The Tampa Bay Lightning will have to make a fairly large decision up front before the expansion draft, however Steve Yzerman’s situation is not as dire as it is made out to be.
According to a report, Ryan Callahan is not expected to be asked to waive his no-movement clause. That makes him an obvious shoe-in to be protected.
Other guarantees to be protected at forward are Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov, and Tyler Johnson.
There have been rumblings that Jonathan Drouin could be traded before the expansion draft. However, nothing has surfaced yet and he will be on Tampa Bay’s protection list as of now.
That leaves one spot remaining and it could go to either Vlad Namestnikov or Alex Killorn.
Namestnikov, 24, had 28 points in 74 games last season. He was a first round pick by Tampa Bay in 2011.
As for Killorn, the 27-year-old had 36 points in 81 games last season.
This choice is a coin flip to some people, however I believe that Alex Killorn will be the last protected forward for Tampa Bay.
Regardless of who is protected, though, the other player immediately becomes a top candidate to go to Vegas for next season.
On defense, Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman are guarantees to be protected.
After that, Slater Koekkoek is next in line. Although he is not as experienced as other options, he holds the potential to become a solid, top-four defender in the league. He is actually closer to that role than some people may think.
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s protection list could look like this:
Forwards: Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Jonathan Drouin, Alex Killorn
Defense: Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Slater Koekkoek
Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy
The Lightnig’s list could change based solely on the fact that Drouin or Johnson could be moved in a trade. But as of now, this is where it stands.
Next team: Toronto Maple Leafs
The St. Louis Blues are a pretty simple team when it comes to the expansion draft. They will have no problems reaching the exposure requirements, and the players they will protect are, for the most part, easy to predict.
Up front, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexander Steen, and Jaden Schwartz will absolutely be protected. These three drive the offense for St. Louis and Doug Armstrong would be out of his mind to let any of them go.
After them, Paul Stastny, Patrick Berglund, and Vlad Sobotka are next in line.
Sobotka came back to the NHL for the playoffs and signed a three-year “extension” with St. Louis. He made an immediate impact on the team and will take up a top-nine role next season.
Stastny and Berglund are two guys that struggled in 2015-2016 but bounced back this season. Stastny has had injury issues, but St. Louis should protect him regardless.
The last protection spot at forward can go to David Perron. It could be argued that Jori Lehtera or Nail Yakupov could get it, but Perron is simply better and more valuable.
On defense, it is basically a lock that Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, and Joel Edmundson will be protected.
In net, the Blues committed long term to Jake Allen and he will be protected.
The St. Louis Blues probable protection list:
Forwards: Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Paul Stastny, Patrik Berglund, Vlad Sobotka, David Perrson
Defense: Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Joel Edmundson
Goalie: Jake Allen
Vegas could take Yakupov, Jaskin, or another depth forward from the Blues.
Next team: Tampa Bay Lightning
Due to Joe Thornton and Patrick Marceau being unrestricted free agents this offseason, the Sharks would appear to be set up in a comfortable position regarding the expansion draft. However, due to exposure requirements, the situation is much more complicated than how it looks.
The Sharks have five players they must protect. Three are forwards and two are defensemen. The forwards are Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Tomas Hertl, and the defensemen are Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
This leaves the Sharks with room to protect either four more forwards and one more defenseman or one more forward and two more defensemen.
Each team for the expansion draft is required to expose two forwards and one defenseman that meets a minimum games played and contract requirement. Out of the remaining players for the Sharks at forward, four players, Joel Ward, Mikkel Boedker, Jannik Hansen, and Melker Karlsson, meet that requirement.
Therefore, should the Sharks protect seven forwards, they would have to leave two of the aforementioned players exposed.
For instance, say they leave Hansen and Ward exposed out of that group. That would leave their protection list looking like Couture, Pavelski, Hertl, Boedker, Karlsson, Tierney (RFA), and who? The remaining options are essentially Barclay Goodrow, a restricted free agent, and a bunch of unrestricted free agents.
To be fair, the Sharks could sign Michael Haley and use him to fulfill exposure requirements. But, if they were going to do that, you would think that they would have signed him already.
So that makes me hypothesize: the Sharks might protect four defensemen instead if this is the case and risk losing one of Karlsson, Boedker, or Tierney.
Instead of protecting a meaningless depth player, they can then protect Justin Braun AND Brendan Dillon along with Vlasic and Burns.
This way may seem a bit unconventional, but it makes sense for the Sharks.
