By #jontent (@yakovmironov)
Last month when General Fanager released their Expansion Draft Tool I easily spent two days playing around with it and started to attempt protection lists and put together what I felt would be a reasonable expansion team. The problem was that so many of the players on those lists were unrestricted free agents and made it difficult to guess who was going to be protected and by whom. Most of lists were scrapped halfway through the process, usually once I took a look at the Islanders or Tampa Bay.
Now in early July, it’s a bit more possible to approximate what teams will be dealing with heading into next season and while there will be still be a ton that changes between now and next June, and really now and next season enough of the players are signed that it’s worth going through the process completely.
The rules of the expansion draft are all on General Fanager’s site, and I won’t rehash them all right now. I’m just going to give you my reasoning behind who I selected to be protected. Basically I set the following rules for myself…
- Avoid protecting players who would be unrestricted free agents a few days later on July 1st, 2017. The only exceptions I could see here are the Bruins will protect Brad Marchand and the Stars will protect Jamie Benn. Reality is both of these players will be signed before that time anyway.
- Try to think as closely to how that team would approach the protection list as possible. Vancouver is the easiest example. I would probably not prioritize protecting Brandon Sutter, but I’m willing to bet that Jim Benning protects him, so he stays.
- Expose high cap hits before exposing prospects or younger players. The Rangers are a good example of that as leaving Rick Nash eligible makes sense to get out from his contract. A more extreme version was my decision to leave Mark Giordano in the expansion draft so Jyrki Jokipakka can be protected. I’d imagine if Jokipakka has a rough season this year, it won’t actually play out like that and there’s already a good chance Giordano will be protected at any cost.
- Don’t overvalue B and C level prospects. Most NHL GMs are going to protect proven NHL players over long shots
- Don’t be afraid to protect extra defensemen on good defensive teams. Nashville should be prioritizing keeping their top 4 together at the expense of losing a decent forward.
I doubt I got this list 100% right or even 90% right, but I feel a lot more comfortable drafting a team.
Similar to the protection process I tried to map out a plan going into making my selections. Since it’s a new team with a new GM, and an unknown philosophy attached to it, this was a lot more of what I feel just makes good sense…
- Don’t get hung up on trying to make the pieces fit into a lineup. Take the best available option from each team. If players don’t work for the Vegas team they are potentially valuable trade chips and can help fill out the roster. At most you’ve used 30 SPCs out of this and you can go free agent shopping afterwards as well to fill roster holes.
- You’re an expansion team with no prospect pool as of this moment. You’re not competing for the cup this year, so think about the future. Get good young players whenever possible.
- You’re an expansion team that wants people to show up to watch them play. You’re going to need to take some players that people want to see. Preferably take players on shorter term deals so they can be flipped at the trade deadline. No Dustin Browns.
- Raid the goaltending prospect pool. Get one legitimate NHL starter, but a bunch of guys that will push him for his job.
- There is no excuse for not having a great blueline at the end of this exercise.
I think that these ideas are pretty common throughout, but it’s a matter of what players are left available. In the case of the Wild and Jets I’d imagine they’ll do what they can to not lose the players I took from them for nothing. The same probably holds true for the Ducks who are actively shopping the player I took from them.
Like I said, I really wanted to get the team set up for the future and establish insane goaltending depth. As this sits you’ve got Reimer and Murray probably locked in as your NHL tandem with one of the remaining three staying on as your AHL starter. I’d assume trading the other two for assets makes good sense as the four 22 year olds are all highly regarded prospects and will be particularly close to grabbing fulltime NHL jobs heading into the 2017-18 season.
It seems very reasonable to believe that over the next year Pittsburgh will be doing what they can to encourage Marc-Andre Fleury to develop an interest in playing in Carolina or that the Blue Jackets politely ask Sergei Bobrovsky to waive his no movement clause to keep Dansk in Columbus, but we’ll have to wait to see that play out. No matter what St. Louis is going to lose one of Copley or Binnington unless they leave an enticing skater available.
I mentioned it earlier and it’s obviously debatable that Giordano would be available in the draft. I assumed he is and therefore I took him.
It’s also likely that the Wild deal one of their defensemen to make it so they don’t lose Spurgeon, but with 5 defensemen currently worth protecting and Spurgeon being one of the more expensive ones, it’s likely he would be the one exposed.
The Jets will do what they can to lose Enstrom instead of Myers, but maybe they keep them both if they inexplicably trade Trouba this summer.
Cam Fowler is being shopped and I already protected Lindholm, Despres and Vatanen in addition to the mandated protection of Kevin Bieksa. Again, they’d have to be insane to not try and get something for Fowler in advance and to somehow move Bieksa.
The rest of that list should make a lot of sense, it’s a bunch of somewhat decent depth that you don’t mind for your 5-7 NHL roles and holds enough value that you can probably flip some of the other players.
The forward group probably leaves the most to be desired out of the whole team and as you can see avoiding term on players was somewhat of a priority.
Rick Nash is likely to be very movable at the trade deadline for Vegas, if not immediately that summer. He’s also not a bad face of the franchise for year one, but based off of what I’ve put together I’m assuming Giordano is the team’s captain.
Matt Moulson is probably a pretty big swing for the fences, but he’s likely to be a decent attempt at adding offense to the team.
Colin Wilson is on the move because I assume that Nashville will protect four defensemen and won’t be able to protect him. Potentially he’s the first line center which is a terrifying thought.
Joe Colborne being another potential top six center option isn’t a lot better, but the hope is that free agency and their high draft pick will be kind to Vegas to bump Joe down a line.
Jason Chimera is an attempt at recognizing the need for some veteran presence, and while a lot of that can come from free agency, Chimera is a cheap way of doing that now and potentially he is someone who can be moved at the trade deadline.
After that you’ve got the finest collection of “B” prospects that can be found around the NHL. Namestnikov is probably the best of the bunch and arguably Etem and Weal might excel when given the chance to play significant offensive roles. The rest become the basis for your 3rd and 4th lines with McNeill, Galiev, and Samuelsson being the potential standouts for those roles.
Maybe it’s just the way I look at expansion, but it seems absolutely hellish for finding top six forwards. I mean, that’s not really a surprise when most teams will protect seven forwards.
It’s unlikely that 2017 UFAs like Jamie Benn, Brad Marchand, and T.J. Oshie will hit the market or wind up in Las Vegas, but there will be a need for the expansion team to be competitive on players like Drew Stafford, Alex Steen, Patrik Berglund, and Martin Hanzal, none of which seem like exciting ideas in the 30 team world we live today.
Probably the best advice that can be given to an expansion GM who holds a guaranteed top 6 pick next year is to draft the best center available. That’s the biggest organization hole and that will be the one that is going to be painful to address for the next decade.