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Expansion draft preview: Central Division

Matt Larkin
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Expansion draft preview: Central Division

Trevor van Riemsdyk. Image by: Getty Images

News

Expansion draft preview: Central Division

Matt Larkin
By:

How will the expansion draft affect each NHL roster? We continue our previews with the Central Division.
 

The Vegas Golden Knights will start negotiating with free agents and selecting players in a little more than a month. Time to predict which players each team protects, which they trade and whom they lose to the Golden Knights.

Last week, we previewed the Atlantic Division. Now it’s time for the Central.

A quick rule refresher:

1. The Golden Knights will have an early negotiation window, expected to be two days, with restricted and unrestricted free agents leading up to the official unveiling of their 30-man roster June 21. Vegas can sign UFAs and RFAs during that period and include them as part of their expansion draft.

2. Any player Vegas signs as a free agent during the exclusive window will count as his previous team’s “picked player” for the expansion draft, and that team cannot lose another player.

3. After Vegas’ exclusive window expires, it can’t sign additional players until July 1.

4. Vegas must draft at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies. It must pick at least 20 players already under contract for 2017-18.

5. Vegas must amass a roster with a minimum payroll of at least 60 percent of the league-wide cap.

6. Players with no-movement clauses must be protected by their teams unless the players agree to waive their clauses.

7. Teams can only protect one goaltender.

8. First and second-year pros and unsigned draft choices are exempt from selection.

9. Teams can protect seven forwards, three defenseman and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie.

Click here to review additional rules.


CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Projected protected players

Artem Anisimov (NMC)
Corey Crawford (NMC)
Ryan Hartman
Niklas Hjalmarsson (NMC)
Marian Hossa (NMC)
Patrick Kane (NMC)
Duncan Keith (NMC)
Richard Panik
Dennis Rasmussen
Jonathan Toews (NMC)
Brent Seabrook (NMC)

Trade candidate: The Blackhawks are crunched against the salary cap as usual, making Marcus Kruger’s $3.08-million cap hit a real luxury for a checking-line center, even if he’s a good one. There’s a solid chance GM Stan Bowman exposes Kruger in the expansion draft, but will Vegas pounce at that price through 2018-19? It’s no sure thing. A trade is the more realistic path to shedding Kruger’s salary.

Expansion draft bait: The Hawks are loaded with no-movement clauses and have far more than four forwards to protect, so it’s tough to imagine any scenario in which they can protect more than three blueliners. It appears they’ll have to go 7-3-1, and Keith, Seabrook and Hjalmarsson have NMCs, making Trevor van Riemsdyk the odd man out. He’s a slam-dunk grab for Vegas, still just 25 and carrying a reasonable $825,000 cap hit.

Wild card: Brent Seabrook’s name used to regularly pop up in rumor mills. The Hawks probably need him too much to lose him, especially with Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya becoming unrestricted free agents, but if Bowman decides he’s in true cap-crisis mode, might he explore the trade market for Seabrook


COLORADO AVALANCHE

Projected protected players

Sven Andrighetto
Tyson Barrie
Matt Duchene
Erik Johnson (NMC)
Gabriel Landeskog
Nathan MacKinnon
Semyon Varlamov
Patrick Wiercioch
Nikita Zadorov
NMC waived: Francois Beauchemin

Trade candidate: Hmm, let’s see…can we say “the whole team”? The Avs just completed the worst season by any team in the cap era and are open to moving almost anyone. Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog obviously headline the list, and both could end up moving in blockbuster deals by draft day.

Expansion draft bait: The guess here is the Avs decide to invest in the untapped potential of former Sabres first-rounder Nikita Zadorov, not former Sabres first-rounder Mikhail Grigorenko, as Zadorov was always likely to mature slower as a mammoth defenseman. With Colorado protecting four forwards and four ‘D,’ a young forward with upside like Grigorenko will wind up exposed and would tempt Vegas.