In total, I predict the San Jose Sharks protection list will look like the following:
Forwards: Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl, and ONE OF Boedker/Tierney/Karlsson
Defense: Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun, and Brendan Dillon
Goalie: Martin Jones
To be fair, the Sharks could bribe Vegas not to take one of their important players. Regardless, it will be interesting to see the route that Doug Wilson takes.
Next team: St. Louis Blues
The Pittsburgh Penguins, as everyone knows by now, have a huge decision to make in goal before the expansion draft. Marc-Andre Fleury has a no-movement clause and needs to be traded beforehand. Matt Murray is the future in the crease of Pittsburgh and that is not expected to change.
We will get to goalies later, so starting up front, three Penguins have no-movement clauses. They are Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel. None of these are a problem, though, as none were going to be exposed anyways.
The Penguins are highly likely to protect seven forwards and three defensemen, so that makes Patric Hornqvist and Bryan Rust obvious selections.
After those five players, though, the field is mixed and the players getting the last two spots are unclear.
Carl Hagelin, granted, seems like a safe bet. This is based only on the ideology that there are not many other players that could be protected.
Unless the Penguins sign Chris Kunitz or Matt Cullen to an extension, both Tom Kuhnhackl and Scott Wilson will need to be exposed to meet the requirement.
Nick Bonino is left off of this list because he is an unrestricted free agent as well. If he is re-signed before the expansion draft, which rightfully seems improbable, he will be protected.
The last spot could perhaps go to Josh Archibald or Oskar Sundqvist. Neither are ideal options, but it is the only choice Jim Rutherford has.
On defense, Kris Letang is the only sure-fire pick. However, it appears that the Penguins will want to protect Brian Dumoulin and Justin Schultz as well.
Both Dumoulin and Schultz are pending restricted free agents. Although they play different styles, both players have been integral to Pittsburgh’s success this season and last.
This scenario would leave Olli Maatta exposed. The first round pick from 2012 is not a bad player, however he has not progressed as well as the Penguins would have hoped. His skating is the most glaring issue in his game.
As for goaltenders, the expectation is that Marc-Andre Fleury and his no-movement clause will be traded. This would allow for Matt Murray to be protected.
Even if Fleury is not immediately traded, he will likely waive his no-movement clause for the team. He has been nothing but supportive over the past two years with him and Murray battling for the crease and he has been a team first guy for the Penguins for the entirety of his career. It will hurt the organization and fans to see Fleury go, but it is just what has to happen.
In total, the Penguins protected list could look like this:
Forwards: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust, Carl Hagelin, and Josh Archibald OR Oskar Sundqvist
Defense: Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, and Justin Schultz
Goalie: Matt Murray
Olli Maatta seems like the most likely to go to Vegas in this case. If Maatta is protected, it becomes Schultz or Dumoulin.
Next team: San Jose Sharks
The Flyers have one or two forwards too many heading into the expansion draft, but other than that, they face no real challenges. Nine out of the ten skaters spots are easy to predict for Philadelphia.
For forwards, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Valtteri Filppula, and Sean Couturier will 100% be protected. After that, the last spot comes down to Jordan Weal, Michael Raffl, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.
Weal was acquired a few seasons ago by the Flyers in the Vincent Lecavalier trade with Los Angeles. He has shown flashes of brilliance offensively and his numbers have been outstanding. Last season, he posted 12 points in 23 NHL games and 47 points in 43 AHL games.
If the Flyers feel confident that they can sign Weal to an extension prior to or after the expansion draft, they will most likely be protecting him. But, that means that Weal has to make the team next year and make an impact. It would be a high-risk, high-reward selection.
Raffl, 28, and Bellemare, 32, both did not post great numbers for the Flyers last season, but both are valuable in their own right to the team.
Jordan Weal still seems like the most likely option, though.
On defense, Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas are locks to be protected.
With many of their other core defensemen heading into next season, like Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim, being exempt, the Flyers do not really have much of a choice for their last defensive spot. It will be going to Brandon Manning, as Andrew MacDonald will be used to fulfill the exposure requirement.
In goal, the decision is tricky. Michal Neuvirth and Anthony Stolarz, albeit under different circumstances, are both worthy of protection.
However, with all things considered, I believe the Flyers will go with Neuvirth as their protection pick. He is slated to be their starter next season, or at least their 1A, and losing him and Steve Mason in one offseason would be crippling.
In total, the Philadelphia Flyers could have a protection list that looks like this:
Forwards: Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Valtteri Filppula, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Jordan Weal
Defense: Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning
Goalie: Michal Neuvirth
A forward, whether it be Weal, Raffl, Bellemare, Cousins, or Laughton, is probable to go to Vegas.
