Expansion Draft (Trade Deadline edition)

Where Nashville Stands vs Vegas Expansion

As the trade deadline approaches, here’s where the Preds stand with respect to the Vegas expansion draft. The Preds can protect either 7 forwards and 3 defensemen or 4F / 4D (technically "8 of whatever mix", but 4/4 is what that looks like in practice), plus Rinne. With today’s roster, here’s what that list looks like:

Protect 4 / 4

Protected: Johansen, Forsberg, Arvidsson, Neal | Subban, Josi, Ekholm, Ellis

Exposed: Jarnkrok (C), Wilson/Smith (W), Irwin (D). Jarnkrok taken unless Poile bribes Vegas to skip him (not a given that this is possible).

Protect 7 / 3

Protected: Johansen, Forsberg, Arvidsson, Neal, Jarnkrok, Wilson, Smith | Subban, Josi, Ekholm

Exposed: Sissons (C), Watson/Aberg (W), Ellis (D). Ellis taken, period. No cost-effective means of preventing this.

Where’s Mike Fisher in those lists? Good question. Fisher is a free agent at the end of the season. As things stand now, the Preds can avoid protecting him, wait for him to become a free agent following the expansion draft, and sign him to a new deal. There are potential issues to this, but this particular case is fairly safe. More below.


Now for the details. From Nashville’s perspective, everybody is at risk unless they are either exempt or protected. Here’s how those two categories work.

Exempt: all first- and second-year players are exempt. Vegas cannot select them. Juuse Saros is in his second AHL+NHL season, is therefore a second-year player, and is exempt. Viktor Arvidsson is in his second season in the NHL, but has another season at or older than age 20 in the AHL. He is a third-year player and is not exempt. From Nashville’s perspective, only AHL or NHL seasons count for this purpose (exceptions may exist, but aren’t relevant to us).

NHL games played: For 18- and 19-year-olds, AHL experience does not count toward years of experience; only a certain number of NHL games do. Because Kevin Fiala did not play at least 10 NHL games either in 2014-15 or 2015-16 (his 18- and 19-year-old seasons, respectively), neither counted as a year of experience. He is a first-year player and is exempt.

NHL games played this year: Irrelevant for exemption. Games played are only counted for years of experience in what would be a player’s (at most) first or second season. If you’re counting games, then you’re definitely not a third-year player. Alexandre Carrier might be in his 19-year-old season (he turned 20 in October; I’m not sure where the cut-off dates are), in which case he gains a year of NHL experience if he plays 10 NHL games, but Vegas can’t in any circumstance take him. We care about Carrier’s GP for ELC slide purposes, but not for Vegas purposes.

That’s it for exemption (technically, there’s also a case-by-case basis for severely injured players; it’s not particularly relevant to us). Players we care about who are exempt are Juuse Saros, Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Kamenev, Alexandre Carrier, and most prospects who haven’t reached Nashville yet. Vegas cannot pick any player who is exempt.


Nashville can protect either (a) 7 forwards and 3 defensemen or (b) 8 skaters total. They can also protect one goalie. They must protect any player with an active and continuing No Move Clause (that is, an NMC in both 2016-17 and 2017-18). Rinne has that NMC, so the Preds must protect him. No other roster players do. A NMC player could opt out of the clause for expansion draft purposes, but this isn’t critical in the Preds’ case. There are a few odd cases, mostly due to contract particulars, but we don’t have any of them. Vegas cannot pick any of the players on a team’s protected list.

Any player who is neither exempt nor protected is exposed to Vegas. In addition to managing who is specifically exempt and protected, Nashville must meet exposure requirements to ensure that Vegas has access to a certain amount of NHL-ready talent. Nashville must expose, or choose not to protect, at least two forwards and one defenseman who meet the following:

  • 40 (NHL) games played this year or 70 GP in the past two years combined, and
  • Under contract for 2017-18

Currently meeting this for Nashville are: Cody McLeod (F), Colton Sissons (F), and Matt Irwin (D), none of whom are likely to be protected.