Wild card: In theory, Francois Beauchemin shouldn’t mind waiving his no-movement clause, because it’s unlikely Vegas claims a 36-year-old with a $4.5-million cap hit. If he doesn’t waive it, though, Colorado could lose a young blueliner like Wiercioch. And hey, maybe GM Joe Sakic decides he can’t risk exposing Beauchemin, whose deal expires next summer, making him a solid trade-deadline chip to shop next winter. I’m not convinced the Avs buy Beauchemin out – not when he might have mid-season trade value.


DALLAS STARS

Projected protected players

Jamie Benn (NMC)
Ben Bishop (NMC)
Radek Faksa
Stephen Johns
John Klingberg
Esa Lindell
Valeri Nichushkin
Brett Ritchie
Antoine Roussel
Jason Spezza (NMC)
Tyler Seguin

Trade candidate: After signing Bishop as their new starting goaltender, the Stars obviously need to move Antti Niemi, Kari Lehtonen or both. General manager Jim Nill has the green light to buy out a goalie, as Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski reports, but prefers to explore trade options first. Nill doesn’t expect Vegas to claim Lehtonen or Niemi in the expansion draft but hopes the Golden Knights create holes on other rosters who may want a backup on an expiring contract. Lehtonen and Niemi become UFAs next summer.

Expansion draft bait: Cody Eakin endured a nightmarish 2016-17, with just three goals and 12 points in 60 games and missing time with a knee injury. Suddenly his $3.85-million cap hit looks cumbersome, and he’s signed for three more seasons. The Stars likely have to choose between exposing him or Antoine Roussel, and Roussel has just one year left on his deal at a much more reasonable $2-million AAV.  From Vegas’ perspective, Eakin is an established two-way center with good years left at 25, so he wouldn’t be an overly foolish investment for a team needing to populate its roster with reliable NHLers.

Wild card: Is it a guarantee the Stars protect Nichushkin? Acquiring Bishop reminds us they are a win-now operation, so protecting Roussel and Eakin and exposing Nichushkin might make Dallas better immediately since Nichushkin has another year left on his KHL deal.


MINNESOTA WILD

Projected protected players

Charlie Coyle
Devan Dubnyk
Matt Dumba
Mikael Granlund
Mikko Koivu (NMC)
Nino Niederreiter
Zach Parise (NMC)
Jared Spurgeon
Eric Staal
Ryan Suter (NMC)
Jason Zucker
NMC waived: Jason Pominville

Trade candidate: According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, teams are circling the Wild, aware of their dicey expansion draft situation, and asking about Nino Niederreiter. He’s 24, fresh off a 25-goal season and one of the best possession players around. He’d fetch quite a prize.

Expansion draft bait: Jonas Brodin hasn’t matched the potential he showed as a rookie in 2012-13, and his contract is starting to take on water. He’s signed at a $4.17-million cap hit through 2020-21. He’s still young for a blueliner at 23, however, and would offer more upside than most of the options available to Vegas. Someone will have to eat minutes for the Golden Knights, and while Brodin’s ice time has plummeted the past two years, he averaged more than 23 minutes a game in each of his first three seasons with Minnesota.

Wild card: If Pominville doesn’t waive his NMC, as I’ve imagined he would, and the Wild don’t trade Niederreiter, could Zucker become an expansion draft casualty? Probably not, but you know he’d be a dream add for the Golden Knights. He’s the first Las Vegas-raised player in NHL history.


NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Projected protected players

Viktor Arvidsson
Mattias Ekholm
Ryan Ellis
Filip Forsberg
Ryan Johansen
Roman Josi
James Neal
P.K. Subban
Pekka Rinne (NMC)

Trade candidate: Colin Wilson has shown flashes of brilliance in previous playoff years, is still in his prime at 27 and makes for a useful middle-six piece on any team. It’s tough to see any scenario in which the Preds protect him over Neal, however. Rather than expose Wilson and risk losing him for nothing, they should explore the trade market.

Expansion draft bait: If Vegas deems Wilson too pricey at a $3.94-million AAV, Calle Jarnkrok makes a ton of sense. He has an extremely reasonable contract with just a $2-million cap hit through 2021-22 and averages 15.5 goals and 30.5 points over the past two seasons with less than 16 minutes of ice time.

