In less than six months, the entire shape of the NHL will be shifted.
By that time, four major events will have passed: the trade deadline, the entry draft, free agency, and — most importantly — the expansion draft.
The expansion draft is going to have huge ramifications on trades. In fact, it already has. Trades are at an all time low currently in the league, with no general manager moving a muscle due to the uncertainty ahead.
As the days grow closer to March and then eventually June, trade chatter will be rampant. Due to protection lists being so limited this time around, some unusual names may pop up in trade rumors, including the following three.
Brent Seabrook, D, Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks signed Seabrook to a massive eight year contract not too long ago. The deal carries a $6.875 million cap hit until the defenseman is 39 years old.
There is a huge risk taken when signing a player, especially a defenseman, to a large contract that takes him that late in his career. Seabrook’s play is already declining which isn’t a good look for Chicago in the first year.
You have to wonder if Stan Bowman will gauge the market on this one. It frees up a lot of cap space for the team (potentially for Panarin in two years), as well as gives young players such as Ville Pokka, Trevor van Riemsdyk, and Gustav Forsling a chance at more minutes.
Trading Seabrook would also allow the Blackhawks to protect one of Pokka, the main piece in the Nick Leddy trade, or van Riemsdyk from Las Vegas.
One hitch, however, is that Seabrook has a full no movement clause. The fit would have to be prefect for the team acquiring him as well as the player.
Stan Bowman would be wise to try to find a way to wiggle out of this deal before it is too late. Seabrook still has value in the league, but there is no saying how long that will last for due to his play style.
Nate Schmidt, D, Washington Capitals
Schmidt had an impressive first full year with Washington last season, boasting two goals and 16 points in 72 games. The smooth skating defenseman proved to be a reliable asset in both ends of the rink for the team.
This season, though, hasn’t been as great. Schmidt has found himself in Barry Trotz’s doghouse, being a healthy scratch on numerous occasions.
With the Capitals likely protecting John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Dmitri Orlov, Nate Schmidt would be exposed to Las Vegas. As a 25 year old defender, that could be very enticing for former Capitals general manager George McPhee.
Although his value may not be overly high, Schmidt would be a good acquisition for many teams. He has all the fundamental characteristics of being a good top-four NHL player, including being a good skater and having good instincts.
This’ll be an interesting one to keep an eye on. If Alzner is re-signed, Orlov will be as well.
Andreas Athanasiou, C, Detroit Red Wings
Like Schmidt, this is another player who had an impressive season last year but has seemingly fallen out of favor with his current club.
Athanasiou is one of the quickest players in the league and has amazing hands to go along with that. He is routinely scoring highlight level goals, albeit being a little streaky at times.
With the emergence of Anthony Mantha, the Red Wings have a glut of forwards to be protected for the expansion draft. Zetterberg, Nielsen, Tatar, Nyquist, Mantha, Abdelkader make up for six of the seven spots.
It’s entirely possible that Athanasiou could be the seventh player protected, but you cannot rule a trade out of the picture. Despite his tendencies to disappear at times, there would be a boatload of teams interested in Athanasiou’s services.
Riley Sheehan would be another name to keep an eye on depending how things progress.
The potential NHL expansion draft is rapidly approaching and a big factor for it has yet to be determined. No trade clauses and no movement causes have become far more prevalent in NHL contracts over the last half decade. They put the NHL and NHLPA in a tough situation regarding the use of the players who have them in the expansion draft.
Option #1: players with clauses cannot be taken in the draft, but do have to be protected by their team
This means that anyone with a no movement or no trade clause (or whatever/whichever they decide) would be required to remain on their team at the expense of a protection spot being taken. This means that, for example, the Bruins would have to protect Zdeno Chara if he is still around. Also, the Penguins would be forced to protect Marc-Andre Fleury, meaning prized prospect Matt Murray would be available for the taking. Another example is Ryane Clowe, who technically has a no movement clause, as he is signed until the summer of 2018. Would New Jersey be forced to protect him?
I highly doubt teams want this option. Owners and management personnel do not like these clauses to begin with, so being stuck with them won’t be too appealing.
Option #2: players with clauses cannot be taken in the draft, but do not have to be protected by their team
This seems like a better option, but it still has it’s loopholes. For one, a team like Chicago for example, would not have to protect Hjalmarsson, Keith, Crawford, Toews, Kane, or Seabrook. Same thing with Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Letang, and Fleury in Pittsburgh. This leaves those two teams eligible to protect more depth players, a luxury teams like Edmonton with only Sekera and Talbot and New York with only Boychuk would not get.
The use of this tactic would also see the number of no movement clauses increase in the upcoming years since general managers and players alike will know that they won’t have to waste a protection spot on a player with said clause.
Option #3: players with clauses are still eligible to be taken in the expansion draft
The NHLPA and it’s player representatives will fight this one. It seems like the most reasonable option from a business and fairness standpoint, but a contractual agreement is a contractual agreement. This option would leave certain names like Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, and Alex Burrows, to name a few, eligible to possibly be taken.
There is no indication to believe that any expansion team would want these players, but it largely affects the teams these players currently play on.
Nothing is written in stone, at least not yet. Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr, and the NHL brass will have a lot of thinking to do before they decide what to do about these clauses, albeit time is at a minimum. The decision they make will have gigantic implications on how the next few offseasons and the expansion draft itself play out.
It’s an issue that needs to be sorted out sooner rather than later.