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 break down 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. I'll be using the Seattle Expansion Draft Simulator from our friends at CapFriendly.com, feel free to give it a whirl.
Without further ado, let's dive into the Eastern Conference with the Metropolitan Division.
Carolina Hurricanes (7/3/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: Jordan Staal
His cap hit isn't outrageous ($6 million) and he is still a solid contributor, but for the second straight year, Staal failed to top the 30-point threshold. An argument could certainly be made that the 31-year-old's best days are behind him and the club would be better suited to expose him in the expansion draft to make way for some younger, up-and-coming talent. I wouldn't expect the Canes to ask Staal to waive his NMC, but if he didn't have that in his pocket, he might be available for Seattle.
Netminder: Petr Mrazek
Mrazek has certainly has his struggles in previous stops in Detroit and Philadelphia but appears to have found his home in Carolina. The netminder will be a pending free agent heading into July of 2021, yet I wouldn't be surprised if a long-term deal was reached well in advance of the expansion draft.
There are certainly some wild cards on the Canes' blue line that could add some intriguing to this decision, but for the most part, it should be pretty straight forward. Youngster Jake Bean could put himself into the mix with a strong 2020-21 campaign and whether Sami Vatanen re-signs this upcoming offseason could move the needle for general manager Don Waddell.
Aho, Teravainen and Svechnikov represent the top-three scorers for the team this past season and the club just forked over a king's ransom to secure Trocheck, so don't expect any of those guys to be going anywhere. The question from there comes down to Dzingel and Nino Niederreiter, both of whom have underperformed, or youngsters like Foegele, Morgan Geekie and Saku Maenalanen. I would expect the team to go with one of each, rather than keeping two veterans or two youngsters, with Dzingel and Foegele leading their respective camps.
Columbus Blue Jackets (7/3/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: None
Netminder: Joonas Korpisalo
General manager Jarmo Kekalainen may be facing the easiest goaltending decision of any GM in the league considering Elvis Merzlikins is exempt from the draft. The Jackets can protect the future of the franchise in Korpisalo without having to part ways with a talented prospect in Merzlikins, assuming they haven't already parlayed Merzlikins into additional pieces via trade by the time we get to July 2021.
Werenski and Jones might as well have no-movement clauses for the all the chances either has of not being protected. While the club has a couple of intriguing options beyond those top two, there is nobody that would be worth exposing three additional forward. The 2020-21 campaign will likely be the proving ground for whether the club goes with Gavrikov, who I give the inside edge to, or the oft-injured Ryan Murray.
There aren't any names on the above list that should come as a surprise, as all seven players topped the 20-point mark this season. The final spot comes down to either Foligno or Brandon Dubinsky – Columbus benefits once again by having Emil Bemstrom, Alexandre Texier and Liam Foudy all exempt. Dubinsky hasn't played nearly a year due to a wrist injury and will cost the team more against the cap, though he does have more potential upside than Foligno.
New Jersey Devils (7/3/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: None
Netminder: MacKenzie Blackwood
In short, who else was it going to be for the Devils? The club has already buried Cory Schneider in the minors once and will no doubt be trying to move him this summer in order to get his $6 million cap hit off the books.
Unfortunately, the P.K. Subban acquisition has been an absolute flop that no doubt factored into the Devils' decision to part ways with general manager Ray Shero. Finding a trade partner for the 30-year-old's blueliner's $9 million cap hit won't be easy, which is part of the reason New Jersey shipped Sami Vatanen and Andy Greene out at the deadline this year instead. Depending on how the 2020-21 campaign unfolds, Mirco Mueller could work his way onto the protected list.
Nikita Gusev and Jack Hughes being exempt allows the Devils to go really deep in the forward group. These decisions were also made easier when the club shipped Blake Coleman, Taylor Hall and Wayne Simmonds out at the trade deadline this year. The one question mark is whether Anderson or Kevin Rooney will take the final spot. The club knows what it has in Rooney, a bottom-six center with minimal offensive upside, whereas Anderson could develop into a depth scorer capable of putting up 30 points a year.
New York Islanders (7/3/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: None
Netminder: Semyon Varlamov
Looking at the roster as it is currently constructed, Varlamov is the easy pick here. There's a chance that Thomas Greiss could be snatched up to serve as a backup in Seattle, but the Islanders have Jared Coreau or Christopher Gibson waiting in the wings to fill that role. The wild card here is whether Ilya Sorokin will be considered a protected asset, though I believe the answer will be yes given his eight-year KHL career. If he joins the Isles for the 2020-21 campaign and puts up decent numbers, Varlamov could find himself on the exposed list.
The biggest consideration here is what side of the puck the Islanders are worried about trying to replace. Pulock leads the team in blue-line scoring this season and should be considered a lock here, while Leddy has also provided solid production. For me, it comes down to weighing another offensively-minded guy like Devon Toews against a shutdown defender in Adam Pelech. Don't sleep on the fact that when Pelech went down with an Achilles injury this year, New York's season hit the skids, leading to them being on the outside looking in for a playoff spot prior to the league shutdown.
Were it not for the glut of talent among the forwards, the Isles could consider keeping four blueliners instead, but it would essentially cost them Pageau, Beauvillier and Eberle in order to protect Toews and Pelech, and that simply isn't going to happen. There aren't really any guys that would warrant consideration over the above group unless one of the aforementioned player's production significantly drops off.
New York Rangers (7/3/1)
For a team in the midst of a rebuild, having four players under no-movement clauses could pose a potential problem, but not this list. Panarin should be under consideration for this season's Hart Trophy, Zibanejad has racked up 41 goals this year, Kreider was on every team's trade target list and Trouba may be the team's best all-around defenseman.
