With the NHL season currently suspended, now seems as good a time as any to take a look at what options Seattle might have available during the expansion draft, and what its team might look like as a result. Over the next several weeks, I'll do a division by division breakdown of which players I believe each of the 30 NHL clubs will protect (Vegas is exempt). Then, I'll assemble a team based on which players I believe will be left exposed.
First, a couple of disclaimers. This far out, it's hard to meet the exposure requirements in terms of players who will be under contract through 2020-21 and have met the various games played requirements. So for now, I am going to have to waive those exposure requirements. Additionally, we have a full offseason ahead of us during which players can and will be on the move. For example, Taylor Hall will be a free agent this summer, but for the sake of this exercise, I am going to assume Arizona would protect him. I'll be using the Seattle Expansion Draft Simulator from our friends at CapFriendly.com, feel free to give it a whirl.
Of course, there are going to be hard choices to make and players left exposed that fan bases will be upset about (there are still those in Pittsburgh who think the team should have kept Marc-Andre Fleury), so I would encourage you to dive into the comments and voice your take on where I went wrong and who you think should be protected instead. Now, without further ado, the Pacific Division break down:
Anaheim Ducks (7/3/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: None
Netminder: John Gibson
There really was no question here that Gibson would be the protected goaltender. Ryan Miller figures to have retired by this point and few teams would waste their pick on the untested Anthony Stolarz.
Fowler and Lindholm are no-brainer locks to be protected, so it comes down to the third choice. Going strictly based on offensive production last season, Michael Del Zotto would be the next best choice, however, I believe Manson provides more long-term upside despite the fact that he managed just nine points in 50 games this year and has yet to live up to his 2017-18 campaign during which he racked up 37 points.
The Ducks are entering a rebuild and will need to focus on younger players, which means exposing Ryan Kesler, David Backes and Patrick Eaves. I believe the final decision will come down to two spots, with Heinen and Terry leading the way. Max Jones, Kiefer Sherwood and Isac Lundestrom could all factor into the decision here. Perhaps no team has more spots up in the air than the Ducks heading into the 2020-21 season.
Arizona Coyotes (7/3/1)
In addition to Kessel and OEL, assuming he's still with the team, Taylor Hall's next contract will almost certainly include a NMC – not that the Coyotes would want to move him anyway after signing him to a long-term deal.
Netminder: Darcy Kuemper
Kuemper probably would've reached the 20-win mark if not for the suspension of the regular season but was still unlikely to replicate his 2018-19 numbers, in part due to an extended injury absence. Still, the 29-year-old netminder is less injury-prone than Antti Raanta, who the organization can likely leave exposed without losing him.
Chychrun won't come as a surprise but keeping Oesterle over Alex Goligoski and Niklas Hjalmarsson may raise some eyebrows. Both players carry cap hits of over $5 million and will be in their mid-30s, so it seems as good a time as any to potentially let one go and reap the cap savings. The 27-year-old Oesterle can be a solid 20-plus point producer and offers more upside than players like Jason Demers or Ilya Lyubushkin.
Perhaps the most striking absence from this list will be Carl Soderberg, but looking at his age (34) and cap hit ($4.75 million) he may not even be on the team heading into the 2020-21 season. If he is under contract, he could be an intriguing pick up for Seattle in order to reach the cap floor requirement. Schmaltz, Keller, Garland and Dvorak were the top-four point producers for the Yotes this past season, which makes them virtual locks for protection. An argument could be made to keep the younger Lawson Crouse over Derek Stepan, however, replacing a top-six center is no easy feat.
Calgary Flames (7/3/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: Milan Lucic
It seems unlikely that the Flames will have to use one of their protected picks on Lucic, as they'll undoubtedly try to move him prior to next season or ask him to waive his NMC in order to allow him to be taken by Seattle. If he does opt to allow himself to be exposed in the expansion draft, the Flames could move away from the 7/3/1 model.
Netminder: David Rittich
There is no other viable option here for Calgary. Despite stealing a few starts away from Rittich down the stretch, Cam Talbot hasn't shown enough to warrant protection.
There isn't a typo here, I did in fact leave Mark Giordano off the list. Another year in, Giordano will be 37 years old and will be making $6.75 million against the cap. The veteran blueliner managed just 31 points prior to the shutdown, which would be his lowest point total since the 2012-13 lockout shortened campaign. It's certainly a tough call, but Hanifin, Brodie and Hamonic all offer more long-term benefit to the organization at this point.
Picking which players to protect out of this forward group may be the easiest in the Pacific Division. Tkachuk, Gaudreau, Lindholm, Monahan and Backlund were the top-five point producers for the Flames this season. Mangiapane might be the only question mark, but even he was the sixth leading scorer on the club, which gives him the edge over Derek Ryan and Sam Bennett.