Wild card: Maybe Golden Knights GM George McPhee becomes open to eating Wilson or Craig Smith’s cap numbers if Preds GM David Poile provides draft-pick compensation. It would be a clever way to steer the Knights away from Jarnkrok or Austin Watson.


ST. LOUIS BLUES

Projected protected players

Jake Allen
Patrik Berglund
Jay Bouwmeester
Joel Edmundson
Alex Pietrangelo
David Perron
Jaden Schwartz
Vladimir Sobotka
Paul Stastny
Alexander Steen
Vladimir Tarasenko

Trade candidate: The Blues have already announced that they’re using the 7-3-1 protection plan, meaning only three expansion-eligible blueliners are safe. Colton Parayko is exempt, and Pietrangelo and Edmundson are virtual locks to be protected, meaning one of Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson should be exposed. The guess here is Gunnarsson, and that’s a pretty handy depth defenseman to lose for nothing. General manager Doug Armstrong could find a trade partner for Gunnarsson before Vegas gets its hands on him.

Expansion draft bait: The Blues have a nice array of appealing options to attract Vegas on top of Gunnarsson. Someone has to unshackle Nail Yakupov for once in his career and see what he does with more freedom. It’s too fun not to try. Magnus Paajarvi showed signs of life this season, too. The Golden Knights could also swallow the last two years of Jori Lehtera’s contract, with a $4.7-million cap hit, in exchange for draft-pick compensation.

Wild card: The Blues project to have just $4.47-million in cap space this summer, while RFA Parayko needs a long-term deal and should seek something close to what Morgan Rielly and Seth Jones got last summer. That puts Parayko in the $5-million stratosphere. The Blues, then, desperately need to lighten their wallet elsewhere. If Lehtera doesn’t work for Vegas, would exposing the more capable and slightly cheaper David Perron be a nice compromise? The Blues could then protect tough guy Ryan Reaves.


WINNIPEG JETS

Projected protected players

Joel Armia
Dustin Byfuglien (NMC)
Marko Dano
Connor Hellebuyck
Bryan Little
Adam Lowry
Tyler Myers
Mathieu Perreault
Mark Scheifele
Jacob Trouba
Blake Wheeler
NMC waived: Toby Enstrom

Trade candidate: The Jets’ farm crop rated as the NHL’s best in THN’s 2017 edition of Future Watch. On top of an enviable youth core already toiling in the NHL, including Scheifele, Trouba, Hellebuyck, Nikolaj Ehlers, Patrik Laine and Josh Morrissey, the Jets have Kyle Connor, Jack Roslovic and Logan Stanley on the way. This team has to start reaching the playoffs and making the most of its young guns’ best years. Winnipeg doesn’t need any more picks and prospects. It’s stacked enough. That means GM Kevin Cheveldayoff should consider shopping his blue-chippers and first-round picks if it can help the Jets land a marquee veteran, ideally a top-four defenseman. Could that mean dangling Conor, Roslovic or Stanley?

Expansion draft bait: Goalie Michael Hutchinson, the 1B to Hellebuyck’s 1A, should appeal to Vegas. He’s a serviceable, relatively young platoon guy under contract just one more season at $1.15 million. Losing him wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Jets, either, as they’d be wise to acquire more established veteran goalie to mentor Hellebuyck, perhaps a UFA such as Steve Mason or Brian Elliott.

Wild card: The Jets’ entire protection strategy hinges on Enstrom’s willingness to waive his NMC. If he doesn’t, they must protect four D-men, meaning they can only protect four forwards instead of seven. Enstrom would really cripple the Jets if he’s a stick in the mud, and he’s pretty unlikely to be claimed anyway with his $5.75-million cap hit and recent injury history. Reports out of Winnipeg suggest he really wants to remain a Jet and isn’t comfortable discussing his NMC, so this is a story to watch closely.

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Expansion draft preview: Central Division