Netminder: Alexandar Georgiev
The future is here for the Rangers, and ultimately that means parting ways with Henrik Lundqvist, a franchise netminder who has racked up 459 career wins (sixth most all-time) and who's been the face of the team since coming across the pond back in 2005-06. It's not an easy decision, but the Swedish goalie is 38 years old and the transition needs to be made to protect the future of the club.
A breakout season for DeAngelo (53 points in 68 games) cemented him on this list. Lindgren gets to stay in the Big Apple only because the club traded away Brady Skjei, Adam Fox is exempt and Marc Staal and Brendan Smith both make too much money – $5.7 and $4.35 million respectively – otherwise he'd likely be left exposed.
Young, inexpensive talent is essential to succeeding in today's NHL, which is why Chytil and Andersson make the protected list over Matt Beleskey and Jesper Fast. At the end of the day, if the team makes the choice to leave Lundqvist unprotected, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which he isn't Seattle's choice, and the Rangers really don't have to worry about losing any skaters.
Philadelphia Flyers (7/3/1)
Both of these guys have topped the 20-goal mark this season and Hayes was on pace for a career-high goal total prior to the league going on hiatus. The only concern for the 27-year-old forward is his lack of consistency – he had goalless streaks of 12, eight and six games this season. Still, those concerns wouldn't have been enough to warrant exposing him, even if he didn't have a NMC.
Netminder: Carter Hart
The Flyers have a franchise No. 1 between the pipes for the first time in decades. Sure, Brian Elliott performed well while Hart was on the shelf with an abdominal injury this season, but decisions don't get much more straightforward than this one. The 21-year-old Hart could realistically be the starting goalie in the City of Brotherly Love for the next decade.
As easy as the goaltending decision will be, the Flyers will face some difficult choices on the blue line. The only safe bet here is Provorov, who leads all Philadelphia defensemen with 13 goals and 23 helpers in 69 appearances this year. Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun are both entering their mid-30s, while Shayne Gostisbehere has struggled to secure a regular spot in the lineup. If you exclude those three guys for the above factors, which is by no means guaranteed, that leaves you with two spots for Sanheim, Myers and Samuel Morin. The extended injury absence for Morin this season likely leaves him unprotected, though a strong 2020-21 campaign could tip the scales.
In addition to Hayes and Giroux, both Couturier and Konecny have crested the 20-goal threshold this year and aren't going to be left unprotected. There really aren't any question marks with the rest of this list, either, as Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl and Nate Thompson haven't shown enough to unseat the likes of Pitlick or JVR, though Pitlick could leave during free agency this summer, which would open up an extra forward spot.
Pittsburgh Penguins (7/3/1)
A look at the Penguins' 2009 Stanley Cup team will tell you all you need to know, as these three guys are the only ones still with Pittsburgh more than 10 years later. Sure, they're all entering their mid-30's, but there is little chance the organization would let one of them walk for nothing in an expansion draft.
Netminder: Tristan Jarry
Once again, the Penguins find themselves with a difficult decision between the pipes. Matt Murray is a two-time Stanley Cup champion that has struggled to find consistency as a full-time No. 1. Jarry was primarily on the 23-man roster at the start of the 2019-20 campaign due to the team's cap crunch, but he played his way into the starting role for much of the season. Ultimately, this decision will likely be made based on each player's performance in 2020-21. However, at this point in time, it seems prudent to protect the steadier Jarry.
Justin Schultz almost certainly will be signing somewhere else next season and nobody is going to mistake Jack Johnson for an elite, shutdown defender. John Marino is exempt from selection, which really leaves the Penguins with just three players to protect in order to secure their top-four blueliners.
While the team and fans haven't gotten to watch enough of Zucker in the Black & Gold following the league shutdown, there's a reason Jim Rutherford brought in a forward with added term on his contract – he's not going to turn around and expose him in the draft. Rust is coming off a breakout offensive season and Jake Guentzel is easily the best winger on this team. McCann should head into the 2020-21 campaign as the No. 3 center which leaves just one final spot. Patric Hornqvist's numbers have dipped and Nick Bjugstad has spent too much time on IR to warrant keeping either guy, which likely means the organization will use its last spot on the tenacious speedster Tanev.
Washington Capitals (7/3/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: Nicklas Backstrom
This list is as things stand right now, as Ovechkin's deal runs up at the end of 2020-21, so he won't technically be on a no-movement clause, which is why he's not listed here. The Caps will undoubtedly re-sign him and give him whatever NMC, NTC, owner's first-born son demand he makes. For now, the list only includes Backstrom, who may have only scored 12 goals this year, but he's still garnered 54 points.
Netminder: Braden Holtby
A lot can change in one year and Ilya Samsonov will certainly make his case, yet Holtby is only 30 years of age, even though it feels like he's been in the league forever. You don't walk away from a stud No. 1 netminder when he still has 8-10 solidly productive years ahead of him. Look for the Caps to try and shop Samsonov in the lead up to the July 2021 draft in order to get some value out of him.
Carlson led the team, not just defensemen, in points (75) this year prior to the shutdown. Orlov and Kempny were a distant second (27) and third (18) among defensemen, respectively, and nobody else really stands out as worth protecting in this blue-line group barring a dramatic uptick in production during the 2020-21 season.
I seriously considered leaving Oshie off this list in favor of Richard Panik, if only due to their respective cap hits ($5.75 million versus $2.75 million) and ages (33 versus 29), but Oshie remains one of the better goal scorers in the NHL and trailed only Ovechkin for the team lead this season. If selected by Seattle, it would be the sixth team for Panik in his eight-year NHL career and the lastest to believe his 44-point 2016-17 campaign wasn't a fluke.