the Stanley Cup awarded this week, it is time to turn our attention toward an offseason unlike any in recent history. A flat salary cap, expansion draft and shorter summer than usual are all just beginning. Here is what to watch out for among the locals and big stars potentially on the move, beginning with the second expansion draft in the past four years.

July 17 marks the date the 30 participating teams have to submit their protection lists for the Seattle expansion draft. Everyone but Vegas, who gets a pass as a new expansion team, will lock in their players and Ron Francis and his team will construct the first roster in the Kraken’s history on the 21st.  As for the locals, Lou Lamoriello, Chris Drury and Tom Fitzgerald will have tough decisions to make regarding who to protect and who to leave available. 

The Islanders are desperately trying to extend their window after back-to-back Conference Finals appearances and have two tough decisions to make. The obvious players to protect are Mat Barzal, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock and Semyon Varlamov, leaving three forwards and one defensive spot. 

On the back line, the final spot will go to either Scott Mayfield or Nick Leddy. Personally, I would give it to Mayfield as the younger and cheaper option. Leddy has a stiff price tag and is not getting any younger. His $5.5 million cap hit will clear after next season so they could sign him back after one year in Seattle too. The Isles must prioritize financials here in the signings they need to complete.  With their three forward spots, the options are Jordan Eberle, Anthony Beauvillier, Josh Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, and Michael Dal Colle. Citing financials again, I’d leave Eberle available, saving Beauvillier, Martin and Bailey. Eberle has been great for the Isles, but his $5.5 million cap hit is similarly steep and there are prospects like Oliver Wahlstrom chomping at the bit to get into his spot next to Barzal. 

Chris Drury’s second big undertaking in his fist summer at the helm is his protected list. Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Jacob Trouba, and Mika Zibanejad have full no move clauses, meaning they need to be protected, which was likely the plan already. The only other guaranteed spot on the forward unit is Ryan Strome. The 27-year-old has proven to be a key veteran down the middle, a position of weakness for the Rangers. 

Past that, Pavel Buchnevich is a restricted free agent. He’ll likely secure a spot, but it is possible the Rangers try and flip him for picks this offseason. I’d give the final two spots to Flip Chytil and Julien Gauthier, two more RFAs but young players who will prove key in the final product of the rebuild. 

The two remaining spots on defense are a process of elimination. They are not going to Tony DeAngelo, Brendan Smith and Jack Johnson as free agents and Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller and Zac Jones are exempt from the draft. That leaves Ryan Lindgren and Libor Hajek as Rangers for the foreseeable future. Iger Shesterkin is also exempt, making an easy goaltending choice with Alexander Georgiev.

Tom Fitzgerald and the Devils have younger players they need to make a quick decision on this offseason. Nico Hischier, Andreas Johnsson, Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt, Pavel Zacha, Damon Severson, Will Butcher and Mackenzie Blackwood are the no-brainers. That leaves two forward spots and one defensive spot. Both Janne Kuokkanen and Yegor Sharangovich were great for New Jersey this year and I would expect the team to protect them despite their upcoming restricted free agency. 

The final defensive spot is where it gets interesting. It will come down to PK Subban and Ryan Murray. Subban has one year left on his deal and one foot out the door, recently hopping on the ESPN playoff coverage. Ryan Murray is a pending UFA. I would give it to Murray. The former top pick was important for the Devils this year and it feels unlikely the Kraken would take on Subban’s accompanying nine million dollar cap hit.

All three teams have a few decisions to make and it will be fascinating to see who heads to Seattle as they look to replicate Vegas’ success.  

Here are my final lists:

New York Islanders: Barzal, Lee, Nelson, Pageau, Beauvillier, Bailey, Martin, Pelech, Pulock, Mayfield, Varlamov

New York Rangers: Panarin, Kreider, Zibanejad, Strome, Buchnevich, Chytil, Gauthier, Trouba, Hajek, Lindgren, Georgiev

New Jersey Devils: Hischier, Johnsson, Wood, Bratt, Zacha, Kuokkanen, Sharangovich, Murray, Severson, Butcher, Blackwood