Next team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Between Bobby Ryan and Dion Phaneuf, the Ottawa Senators have a lot of important choices to make before the expansion draft. Currently they are at risk of losing a top-four defender, but that could change depending on how the next couple of weeks shake out.
Up front, the Senators have four players that they will definitely be protecting. They are Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, and Derrick Brassard.
After a strong playoff performance, Jean-Gabriel Pageau also seems like a safe bet to be protected.
Clarke MacArthur should get a spot as well. After being sidelined for almost two full seasons with concussions, MacArthur came back for the playoffs and impressed. He does not meet the exposure requirements regardless.
The last spot comes down to two players, Bobby Ryan and Zack Smith.
Ryan carries a large cap hit at $7.25 million for the next five seasons. After a very disappointing regular season, it seemed like Ryan would be left exposed to Vegas. However, after a strong playoff performance, Ryan could be back on the protection list.
As for Smith, he has four years left on his deal at $3.25 million per. Smith is a versatile forward who can play multiple positions and can play in all situations as well. Just a year ago, he scored 25 goals.
It is still unclear who the Senators will pick to protect with their last spot. Either way it goes, Ryan or Smith, it would not be surprising.
As for defense, Erik Karlsson is obviously going to be protected.
The Senators will also not want to lose any of Dion Phaneuf, Marc Methot, or Cody Ceci, but one of them will need to be exposed. If I had to guess, I would say it will be Ceci.
The Ottawa Senators protection list could look like the following:
Forwards: Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, Derrick Brassard, Clarke MacArthur, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Bobby Ryan OR Zack Smith
Defense: Erik Karlsson, Marc Methot, Dion Phaneuf
Goalie: Craig Anderson
Prime candidates that could be going to Vegas are Cody Ceci (or whoever is exposed of Ceci, Phaneuf, and Methot) and Ryan Dzingel.
Next team: Philadelphia Flyers
The New York Rangers are in an interesting spot in terms of the expansion draft. They have a bunch of good forwards that they need to worry about, however it is the exact opposite on defense.
It is almost certain that the Rangers will be protecting seven forward and three defensemen.
For the forwards, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, JT Miller, Kevin Hayes, and Mika Zibanejad are all slated to earn protection slots.
That takes up six spots. The last spot can go to Rick Nash, who has a no-movement clause.
There are definitely some other good players that you could argue deserve a spot on the protection list over Nash. Michael Grabner and Oscar Lindberg are two of them.
All things considered, though, it is not worth it to ask Nash to waive his no-movement clause, try to trade him, or try to buy him out just to protect Lindberg or Grabner. In no disrespect to Grabner and Lindberg, they are not valuable enough pieces to do that for.
The defense is where things get strange. Ryan McDonagh is a no-brainer to be protected, but after that there are no clear choices. Well, technically there are not anyways.
Marc Staal and Dan Girardi both have no-movement clauses, which means both are required to be protected during the expansion draft.
The thought floating around most hockey minds currently is that the Rangers will buyout one of them, Girardi being more likely.
Is it worth it though? I know that sounds crazy to say, but the fact of the matter is that Vegas is not going to take a defenseman from the Rangers.
Brady Skjei is exempt. Kevin Klein and Nick Holden are not good enough for George McPhee to waste his time on, especially given the crop of defensemen that will be available for him.
At the end of the day, why not just bite the bullet and lose Jesper Fast, Michael Grabner, or Oscar Lindberg in expansion? A Girardi buyout can always come after. But there is no need to immediately rush into anything.
The Rangers could bribe Vegas to take Girardi’s contract, though. But, it seems improbable. It would likely cost Jeff Gorton a solid prospect plus a first round pick, which would heavily hurt the Rangers already depleted prospect pipeline.
Regardless, the moral of the story is that it should not be surprising if Dan Girardi is on the Rangers protection list. That does not mean that he will be back with the team next season.
In all, the Rangers protection list could look like the this:
Forwards: Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, JT Miller, Mika Zibanejad, Rick Nash
Defense: Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi
Goalie: Henrik Lundqvist
The Rangers expansion draft plan, in the end, could go in a number of directions. Like the Islanders, only time will tell.
Next team: Ottawa Senators
The expansion draft status of the New York Islanders is currently incredibly difficult to predict. They are expected to make a trade or two beforehand, and it is also nearly impossible to tell how they are thinking in terms of who they will protect at forward.
As far as guaranteed protection picks go, John Tavares, Andrew Ladd, Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, and Thomas Greiss will be there.
