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Expansion Draft Playbook: Central Division Part 1

As the Stanley Cup Playoffs wound down Sunday night, NHL GMs may have taken a moment to take a quick breath after another marathon season and heart-stopping finals. But they won’t have time for much more than that.

Every year the weeks between the Stanley Cup Final and the entry draft are some of the most entertaining of all, but this year promises to be doubly so. In addition to a wildcard-riddled draft, we’ve got the added wrinkle of a new team joining the mix. And boy oh boy are things going to get messy.

With the expansion draft now in sight as the next big milestone for hockey fans, it’s time for GMs and fans alike to turn their attention to which players teams might protect. There are tough decisions ahead for everyone, and the only team guaranteed not to lose an important roster piece is the team whose roster so far consists solely of junior and KHL free agent signings.

With that in mind, we at Jets Nation thought it might be fun to see not only who our own Winnipeg Jets have to scramble to protect, but who our division rivals might be tripping over themselves to shield from Las Vegas as well. Here’s the expansion draft playbook for the Central Division, part 1.

Chicago Blackhawks:

The offseason hadn’t started yet before the rumor mill started churning out potential deals involving the Blackhawks. TSN’s Frank Seravalli kicked it off by reporting the Hawks would allow the Golden Knights to take Trevor van Riemsdyk in the draft if they also took on Marcus Kruger in a trade.

Then came this juicy little nugget of information from Jay Zawaski of 670 The Score in Chicago.

The internet took this and ran with it, and most people assumed this meant Brent Seabrook was soon to be on the move. Since Seabrook has a massive cap hit and full no-movement clause, it would make sense for Chicago to move him ahead of the expansion draft. Whether it would make sense for a team to take him, and whether Seabrook would agree to go, is still up in the air.

As of this writing, neither of these things has happened. My protected list for Chicago will go on the assumption that neither of these things does happen until the Blackhawks prove otherwise. Just be aware, this could change in a hurry.

7 Forwards: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Dennis Rasmussen, Artem Anisimov, Richard Panik, Ryan Hartman

3 Defenseman: Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson

Goaltender: Corey Crawford

Chicago is a bit handcuffed here, as a ton of their players have NMCs. As of now, none have waived them, so Kane, Toews, Hossa, Keith, Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson all have to be protected. On the other hand, Panarin is a second-year pro, so he is exempt. And really, who of those forwards would you not protect?

The first six forward slots were easy, as Kane and Toews were locks even without NMCs, Hossa is a must-protect, and Anisimov is their second line center. Ryan Hartman, the club’s first-round pick back in 2013, is also coming along nicely with a 19-goal season last year, and Richard Panik had a breakout year with the club.

It seemed to come down to Dennis Rasmussen or Marcus Kruger, but even ignoring the rumors surrounding Kruger, the Hawks would surely rather expose the more expensive player. At any rate, there are rules about who can be exposed and how much experience they have to have, and the Hawks have already protected their most experienced players up front. Kruger, if he isn’t traded, is the odd man out.

On defense, the choices were really simple. Three spots, three NMCs. My work is done for me. Again, we’re assuming Seabrook doesn’t get moved here. Chicago will have to expose a goaltender, and right now they don’t have a backup with the trade of Scott Darling, but they can expose a minor-leaguer as long as they extend him a qualifying offer. Realistically it doesn’t matter what goalie the Hawks expose.

Realistically it doesn’t matter what goalie the Hawks expose. They’ll protect Crawford, and if van Riemsdyk is available the Golden Knights are almost certain to take him. Luckily for Chicago, many of their forwards are exempt, so they won’t experience too much of a roster shakeup up front.

Colorado Avalanche

There was joking among the Avs fanbase that, after the year they had, they ought to be the ones having an expansion draft. With one of the worst records of the last 20 years and lowest point total of a non-expansion franchise since the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1998, it’s hard to argue.

Yet, like the rest of the league, Colorado must submit it’s protected list. The rumor mill is swirling furiously around Matt Duchene, and will until either the season starts or he’s eventually traded, but for now he has to be included here as a trade has not happened as of this writing.

The other rumor surrounding Colorado is that, despite what you might expect, they’ll be protecting goaltender Semyon Varlamov instead of up-and-comer Calvin Pickard. It doesn’t make much sense to me, but then neither Avs goaltender was stellar last season.

I, however, will be going a different route on this one. Varlamov’s age, cap hit, and recent injury history (he played just 24 games last year) mean the younger Pickard, who had a better season statistically anyway and is coming off a solid World Championships performance for Canada, will be my protected goalie.

As for what route the Avs will go, well, I don’t think they feel they have seven forwards worth protecting. There’s a lot of players on that roster who didn’t live up to their contracts last year. With Tyson Jost and Mikko Rantanen being ineligible for this draft, protecting Matt Duchene (who, again, we are assuming is not traded) Gabriel Landeskog (same assumption) and Nathan MacKinnon means every one of Colorado’s top forwards is protected. The rest? Well, I doubt Avs fans would lose sleep over any of their departures.

4 Forwards: Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Sven Andrighetto

4 Defensemen: Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Nikita Zadorov, Francois Beauchemin

Goaltender: Calvin Pickard

If you look at that defense, you’ll see pretty quickly that one of these things is not like the others. Johnson and Zadorov were both hurt last year, but Johnson was effective when he played, and Jets fans will remember full well why the Avs are fond of Nikita Zadorov. Even though he’s unsigned, expect the Avs to protect him.

Tyson Barrie may have had an off year, but the whole team had an off year frankly, and Barrie still managed solid numbers as an offensive defenseman. Francois Beauchemin, however, went from a stellar 2015-16 campaign to a nightmarish season in 2016-17. He’s somebody the Avs may try to get to waive his NMC, and if he won’t do that he may be a buyout candidate. As of now, neither of those things has happened, so he stays on this list.

If he goes, the logical guy to protect is Mark Barberio, who fit in nicely on the Avs defense after coming over from Montreal.

In goal, it’s no contest in my mind. Varlamov’s age, contract, and injury history mean that even if he’s available, Vegas might leave him alone. No way are they taking him over Marc-Andre Fleury or Philipp Grubauer.

The Avs aren’t likely to lose anyone too important in the draft, if we’re being honest. They can protect four of their top six forwards, and the other two are exempt.

That concludes our look at the first two of the Jets’ Central Division rivals as I see it. Up next: Dallas and Minnesota.

  • s8cc

    Solid take. As I read through these and other articles, I wonder how the “non-hockey” factors, personality, impact on the dressing room, precedent etc. will impact the expansion draft. I won’t be surprised if several eyebrows raise when the teams release their protected lists.