Edmonton Oilers (4/4/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: None
Netminder: Mikko Koskinen
Like the Flames, there aren't any alternatives for the Oilers, as Mike Smith could be retired by the time the expansion draft comes around and there aren't any depth options within Edmonton's system that warrant being protected.
This is the first instance I've found where it would make sense for a team to go with the 4/4/1 model to protect an extra blueliner. While Klefbom and Nurse are pretty much locks, an argument could be made that Adam Larsson isn't worth his $4.17 million cap hit. Still, replacing a shutdown right-handed defender wouldn't be easy. If Caleb Jones continues his current trajectory, he could be an option over Larsson.
Athanasiou is the only question mark on this list, as it figures to come down to a choice between him or Zack Kassian. The fact of the matter is, you don't give up a pair of second-round picks for a player you are going to let walk in the expansion draft. Of course, this all depends on how contentious the contract talks become this offseason.
Los Angeles Kings (7/3/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: Drew Doughty
Doughty was a lock to be protected anyway, as he remains the lynchpin of the club's rebuild on the blue line. With 35 points in 67 games, the 30-year-old defender was one of the few bright spots for the Kings this year.
Netminder: Cal Petersen
For the second straight year, Jonathan Quick has failed to reach the 20-win mark, though he has been limited to less than 50 appearances in each of those campaigns. The 34-year-old's cap hit isn't outrageous ($5.8 million) but if the Kings are going all-in on this rebuild, they won't want to let a young netminder of Petersen's pedigree walk for nothing.
Walker is coming off a breakout season in which he notched five goals and 19 helpers, both career highs, and found himself logging nearly 19 minutes per game. Meanwhile, Hutton is slotting in as the shutdown defender alongside Doughty on the club's top pairing. Really, there were few other options here for Los Angeles.
This is where things start to get interesting for the Kings. As part of a rebuild, the team will need to part ways with some veterans, which means exposing the likes of Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter in favor of Blake Lizotte and Carl Grundstrom. The difficult decisions will be which of Trevor Lewis, Austin Wagner or Michael Amadio to protect, all of whom have NHL experience but limited ceilings.
San Jose Sharks (7/3/1)
Karlsson's recent health problems are no doubt a concern – he's played in less than 60 games in each of the previous two seasons – but he remains an elite-level offensive producer and the club almost certainly would have protected him anyway. Vlasic is just two seasons into the eight-year, $56 million contract the Sharks gave him in July of 2017, so the team's hands are tied.
Netminder: Martin Jones
Prior to the 2019-20 campaign, it would have been a lock for Jones to be the protected netminder, but after his difficult season, there will no doubt be certain members of the fanbase that feel Aaron Dell would be the better option. Jones will have one more year to prove that he's the guy in the Bay Area, which will ultimately determine his fate.
Defensemen: Karlsson, Vlasic, Brent Burns
Burns is 35 years of age, carrying an $8 million cap hit and just recorded his lowest point total since the 2012-13 lockout shortened season, so there are certainly arguments to be made against keeping him. However, the only viable alternative would be Tim Heed who doesn't offer anywhere near the offensive upside.
The first five names on this list are the same top five names on the Sharks' scoring list this season, so there should be no questions there. Whether to keep Sorenson will likely depend on what the team feels it can get out of Melker Karlsson, but I believe Sorenson offers the higher ceiling. The surprise name on this list is no doubt Jonathan Dahlen. The 22-year-old racked up 36 goals and 41 helpers in 51 appearances with Timra IK this year and he's too strong of a prospect to dangle in front of a Seattle club that will also need to have an eye on the future.
Vancouver Canucks (7/3/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: None
Netminder: Thatcher Demko
With 27 games under his belt this past season, it certainly appears that the organization is working toward making the transition to Demko in the near future, though the organization's long-term plans will likely be revealed this offseason when it decides whether to re-sign Jacob Markstrom.
The biggest win here for the Canucks is the fact that Quinn Hughes is exempt from the expansion draft. As a result, the organization can move ahead with a 7/3/1 model, with the only real question being Stecher or Chris Tanev. The fact that Stecher is younger and more cost effective likely tips the scale in his favor.
There aren't many questions here among this forward group, the only real discussion I can see is Tyler Toffoli over Adam Gaudette. As it stands right now, I'd stick with the more seasoned Toffoli, but the 2020-21 season could see the 23-year-old Gaudette state his case to be a part of the long-term future for Vancouver. It would give the team a center core of Pettersson, Horvat and Gaudette, which would be hard for most organizations to match up against.