Tavares, Boychuk, and Ladd all have no-movement clauses. None will be asked to waive. Leddy has been the backbone of the Islanders’ defense for the past three seasons and is going nowhere. For Greiss, he recently signed a new three year contract with the team and is slated to be the starting goaltender headed into next season.
Anders Lee and Ryan Pulock are also highly likely to be protected.
Lee posted a career-high 34 goals last season. He became a dominant net-front presence last season and the hope is that he will continue to put up the same numbers far into the future.
Pulock did not see more than one game of NHL time this season, but he is still too valuable for the Islanders to lose. His rocket of a shot will be featured on the powerplay for years to come.
Now, this is where things get tricky. The Islanders could either go the route of protecting four more forwards and no defensemen or two more forwards and one more defensemen.
The assumption is that one of Travis Hamonic or Calvin de Haan will be traded before the expansion draft. There is no inkling being given as to which of the two it might be, but regardless one will likely be gone in the next few weeks.
Further complicating things, Garth Snow is looking for a top-six forward in return for one of these defensemen.
Hamonic or de Haan would be an attractive option for Vegas to take. The Islanders certainly do not want to lose both, so I believe they will go with four forwards and four defensemen protected for the expansion draft.
Those four defensemen would be Leddy, Boychuk, Pulock, and one of Hamonic or de Haan.
The last forward spot could go to a number of players. Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, and Josh Bailey are all options.
Strome and Nelson are two talented players but have struggled at times over the last couple of seasons. For Strome, his struggles have come offensively. For Nelson, it is defensively.
If the Islanders go with four forwards and four defensemen, the exposed of Strome or Nelson immediately becomes a top candidate to be selected by the Golden Knights. The talent of Strome and Nelson are undeniable, but there is a rightful risk that comes with these two players.
Bailey set a career-high in points last season with 56. At 27-years-old, he is not an ideal candidate for Vegas, but he would not be bad by any means. The Islanders clearly value Bailey and the two-way game he brings to the team, so it is entirely possible that he gets the last protection spot up front.
But, remember that trade involving Travis Hamonic or Calvin de Haan mentioned before? That’s where things get even trickier.
The trade, as aforementioned, would likely be bringing back a top flight forward to the Islanders. So, in the end, all three of Strome, Nelson, and Bailey could wind up being unprotected.
Or, to be fair, the Islanders could lose Hamonic and de Haan to expansion and trade and protect Tavares, Lee, Ladd, Bailey, Nelson, Strome, acquired player, Leddy, Boychuk, and Pulock.
There are an absurd amount of variables right now for the Islanders. Only Garth Snow knows his plan of action. We all just have to wait and see.
The possible New York Islanders protection list:
Forwards: John Tavares, Andrew Ladd, Anders Lee, and ONE OF Bailey/Strome/Nelson/player acquired in trade
Defense: Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Ryan Pulock, and ONE OF Calvin de Haan or Travis Hamonic
Goalie: Thomas Greiss
If the Islanders protect four and four, Strome, Nelson, and Bailey become prime targets for Vegas. If they protected seven and three, it becomes Hamonic or de Haan.
Next team: New York Rangers
The New Jersey Devils have a long road ahead before they are ready to compete again. They have a solid core of Cory Schneider, Taylor Hall, and Adam Henrique, but the pieces just are not there yet. Losing someone significant in the expansion draft will not be of worry for Ray Shero.
Up front, Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, and Travis Zajac will absolutely be protected. These four were New Jersey’s best forwards last season and, barring a major trade, will be again next season.
After that, there are no clear choices for players to protect.
Beau Bennett and Stefan Noesen are two guys that may be worth protecting. Neither are ideal, but the Devils really do not have many other options up front.
The same situation can be said for Mike Cammalleri. Not a good pick for protection, but it is not like the Devils are keeping him over a better player. They have nothing to lose by doing it.
You could also argue for Devante Smith-Pelley to be protected over any of the previous three players mentioned
On defense, they at least have a few good pieces to protect. It will likely be Andy Greene, John Moore, and Damon Severson.
In goal, Cory Schneider is a no-brainer.
The New Jersey Devils potential protection list:
Forwards: Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac, Beau Bennett, Stefan Noesen, Mike Cammalleri
Defense: Andy Greene, John Moore, Damon Severson
Goalie: Cory Schneider
On the bright side for the Devils, in a couple of weeks they will have either Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier as a part of their organization. There is also a strong possibility that they can string together a trade or two to fill up protection spots.
