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NHL GM Meetings: Making decisions on expansion, the salary cap, and who to protect

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The NHL GMs have discussed the impending rise (or stagnation) of the salary cap, as well as how to proceed with an expansion draft if the league decides to add another team or two.

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The annual NHL general manager meetings have been going on in Florida this week, and there is a few new tidbits making their way to the surface.

First and foremost, the salary cap:

What this means is there will be no change to this year's $71.4 million cap hit, unless the NHLPA exercises their 5% escalator option. How this works and the specifics in it are terribly complicated (naturally), but Mike Colligan at The Hockey Writers has a great breakdown of how this works.

The official news will come in June, but $71.4 million and $74 million are the numbers to keep an eye on. This doesn't really affect the Nashville Predators all that much, since they'll have plenty of cap space even after signing Filip Forsberg.

Now onto the biggest news: expansion.

The league is set to have a decision by June on whether it is going to expand or not, and whether that's going to be by one team or two teams. Either way, the general managers are already laying the ground work for a possible expansion draft:

Makes sense. With 30 teams already in the league, the new team(s) will select one player from each to round out their roster. But a big change is the amount of players each team can protect. When the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets entered the league in 2000, each of the 28 teams could protect one goaltender, five defensemen and nine forwards or two goaltenders, three defensemen, and seven forwards. (This did not apply to Atlanta or Nashville.)

So the amount of protected players decreases by a fairly significant amount, and there's no longer an option to protect two goaltenders. You either get 11 players with locked in positions, or 9 players however you want to mix and match your forwards and defensemen with your one goalie. Elliotte Friedman fleshes out these details even more in today's 30 Thoughts, as well as tackling the issue on players with no trade or no movement clauses.

There's no timetable yet on when any new teams would start play, if they ever do. We'd assume it'd be within the next two years, but nailing down the first and second year players is tough without that set date. For instance, depending on the date that could leave someone like Kevin Fiala or Colton Sissons very much open to being unprotected. There are a lot of moving parts to this though, so it's hard to tell just yet.

We'd assume the likes of Vladislav Kamenev or Juuse Saros would still fall under the one or two year umbrella, butt there isn't a finite definition on what constitutes a first or second year player. There is, of course, a confusing wrinkle:

That's a big thing to not know at this time. All of Kamenev, Saros and Fiala will have played two years of "pro" hockey after next year. But let's, for the sake of sanity and avoiding confusion, assume somehow they are exempt because they are on the cusp of meeting the criteria. Here's who the Predators should look at keeping:

Protecting 1G, 3D, 7F: Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen (RFA), James Neal, Craig Smith, Kevin Fiala, Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons.

Unprotected: Colin Wilson, Viktor ArvidssonAustin Watson, Miikka Salomaki, Mattias Ekholm, Anthony Bitetto.

Obviously the last three names are subject to change depending on any future free agent signings.

There should actually be some debate on whether protecting Weber is a good idea or not. Management would almost obviously hold on to him because #brand, but leaving him unprotected and opting to go with a Josi, Ellis, Mattias Ekholm back end is not a terrible decision. He'll be somewhere between 31-33 if the draft happens in the next few years, which would be a perfect opportunity to let him go before any serious decline.

But maybe David Poile wants to have his cake and eat it too, so he does this instead:

Protecting 1G and 8 skaters: Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen (RFA), James Neal, Craig Smith.

Unprotected: Colin Wilson, Viktor Arvidsson, Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons, Austin Watson, Miikka Salomaki, Anthony Bitetto.

Now only one or two of those players would get plucked away, but Poile would have to weigh very heavily how much he values his intact blue line against potentially solid utility skaters like Arvidsson, Jarnkrok and Sissons.

If I had my druthers, the first option would be the way to go. Of course, this could all change in an instant due to a trade or free agent, or if the timing shifts and more younger players become eligible to be drafted.

Decide which option you'd prefer the front office to employ, and who would you protect versus leaving unprotected?