The Expansion Draft and Goaltending

By #jontent (@yakovmironov)

When it comes to cliches around how to build a hockey team, goaltenders tend to be at the heart of them. Whether it’s Brian Burke’s belief that you should build from the net out (and by which he means put all your eggs in Jonas Gustavsson’s basket) or whether it’s much more truthful…

“Goaltending is 75 percent of your hockey team, unless you don’t have it. Then it’s 100 percent.” – Harry Neale

No matter what, most of the time you are probably wiser to invest in high talent forwards, or top pairing defencemen than worrying about a franchise goaltender, unless your goaltender is Carey Price. The market for goaltenders is often over-saturated, but amazingly premiums are still being paid for medium talent. For example, a team looking for a goaltending this offseason is likely able to pick up Jhonas Enroth or James Reimer, or Carter Hutton without paying anything near what the Jets do for Ondrej Pavelec. Worrying about non-elite goaltending seems silly, unless you are an expansion franchise…With the NHL either about to expand by one or two (likely one) teams in the 2017 season, it is going to marginally dilute the available talent across the NHL. In net that means four new jobs if you count in the AHL affiliate, certainly not as heavy dilution as will be seen at other positions.

Where it gets interesting however, is that in an expansion draft each team will only be allowed to protect one goaltender, allowing for a higher level of quality to be made available across the league than at other position. And while Brian Burke’s comment about building from the net out is generally not a great idea (and one I can’t think he ever truly believed) it does make an awful lot of sense with an expansion franchise.

Looking back 20 years, it was largely Florida’s decision to bring in John Vanbiesbrouck that had them into the Stanley Cup Finals so quickly. It was the Minnesota Wild’s Manny Fernandez and the Predator’s Tomas Vokoun that helped them become competitive sooner than expected as well.

Even if the intention isn’t to keep all of the goaltenders acquired in the expansion draft, this is arguably the best opportunity to acquire a higher trade value player to then flip for a useful skater that wasn’t previously available. There is a strong possibility that teams will pay a good price to re-acquire the goaltender that they wish they had been able to protect as well, similar to Sharks handing out draft picks in previous expansion drafts to make sure that Evgeny Nabokov remained in San Jose.

Who’s Going to Lose A Goaltender?

At a quick glance, if nothing changes between now and the summer of 2017, the Ducks (Andersen), Avalanche (Pickard) and Bruins (Subban) are very easy targets. The same can be said for the Penguins if they don’t find a way to move Fleury and protect Matt Murray.

The Rangers goaltending depth means that either Antti Raanta or prospect like Mackenzie Skapski could be lost, and the Blues goaltending depth will also be a target if they can’t offer up an enticing skater that causes an expansion team to overlook the goaltending options.

The other options are teams like the Flames, Leafs, Coyotes, Stars, and Canucks that are probably looking at their goaltending depth charts confused over who they are supposed to protect.

A team like the Leafs could wind up having to choose between protecting Garret Sparks or Antoine Bibeau or they spend the next twelve months sending low ball offers at teams like the Blues or Ducks who want to make sure that a valuable asset doesn’t just disappear from their franchise.

Where it Will Go Wrong…

The NHL has time and time again shown that teams can have the right idea but execute it poorly, and goaltender selection in the expansion draft could very well be another case of that.

Goaltenders like Jimmy Howard, Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi, and Mike Smith are all pretty much guaranteed to be available. Based on experience, leadership, winning pedigree, etc. there’s a good chance that there’s a slip up and one of these goaltenders become the face of the Las Vegas franchise.

In fact, going for a veteran goaltender in the expansion draft is likely foolish move considering who could be available as an unrestricted free agent shortly after the expansion draft.

It’s unlikely that teams are going to re-sign players, just to have to protect them, so following the expansion draft we’ll see a huge run on free agents being signed. That being said, not all of them will return to their teams immediately, and at least a few will test the waters of unrestricted free agency.

The current list of goaltenders available include:

  • Brian Elliott
  • Steve Mason
  • Michel Neuvirth
  • Ben Bishop
  • Jakob Markstrom

with others like Pavelec, Ryan Miller, and Scott Darling being interesting depth options or Plan “B”‘s.

Why Does This Matter Now?

It’s likely that once the Stanley Cup Finals begin that Gary Bettman will find himself holding a press conference with an exciting announcement to make and based on how far the expansion process has gone, we’re looking at a formal announcement of at least one team joining the league.

With that announcement comes the reality that business as usual ceases to happen in the NHL. Teams that would normally look to lock up players long term, are now going to be looking at one year deals to take them into expansion. It means that the seven forward, three defenseman, one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender models are going to get a lot of play and it means that a premium is going to be attached to every draft pick and prospect who doesn’t need to be exposed to the draft.

Purely looking at teams at risk for losing a goaltender, there will likely be the following need to address their roster based on risk associated with the expansion draft.

Highest Risk

  • Anaheim (John Gibson and Frederik Andersen)
  • Boston (Rask’s NMC means Subban exposed)
  • Colorado (Varlamov or Pickard)
  • Pittsburgh (Fleury’s NMC means Murray is exposed)

High Risk

  • St. Louis (Allen, Binnington, and Copley)
  • NY Rangers (Raanta, Hellberg, Skapski)
  • Washington (Grubauer)

Medium Risk

  • Columbus (if Bobrovsky is exposed)
  • Detroit (may want to lose Jimmy Howard)
  • Dallas (likely trying to lose Lehtonen or Niemi)
  • Edmonton (Brossoit)
  • Minnesota (Kuemper)
  • New Jersey (Wedgewood)
  • Winnipeg (Hutchinson)

Unknown Risk

Up until now I’ve assumed that Ben Bishop does not need to be protected in the expansion draft. He is in an unique situation of having an expiring contract on July 1st, but with No Movement Clause until that date. If Bishop does need to be protected in the expansion draft, that would make Andrey Vasilevskiy quite possibly the best option of all the goaltenders available.

In Closing…

Half the league is at risk for losing a potential NHL starting goaltender, solid goaltending prospect, or reliable backup next summer. Any of these things can lead to a substantial roster hole either immediately or in the near future.

  • With a handful of teams looking to add goaltenders this summer, it’s likely to become a buyers market for those teams.
  • The 2016 NHL Draft is reasonably deep when it comes to goaltenders and while we haven’t seen early runs on goaltenders in the draft in recent years, this could be a position that terms more aggressively target again.
  • Looking at which goaltenders are ineligible for the expansion draft, it looks as though at least 15 teams are currently sitting on a decent prospect who makes the idea of losing one of their roster goaltenders not seem like a big deal.
  • There is no reason for teams like the Flames or Leafs into 2017-18 with terrible goaltending given what options will be presented to them over the next year.



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