Nashville must also expose a goalie who is either:

  • Under contract for 2017-18, or
  • Is an RFA who has received a qualifying offer (QO) for 2017-18

Nashville does not currently meet this requirement, but can do so by giving Marek Mazanec (a pending RFA) a QO at the end of the season. Simple, straightforward.

If a team fails to meet these rules, there will be (undefined) "penalties" from the league. However, Vegas doesn’t care about this exposure stuff. They can pick any exposed player on a roster, whether or not that player meets these criteria. They could take Fisher, even though he is a pending free agent. They could take Bitetto, even though he doesn’t meet the games played requirement.

Vegas’ Selection Process

On June 17, the existing teams submit their final list of protected players; this gives Vegas their total list of exposed players to pick from. Vegas now has three days (until June 20) to turn in their final roster. They’ve got several rules:

  • Vegas must select one player from each existing team
  • Vegas must select at least 14 forwards, 9 defensemen, and 3 goalies
  • Vegas must select at least 20 players who are under contract for 2017-18
  • Vegas’ new roster must be between 60% and 100% of the 2016-17 salary cap ($43.8 M to $73.0 M)

Most of this doesn’t really matter to a fan of some other team, because so much of it is reliant on what all thirty current teams choose to do collectively. Vegas might, for example, be forced to take a player somewhere for salary or positional rather than skill purposes… but that probably won’t be the case with Nashville as a particular franchise, and so it probably do much to inform the decisions that Nashville makes.

Pending Free Agents

Once the existing teams submit their list of protected players, Vegas is allowed to negotiate with any pending free agents, restricted or unrestricted. If they reach a deal with a player and sign a contract, that player becomes Vegas’ pick from that team. If it’s an RFA, no offer sheet compensation comes back. This is the Mike Fisher case from above: by leaving Fisher unprotected, Vegas gets a short window to offer him the sun, moon, and stars to go be the first captain in franchise history (and if they get Carrie a sweet casino gig, it could even maybe possibly happen). But generally, everybody figures that Fisher will be content to stay in Nashville for the remainder of his career and turn down whatever Vegas puts in front of him. It’s a matter of just how much teams are willing to bet on the strength of the player-franchise relationship to try this gambit.

Possible Shenanigans

There will, without question, be cases that test the rules. Take the Fisher thing above, but change it as follows: Vegas uses their early window to tell Fisher that they’re going to make him a $10 M offer on July 1, just wait and hold on, and then picks Wilson in the draft. 10 more days go by, Fisher slow-rolls Nashville on contract discussions, and then has a shiny new Vegas deal signed first thing on Free Agency Day. Or the reverse, where Fisher tells Vegas that he’ll sign, but slow-rolls to make them select him from Nashville before he signs a deal, then waits for July 1 to walk back here and sign an extension in Nashville. Either case will have someone crying "foul", and neither is going to be feasible to prove so long as the dishonest party is careful about what goes in writing. I don’t think it’ll happen with Fisher, but it’ll happen somewhere. Drama!

Everything Else

There have been plenty of discussions about "offering Vegas something to skip someone", such as my comment up top about bribing Vegas to avoid Jarnkrok. There are no rules on this. It’s simply a matter of McPhee (Vegas’ GM) striking deals with other teams and then (presumably, probably) honoring those agreements. So Poile might sound out McPhee and see if he’ll agree to skip over an exposed Jarnkrok in exchange for our 2nd round pick, or for Granberg, or what have you. If such a deal gets made, Vegas almost certainly honors it, because these guys have to work together and word of a betrayal will get around fast. But there are no guarantees that a deal can be made: as I note above, if Nashville exposes a first-pair-caliber defenseman, Vegas is going to ignore every phone call from Poile and take that player. Because this dealing is unregulated, I suspect most of it will happen in the run up to Nashville releasing their protected players list; they’ll want to know if they can protect Jarnkrok via side deal before committing to leaving him exposed.

Early reports were that teams would have to ensure that a certain percentage of their salary cap was left exposed; that clause was dropped from the final expansion draft rules.

Also, following the expansion draft, Vegas participates in the entry draft (June 23) and free agency (July 1) just like every other franchise.

