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Expansion draft 2017: which players might get shipped to Vegas?

Matt Larkin
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Frederik Andersen (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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Expansion draft 2017: which players might get shipped to Vegas?

Matt Larkin
By:

A 2017 expansion draft looms if Las Vegas and/or Quebec City is granted a franchise for 2017-18. What players might get exposed and claimed?

This week's NHL GM meetings yielded chatter on everything from blueline cameras to goalie equipment, but the sexiest news nugget had to be the NHL revealing an outline for an expansion draft format.

While nothing is set in stone until the NHL Players' Association agrees on the details, we have a rough idea of how the process would work. As reported by TSN's Frank Seravalli, each of the existing NHL teams would stand to lose one player if the league expands by one team and two if the league expands to include Las Vegas and Quebec City. Teams can protect (a) seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or (b) eight skaters at any position and one goaltender.

First-and second-year players on entry-level contracts would be exempt from the expansion draft. It remains to be seen if no-movement clauses would give veterans automatic amnesty. Every team would have to expose at least 25 percent of its salary cap, while the expansion squad(s) would have to reach a salary floor. Hello, high-profile money dumps. That situation would grant existing NHL teams the equivalent of compliance buyouts – especially if no-movement clauses are nullified.

Commissioner Gary Bettman indicated at his All-Star Game press conference the earliest we could see an expansion team is the 2017-18 season. So if we assume the league announces one team by then, what players might we see changing addresses at a 2017 expansion draft, which would likely be held after the Stanley Cup final and before the entry draft?

Time to examine potential targets. I won't include any players who will be unrestricted free agents in summer 2016 or summer 2017. I'll list more than 23 names, just to deeper explore candidates to get claimed. It's difficult to imagine players with no-movement clauses will be ruled exempt, because, if they didn't have to count toward a team's protected list, too few quality players would be available to the expansion squad. A team loaded with clauses, like the Tampa Bay Lightning, would have most of its roster exempt and still have room to protect most of its other players. Also, as my colleague Ian Denomme pointed out, players with NTCs and NMCs tend to be expensive, so exempting them would make it harder for teams to clear 25 percent of their salary. So, for the sake of argument, let's look at two groups: the players with clauses and the players without. Cap hits for 2017-18 are included for each name, courtesy of capfriendly.com.

GOALTENDERS

Exposable:
Frederik Andersen (RFA 2016-17)
Andrew Hammond ($1,350,000)
Semyon Varlamov ($5,900,000)
Andrei Vasilevskiy (RFA 2017-18)

Andersen is the favorite to start in goal for Vegas. John Gibson is too young to earn a no-trade, plus he already signed an extension through 2018-19. That pretty much seals Andersen's fate, no? I could see Ottawa exposing Hammond or Craig Anderson. By the end of next season, the Sens probably hope Matt O'Connor has improved enough in AHL Binghamton to become the backup in 2017-18. Varlamov could be expendable if the Avs want Calvin Pickard to take over the starting reins. The Lightning could find themselves in a true pickle with Vasilevskiy. They'll have to protect Ben Bishop, and even if his next contract includes a no-movement clause, we don't yet know if he'd be exempt from an expansion claim.

No-trade/movement clauses:
Jimmy Howard ($5,291,666)

Even if it turns out no-trade clauses create exemptions, Howard might waive his anyway for a new chance to be an NHL starter.

DEFENSEMEN

Exposable:
Justin Braun ($3,800,000)
Simon Despres ($3,700,000)
Ryan Ellis ($2,500,000)
Nick Holden ($1,650,000)
Thomas Hickey ($2,200,000)
Jack Johnson ($4,357,142)
Kevin Klein ($2,900,000)
Andrew MacDonald ($5,000,000)
Brayden McNabb (RFA 2016-17)
Adam McQuaid ($2,750,000)
John Moore ($1,666,666)
Brooks Orpik ($5,500,000)
Luca Sbisa ($3,600,000)
Marco Scandella ($4,000,000)
Justin Schultz (RFA 2016-17)
Jared Spurgeon ($5,187,500)
Trevor van Riemsdyk ($825,000)

