A look into the Islanders and the potential expansion draft
Although we do not know a date for certain, NHL expansion is right around the corner. With the system of protecting seven forwards, three defenseman, and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie in place, teams will be faced with tough decisions to make. That includes the New York Islanders. As a young and upcoming team, they have plenty of good assets that they will have to risk losing.
The expansion could happen before the 2017-2018 season, meaning professional (NHL and AHL) players who started their careers in 2015-2016 or 2016-2017 will be exempt. If the league decides to expand by two teams, each team will face potentially losing a maximum of one player. If it’s a one team expansion, teams lose a maximum of one player. Here is my outlook on the Isles expansion draft possibilities:
Protected forwards: John Tavares, Anders Lee, Frans Nielsen, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck
A few players here, like John Tavares, Frans Nielsen, and Ryan Strome, are practically givens. Lee and Nelson are borderline, but both are good players that should be protected, granted they are on the team by the time 2017-2018 rolls around. The last two players may come as a surprise, but I believe Cizikas and Clutterbuck bring an essential element to the Islanders that they would miss severely if one or both of them were to be taken. Both players kill penalties and hit almost everything that moves, all while pitching in energy and offense. The Islanders rely heavily on both of these players.
Notable unprotected: Nikolay Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski, Matt Martin, Josh Bailey
Josh Bailey is someone the Islanders will likely want to protect, but he may need to be sacrificed. He is the most likely to be taken in the draft out of the mentioned forwards. Matt Martin is the other third of the Islanders’ fourth line with Cizikas and Clutterbuck, but let’s be honest, is anyone really going to take him. Grabovski and Kulemin are unlikely to be taken, but they’ll be reaching the last year of their deals anyways. They were here to help win now and bridge the gap until Dal Colle, Barzal, and others were ready.
Protected defensemen: Nick Leddy, Ryan Pulock, Calvin de Haan
These three players being taken is assuming Travis Hamonic gets his wish of being traded this offseason. Anyways, Leddy is the only for sure pick here. There is a zero percent chance he reaches the draft. Ryan Pulock will be available to be taken, and the Islanders have waited too long and have been too patient in developing him to see it all go to waste. Calvin de Haan, barring another disaster of a season like 2015-2016, should be protected in my eyes.
Notable un-protected: Thomas Hickey, Johnny Boychuk, Adam Pelech
Boychuk and Pelech are tough pills to swallow. Pelech luckily may be overlooked for more established defensemen in the draft which would be fantastic for the Isles. He still has a good chance of being taken though as a young, reliable defenseman. Boychuk will be 33 years old, almost 34 by the time the expansion draft rolls around. He will also be heading into the third year of his massive seven year, six million per year deal. Boychuk will inevitably start to decline. I am positive the Islanders want to keep him, but will they risk losing a younger defenseman like Pulock or de Haan to keep him? Will an expansion team risk taking a declining defenseman with a huge contract despite him being a great leader? These are all questions the Islanders will have to answer.
Granted, the Islanders could chose to protect Boychuk, Leddy, de Haan and Pulock, but would only be left with four selections at forward.
Also noteworthy, Johnny Boychuk has a no-movement clause, and he is the only Islander to have one of those. It is still yet to be determined if he will even be able to be unprotected.
Thomas Hickey, the other name on the list, is a good defender but not protection worthy.
Protected goalie: Jaroslav Halak
Notable un-protected: Thomas Greiss
Despite Greiss playing so well this year, this should not come as a shock to anyone. There will be a contingent of fans wanting Greiss to be selected over Halak, but it’s not going to happen. Halak is entering the final year of his deal in 2017-2018.
Notable players exempt: Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang, Mat Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Parker Wotherspoon, Ilya Sorokin, Mitch Vande Somple
All of these players are still playing in juniors currently, so they’ll be exempt. This is fantastic news for the Islanders.
The Islanders will face a lot of tough decisions when the day of reckoning for protecting players comes around. In all, I could see Bailey and one of Pelech or Boychuk being taken. It is what it is, and the Islanders will make out better than other teams like the Chicago Blackhawks or Washington Capitals will.
A lot can change between now and the 2017 offseason. Until then, it’s all speculation.