Nashville’s Options

Taking this in order from most obvious to least:

Goalie: Rinne is protected (NMC, mandatory). Saros is exempt. Mazanec gets his RFA QO and is exposed, meeting exposure requirements. Vegas ignores our goalies.

Defensemen: Josi, Subban, Ekholm, and Ellis are your protection options. Of those, Ellis is the logical choice to leave out in a "protect 3" scenario: shortest remaining contract, and due for a major raise. Irwin is exposed, meeting exposure requirements. Vegas takes Ellis (young top-2-caliber defenseman with contract term remaining) if available, almost certainly ignores our defensemen otherwise.

Forwards: Fisher is exposed due to pending UFA, trusting that he’s not accepting an offer from Vegas. Ribeiro is left out of this; it’s unlikely that either Nashville or Vegas is interested in signing him next year.

Johansen, Forsberg, and Arvidsson are tier-1 must-protect forwards. Neal lags slightly due to contract term (one year until UFA), but is the consensus favorite for fourth protected forward. That’s the dividing line for the probable 4/4 protection scheme.

Jarnkrok is the next forward up: neck-and-neck (with Wilson) for highest-scoring forward this year not named above, on a long a cheap contract, at a position of greater need / lesser depth (center) within the organization. If Neal continues to bounce all the way down to the 4th line, then he and Jarnkrok probably flip on the strength of Jarnkrok being under contract for five affordable years.

Smith / Wilson are the 6 / 7 forwards in whatever order you prefer. Sissons and McLeod are exposed, meeting exposure requirements. Everybody else is out of contention. If Ellis isn’t available, Vegas probably takes the top player available here on more or less the same ranking.

Summarizing Vegas’ Options

If Ellis is available, Vegas takes Ellis. As the roster stands today, that probably doesn’t happen. Instead, Vegas’ best available option will be whichever of Neal or Jarnkrok is left exposed (and much of that depends on how Poile weighs the value of Jarnkrok’s contract against the likelihood that Neal signs an extension). This is more uncertain than Ellis because Nashville isn’t going to be forced into a position where they expose a slam-dunk forward (if Neal is exposed, it’s because Poile thinks his contract term will present a significant deterrent to Vegas, or because he expects Neal to sign elsewhere in a year anyway); more, therefore, depends on who’s available around the rest of the league.

Nashville probably bargains with Vegas to have them skip whichever of Neal or Jarnkrok is exposed and instead pick one of Smith or Wilson. What’s an appropriate cost? Well, "Smith / Wilson + Trade" needs to be less valuable than "Ellis", since that’s the other way to ensure that the forwards don’t get poached. I figure a high pick, a mid prospect, or a collection of low-end picks/prospects is a reasonable offer. That said, I think the odds are long that Vegas agrees to a deal that passes up Jarnkrok. He can fill any forward spot except 1C, plus handle PP/PK duties, all while on a real roster. He’s under contract for five years at nearly nothing. That’s the sort of player that McPhee can make long-term plans around. So, if Nashville really wants Jarnkrok as part of their plans next season, he shouldn’t be left exposed.

What About That Trade Thing?

The short version is that I think Ellis is too valuable to lose for nothing, and Neal+Jarnkrok are sufficiently valuable that it’s worth trying to keep them both on the team. The other way to accomplish that, instead of offering extra assets to Vegas, is by moving Ellis (or, again, another defenseman) to some other team in exchange for a forward, preferably someone who can take the 2C role when Fisher retires. That allows the Preds to use the 7/3 protection option to protect their key forwards while getting an asset back for Ellis instead of losing him to Vegas for nothing. Even with the trade deadline past, the Preds can make this deal any time prior to the expansion draft provided they and the other team involved are done with the playoffs.

All of these options need to be costed against each other. Pay too high a price in this trade and (since Vegas still takes one of Smith or Wilson in this scenario, because the new guy bumps them from 6/7 in the forward rankings to 7/8) the total exchange looks worse than the options that deal only with Vegas. Ideally, other teams’ issues with protection arrangements and/or the salary cap greases some wheels to make this sort of deal more of a win/win between the current teams at the expense of Vegas.


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