Photo Credit: © Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Expansion Draft Playbook: Central Division Part 2

With the first two of the Winnipeg Jets’ central division rivals covered in part one of this series, it’s time to take a look at two more teams the Jets will be watching very closely as the expansion draft approaches.

The Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild were supposed to be two of the busier teams this offseason. Dallas was supposed to be in scramble mode trying to build a defense and goaltending tandem to match their high-octane offense (now that sounds familiar). Minnesota, meanwhile, was likely to be in full scramble mode themselves, trying to protect their numerous and vulnerable assets ahead of the expansion draft.

It’s public knowledge that Minnesota has painted themselves into the best possible corner ahead of June 21. They’ve got so many talented young players, both up front and on defense, that choosing who to protect is doubly difficult. They stand to lose a good player in almost any scenario.

It’s a problem most teams would kill to have, but Minnesota surely doesn’t feel too grateful for it now as the crazy days ahead of the expansion draft wind down. No doubt the Wild will try to swing a trade between now and the trade freeze and may try to swing one with Vegas afterward to better protect their best players.

As of this writing, however, neither Dallas nor Minnesota has made any trades, and no players on either team that we know of have been asked to waive their NMCs. With that in mind, this list, as the previous one did, will look at each team as they stand and act on the assumption that the rosters won’t change before the draft.

Dallas Stars:

Much like the Jets, the Stars problems last year lay largely at the feet of their goaltending. Neither Antti Niemi nor Kari Lehtonen posted anywhere near acceptable numbers. Unlike the Jets (so far) the Stars went a long way toward addressing that with the acquisition of Ben Bishop. Their luck in the lottery (something else the Jets can identify with) granted them the third overall pick as well. It’s been a successful offseason so far in Dallas.

If the Stars want to keep it that way, they’ll have to play their cards right in the expansion draft. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Jason Spezza all have to be protected thanks to NMCs, but it’s not like the Stars wouldn’t protect them anyway. On defense, you have to think Jon Klingberg is a lock to be protected as well. And no way are the Stars exposing newly-acquired Bishop in goal.

Beyond that, it’s tougher to say. Both Cody Eakin and Patrick Sharp had down years, but Sharp may still have some scoring touch left in him, and Eakin is still just 25. You have to think Dallas would be loath to lose super-pest Antoine Roussel, and young Radek Faksa is coming along nicely as well. Given that Dallas used a first-round pick on him just five years ago, and given that he had his first full NHL season just last year, he should be protected as well.

Oh, and here’s another wrinkle: the Stars have to protect Valeri Nichushkin as well if they want to keep him. So, with that in mind…

7 Forwards: Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Valeri Nichushkin, Radek Faksa, Antoine Roussel, Brett Ritchie

3 Defensemen: Jon Klingberg, Esa Lindell, Stephen Johns

Goaltender: Ben Bishop

Outside of the obvious names (Benn, Seguin, etc.) Dallas was quite a difficult team to gauge. Many of their players ride the fine line between needing to be protected and exemption, and once you got past the ones Dallas absolutely had to protect there were no obvious answers. Dallas is going to lose an important piece, though not a crucial one, in this draft. It could be Cody Eakin unless the Stars find a way to move him.

Or it could be Jamie Oleksiak. It was down to him and Stephen Johns on defense, and in my mind the hard-hitting Johns takes it. Though Dallas wouldn’t be happy losing either player, I think they’d miss a certain something Johns brings to the back end that no other defender they have really does.

Anyway, with Dallas, you could make a case for any number of other players to be protected or exposed. The Stars are in a tough spot here, no doubt about it, and Vegas is going to snag a serviceable skater from them.

But I’m sure the next team won’t be so difficult to… oh.

Minnesota Wild:

As if Dallas wasn’t hard enough.

I really don’t envy the Wild on this one. They’ve spent years cultivating this crop of young talent, building up players they drafted or traded for and turning them into an increasingly smooth-running machine (at least until the playoffs) and now they have to watch one of the players they’ve so carefully developed jump ship to Vegas.

The plethora of talent the Wild have available, and the near certainty of having to expose some of it, is why so many experts feel they’re bound to be the busiest team on the trade market. But can they get it done in time?

Of course, the Wild have hardly been sitting on their hands. They’ve already moved Tyler Graovac to Washington to give themselves some flexibility. What else might be in store for them?

Well, as we are once again assuming nobody waives any NMCs, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and Jason Pominville all have to be protected. So does Mikko Koivu, though I have to think he was getting protected anyway. And there’s no way Mikael Granlund or Charlie Coyle get exposed, not after the years they both had. Ditto for Nino Niederreiter.

With the Wild, at least one thing is certain: they’re going the 7-3-1 route. No way are they risking either of Coyle or Niederreiter by doing anything else. Suter accounts for one d spot. Jared Spurgeon occupies another. Matt Dumba almost certainly takes the third. It’s actually rather simple now that I break it down.

Only it isn’t. Protecting Suter, Spurgeon and Dumba leaves not one but both of Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin exposed. Up front, that could leave Jason Zucker, a Las Vegas native coming off a 22-goal campaign, up for grabs. That and… oh goodness, I forgot about Eric Staal. Staal seemingly revitalized his career last year but he may be the odd man out.

The Wild are going to lose somebody good. There’s no getting away from that. Even if they swing a couple of blockbusters before the trade freeze, somebody with a lot of talent is going to walk out of Minnesota for nothing.

7 Forwards: Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Eric Staal

3 Defensemen: Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba

Goaltender: Devan Dubnyk

Goaltending is just about the only area the Wild don’t have an agonizing decision ahead of them. Dubnyk is their guy in the crease. End of story.

Up front, I agonized a bit over whether to protect Staal or Zucker. I picked Staal because his presence at center gives the Wild two big, skilled pivots, and allows Charlie Coyle to stay on the wing where he thrived this season.

But man, losing either of Zucker or Jonas Brodin, the two players I believe the Wild are most likely to lose, would really sting. Of course if Minnesota can trade Zucker, they could then expose Chris Stewart and Erik Haula up front, and they wouldn’t feel that blow quite as much. That still doesn’t solve their blueline dilemma, however.

The Wild have the best problem imaginable, and right now I bet it’s driving them mad.