Next team: New York Islanders
The plan of action for the Nashville Predators in regards to the expansion draft is relatively easy to predict. They will be going with four forwards and four defensemen and there are clear choices for those slots for most part.
Up front, Ryan Johansen, James Neal, and Filip Forsberg will be protected. All three are key to Nashville’s offensive success.
The other spot could either go to Viktor Arvidsson or Craig Smith, depending on who David Poile and Peter Laviolette prefer.
The four defensemen are even less difficult to put together. It will be PK Subban, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, and Roman Josi.
In goal, Pekka Rinne has a no-movement clause and will be protected.
Vegas will probably be taking a forward from Nashville. Whoever is exposed out of Arvidsson or Smith will be a top choice. Calle Jarnkrok (and his insane contract that has five more years at $2 million per) is a prime candidate as well. Colin Wilson and Colton Sissons are less likely possibilities.
Had he not been exempt, goaltender Juuse Saros would have been a good bet too.
Nashville’s likely protection list:
Forwards: Ryan Johansen, James Neal, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson OR Craig Smith
Defense: PK Subban, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi
Goalie: Pekka Rinne
Next team: New Jersey Devils
It is hard to make out how the Montreal Canadiens will be thinking for the expansion draft. There are a few guaranteed players to be protected, but after that, your guess is as good as mine.
Definitely being protected by Montreal are Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher, and Carey Price. Jeff Petry, who has a no-movement clause, will be as well.
That leaves four forward slots and two defensive slots to be filled.
Andrew Shaw, Phillip Danault, and Paul Byron are three solid guesses. Shaw excelled in his first year in Montreal, albeit his points did dip from the previous year. Byron was able to break out as well and learned how to use his speed to his advantage. As for Danault, he was acquired two seasons ago from Chicago and has cemented himself in the center core of the Canadiens for years to come.
The last forward spot could go to a number of players.
It could be Tomas Plekanec, a veteran center who has, granted, lost some of his offensive touch in recent years. It could be Charles Hudon on the other hand, a center prospect looking to make the full time leap into the NHL next season.
Lastly, Alexander Radulov’s situation must be examined. Currently an unrestricted free agent, Radulov technically does not require protection. The team will want to sign him after the expansion draft, but Radulov wants a contract done as soon as possible.
Radulov will be staying in Montreal regardless, but the variable that stands is if he will take a protection spot away from Plekanec or Hudon or not.
On defense, it will be either Nathan Beaulieu or Alexei Emelin joining Weber and Petry. Due to age and contract status, I suspect it will be Beaulieu. That does not rule out him being traded later in the offseason, though.
In the end, the Montreal Canadiens could have a protection list that looks like the following:
Forwards: Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw, Paul Byron, Phillip Danault, and Tomas Plekanec OR Charles Hudon
Defense: Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, and Nathan Beaulieu
Goalie: Carey Price
If Hudon is exposed, he will likely be in Vegas next season. If not, Jacob de la Rose and Daniel Carr are options.
Next team: Nashville Predators
The Minnesota Wild are in an undesirable spot when it comes to the expansion draft. General manager Chuck Fletcher is going to have to wind up making a trade or two to ensure that he does not lose quality players for nothing.
The Wild have three forwards on no-movement clauses, those being Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Jason Pominville. The first two do not present a problem, however Pominville does.
Pominville is 34-years-old and has two years remaining on his deal at $5.6 million per. Pominville’s statline last season of 47 points in 78 games is not horrible, but he is still not an ideal protection candidate.
The Wild can ask Pominville to waive his no-movement clause or buy him out. It just depends on how they value him over someone like Eric Staal.
Staal is the odd man out if Pominville is protected. With young players such as Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, and Jason Zucker needing protection, one of Staal or Pominville must be exposed.
On defense, the choices are just as difficult. Ryan Suter has a no-movement clause. Jared Spurgeon is also slated to be protected.
That leaves one spot for Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba. One will not be exposed, but rather one will be traded. It is unclear which one player will be on his way out.
For goalies, Devan Dubnyk is the obvious selection to be protected.
The Wild’s protection list could look like this:
Forwards: Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Nino Neiderreiter, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, and Eric Staal OR Jason Pominville
Defense: Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, and Jonas Brodin OR Matt Dumba
Goalie: Devan Dubnyk
Vegas has a number of options to take from Minnesota in this scenario. Staal if unprotected is one. Staal is not young, but he would provide a veteran presence for Vegas and help the franchise adjust nicely. His resurgence last season in Minnesota made this possible.
Erik Haula is another attractive option, as is Marco Scandella.
Next team: Montreal Canadiens