Interesting hodge-podge of names here. Some are victims of playing on good teams, none more than Despres. There's no way Anaheim holds onto him if it must protect Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Cam Fowler first. It would have to expose a lot of forwards if it wanted to protect four D-men. Scandella and Spurgeon find themselves in similar situations, as the Wild would likely commit to Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba. Same goes with Ellis and Nashville, which would protect Shea Weber and Roman Josi and likely have to choose between Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. Klein's a guy I only see going unprotected if a no-movement clause saves Dan Girardi. Orpik is a perfect expansion draft player. He has no contract restrictions, and he's expensive enough to boost Vegas' salary floor number while still playing competent enough defense to be an asset. Braun over Paul Martin in San Jose? My apologies. I'm drinking the Kool-Aid because Martin and Brent Burns make such lovely music together.

No-trade/movement clauses:
Zdeno Chara ($6,916,667)
Dan Girardi ($5,500,000)
Josh Gorges ($3,900,000)
Mike Green ($6,000,000)
Alexei Emelin ($4,100,000)
Toby Enstrom ($5,750,000)
Dion Phaneuf ($7,000,000)
Dennis Seidenberg ($4,000,000)
Fedor Tyutin ($4,500,000)

Vegas' defense corps improves dramatically if NMC and NTC guys aren't exempt. Guys like Chara and Girardi check off every box. They're expensive enough to weigh their current teams down and would help those teams expose at least 25 percent of their salary cap commitments. They're past their primes, so their teams wouldn't mind getting them off the books. They're established leaders who could wear the 'C' on an expansion club. And they'd help Vegas reach its salary floor.

FORWARDS

Exposable:
Jay Beagle ($1,750,000)
Lance Bouma ($2,200,000)
Matt Calvert ($2,200,000)
Kyle Clifford ($1,600,000)
Blake Comeau ($2,400,000)
Derek Dorsett ($2,650,000)
Jesper Fast (RFA 2017-18)
Marian Gaborik ($4,875,000)
Mikhail Grabovski ($5,000,000)
Jimmy Hayes ($2,300,000)
Mark Letestu ($1,800,000)
Cody McLeod ($1,333,333)
Jean-Gabriel Pageau (RFA 2017-18)
Benoit Pouliot ($4,000,000)
Matt Read ($3,625,000)
Antoine Roussel (2,000,000)
Craig Smith ($4,250,000)

This list looks like, well, every expansion team ever. It's a collection of serviceable third-line types, with a few exceptions. Gaborik is a rare expensive top-six forward dangling in the wind without a NTC or NMC. Vegas would need someone to put the puck in the net, so he'd be an ideal claim. A decent young forward like Jimmy Hayes feels odd to expose, but Boston has too many other important players locked up long-term up front, and Brad Marchand likely re-signs when his deal ends next summer.

No-trade/movement clauses:
Tyler Bozak ($4,200,000)
Dustin Brown ($5,875,000)
Ryan Callahan ($5,800,000)
David Clarkson ($5,250,000)
Andrew Cogliano ($3,000,000)
Valtteri Filppula ($5,000,000)
Scott Hartnell ($4,750,000)
Marian Hossa ($5,275,000)
Ryan Kesler ($6,875,000)
Phil Kessel ($6,800,000)
Joffrey Lupul ($5,250,000)
Clarke MacArthur ($4,650,000)
Matt Moulson ($5,000,000)
Rick Nash ($7,800,000)
Jason Pominville ($5,600,000)
Jordan Staal ($6,000,000)
Matt Stajan ($3,125,000)

Here's where things get really interesting. First, we'd get plenty of teams putting aside their pride and saying, "Yes, we want a do-over with that contract." Brown, Jordan Staal and Callahan come to mind and could be veteran leaders for Vegas. Might the odd team expose a massive name with a ton of years left on his deal, just to clear the books? What if the Pittsburgh Penguins are truly in transition by summer 2017 and decide they'll never find a trade partner willing to take on Kessel's cap number? And might the Rangers decide they're better off signing two players totalling Nash's cap hit? Lastly, would a few beloved veterans get nudged out the door? Kesler and Hossa raise my eyebrows. By summer 2017, they'll each have two more (potentially deep) playoff runs on their tire treads. Maybe they become casualties because of their teams' depth.

Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin

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Expansion draft 2017: which players might get shipped to Vegas?