With the season firmly underway and the Predators (sort of) making us happy again, lets look ahead to next summer’s NHL expansion draft. The Vegas
Golden Knights are in need of a team and, I’m sorry to say it, they will have at least one current member of the Nashville Predators on their team. The rules make it so. But who will it be?
In case you are unfamiliar with this year’s expansion draft rules, here they are. They aren’t terribly complicated, but they are more complicated than previous expansion drafts. The league has all but guaranteed the new team in Vegas will be instantly competitive and not hindered by unsavory salary cap deals, overpaid veterans, and/or glorified AHL players. The Knights will be good.
In case those rules are just too much to take in at once, CapFriendly has a really great expansion draft tool that is super fun to play around with. You can go through each team, protect their players, then draft your team, all with only cursory knowledge of the requirements for each team. Beware: it may take about 2-4 hours of your day. Do it at work, I’m sure your boss won’t care.
For the purposes of this post, here are the protection options for each team:
- Seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender
- Eight skaters (forwards or defensemen) and one goaltender
But that’s not all. There are some additional requirements that all teams must follow:
- Any players with a NMC (“No Movement Clause”) in their contract at the time of the draft MUST be protected. Protecting these players DOES count in your total protected players.
- Each team must expose at least two forwards and one defenseman that A) are under contract for 2017-18 and B) played in 40 games in the 2016-17 season (or played in 70 games the previous two seasons).
- First and second year professionals (and unsigned draft picks) are exempt. They do not need to protected and cannot be selected by Vegas.
Those three other requirements are very important, but for the Predators it really only means a few things. First of all, the Preds will have no problem exposing forwards and defensemen that meet that second requirement. Miikka Salomaki and Austin Watson have already met the requirement, and Colton Sissons is a mere seven games away. Matt Irwin and/or Anthony Bitetto will likely meet that requirement, each needing 24 more games played this season. So all good on that front.
Pekka Rinne is the only player on the roster with a NMC and he will not likely waive that clause (which is an option that some teams may pursue). He would be protected anyway, considering how he has played this season and considering the investment that the Preds already have in Pekka. In addition (and this is very important, so pay attention herre) there is no need to protect any other goalie on the roster, because...
JUUSE SAROS DOES NOT NEED TO BE PROTECTED.
For some reason there was some panic and/or confusion about this, but Saros is exempt. So is Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Kamenev, Frederick Gaudreau, Yakov Trenin, and all the other guys we are stashing in Milwaukee for the time being.
Now back to the protection options.
Early on, it looked like the Predators were pretty much locked into the eight skaters option, considering the depth on the blueline. It certainly looks like that might still happen, but with the exceptional play of Viktor Arvidsson, the tempting nature of Colin Wilson, and the friendly contract of Calle Jarnkrok, the options are not quite as clear as they once were.
Here are your most likely protection scenarios for the Predators at this point (note: Pekka Rinne is already marked down as protected, so I won’t list him every time).
8 Skaters (4 forwards, 4 defensemen)
Exposes: Colin Wilson, Viktor Arvidsson, Calle Jarnkrok, Mike Fisher, Pontus Aberg, Colton Sissons, Miikka Salomaki, Anthony Bitetto
This is still the leading option for the Predators. This protects the top four defense that is under contract through at least 2019, plus it protects your three most important forwards. The 4th forward option is the most ambiguous one, but Craig Smith has to be the choice because of his consistency, cost, and cap length. He shoots around 10%, scores 20-25 goals a year, brings speed to the lineup, and is under contract for $4.25 million until 2020.
It is hard to see a scenario where the Predators select anyone other than these eight guys if they go with the eight skaters option. They aren’t likely to go with Mike Fisher, Colin Wilson, Viktor Arvidsson, Mike Ribeiro, or anyone else over Craig Smith because he just makes more sense. When it comes to options, he’s the best one.
But things change dramatically if you start looking at the other protection option.
7 Forwards/3 Defensemen
Exposes: Ryan Ellis, Mike Fisher, Pontus Aberg, Colton Sissons, Miikka Salomaki, Anthony Bitetto
So the obvious downside to this option is the potential exposure of Ryan Ellis. But before you cry in your afternoon tea, there may be a way around that. It might be possible to incentivize Vegas into not selecting Ryan Ellis by way of a trade. There is precedent for this sort of thing.
In the 2000 expansion draft, San Jose sent Jan Calhoun and a couple draft picks to the Columbus Blue Jackets if they agreed to not select Evgeni Nabokov. San Jose also traded Andy Sutton and couple picks to the Minnesota Wild so they wouldn’t take Nabokov either. In 1998, the Predators were dealt several players, including Kimmo Timonen and Sergei Krivokrasov, so they wouldn’t select certain players from the Kings and Blackhawks. This sort of thing happens and is perfectly allowed within the rules.
So if the Predators trade one of either Miikka Salomaki or Pontus Aberg plus a draft pick or two, the Preds can protect Ryan Ellis. Note that Vegas would still select an additional player from the exposed list, so you run the risk of losing either both of those players or one of them plus Sissons or Bitetto. Essentially you are allowing Vegas to choose two of your players, plus some draft picks, so they don’t touch Ellis.
Now let’s get crazy.
David Poile’s Wheel of Roster Protection, AKA The Confident Sheriff, AKA Wilson Roulette
7 Forwards/3 Defensemen
Exposes: Ryan Ellis, Colin Wilson, Mike Fisher, Colton Sissons, Miikka Salomaki, Anthony Bitetto
First, in this scenario, Operation Rocketship is still in effect: the measures are still in place to protect Ryan Ellis from being selected. The only thing that changes is who the Preds have to send to Vegas to make that happen. It may be a higher priced prospect like Kamenev, because Vegas isn’t likely to bite on the merit of Salomaki alone (remember: in this scenario, Vegas essentially gets two players from the Preds).
The trick to this one is David Poile staring directly into George McPhee’s eyes and daring him to select Colin Wilson in the expansion draft. McPhee might not think twice, electing to pick Wilson immediately with no hesitation. But the move to expose Wilson, knowing his flaws, may dare McPhee to think twice. Wilson is an enigma, albeit a lower priced one. Does Vegas think they can find the right position for Wilson? Do they take him on and build around him? Do they dare take on his inconsistencies on the outside chance that he “blossoms” into a 50 point player? Wilson is far from an automatic selection for a team that has intentions to compete immediately.
The benefit of this move is that the Predators can then protect a different 7th forward not named Colin Wilson. I went with Aberg, but it could really be anyone. Maybe even Mike Fisher. David Poile did say he “[doesn’t] view this as a one-year captaincy”, and Poile has a tendency of rewarding guys with contracts instead of paying them what they are worth, so hey, it could happen. I could also see them protecting Salomaki or Sissons in this scenario, but that’s less likely.
The key to all of this expansion draft, protection/exposure insanity is this: Vegas is going to select someone from the Preds. That’s inevitable. It’s in the rules. Someone currently on the team will be in Vegas next year. The Predators’ front office simply has to control all the variables to ensure that Vegas takes who the Predators wants them to take. It’s also important to consider that draft order matters and we don’t yet know when Vegas will be picking a player from Nashville. What if it’s #1? What if it’s dead last? Does that effect who they take? If they pick from Nashville towards the end of the draft and already have a core of top six forwards in the bag, maybe they are more likely to opt for a Colton Sissons or a Miikka Salomaki anyway.
What say you? Who would you protect if you were in charge?