Welcome to the Expansion Plan, our summer series projecting the protected lists for the 30 NHL franchises who will participate in the June 2021 Expansion Draft.
Over the next two seasons, every team – save the Vegas Golden Knights, who will be exempt – will be planning for the arrival of the NHL’s 32nd franchise and Seattle GM Ron Francis will begin to consider the options for his inaugural roster. As such, over the course of the next 30 days, we will profile one team, in alphabetical order, and forecast their potential list of protections and exposures, as well as address each team’s expansion strategy, no-brainers, tough decisions and what lessons they learned from the 2017 expansion process.
This exercise requires some important ground rules. The 2021 Expansion Draft will follow the same rules as the 2017 Expansion Draft, but some assumptions are necessary. These are the guidelines followed:
- No pre-draft trades
- All no-movement clauses are honored
- Players who will become restricted free agents in 2020 or 2021 remain with current teams
- Players who will become unrestricted free agents in 2020 or 2021 either remain with current teams or are left off lists entirely (eg. Nicklas Backstrom protected by the Washington Capitals, Tyson Barrie not protected by Toronto Maple Leafs or any other team.)
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One goal. That’s all they needed to prevent the St. Louis Blues from moving on past the second round.
It wasn’t meant to be, but after securing the team’s second playoff series victory since 2008 earlier on against Nashville, there’s real momentum in Texas. The Stars are loaded with… stars… and have a goalie in Ben Bishop playing some of the best hockey of his career. The Stars look in good shape heading into the 2021 expansion draft, and while NMCs can plague teams, Dallas has been smart when assigning the four they have.
In 2017, the Stars lost forward Cody Eakin to the Vegas Golden Knights, a minuscule worry at the time. But looking back to the 2017 protected list, Eakin has proven to be a much better player than Brett Ritchie, Antoine Roussel and Valeri Nichushkin (none of those three are currently on the team). Before Roope Hintz’s breakthrough end to 2018-19, the Stars struggled to find a good scoring winger who could complement the likes of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. Hindsight is 20/20, but in this case, it helped teach the Stars a lesson heading into Seattle’s selection process.
PROTECTED (7F, 3D, 1G):
- Jamie Benn (NMC)
- Tyler Seguin (NMC)
- Alexander Radulov (NMC)
- Roope Hintz
- Radek Faksa
- Jason Dickinson
- Denis Gurianov
- John Klingberg
- Esa Lindell
- Miro Heiskanen
- Ben Bishop (NMC)
NOTABLE EXPOSURES: Joe Pavelski, Adam Mascherin, Julius Honka
STRATEGY: The Stars have four of their 11 roster decisions settled due to NMCs, so it’s about protecting the team’s depth given that the stars are already taken care of. Two players that will factor into the team’s top six for the next few seasons include Hintz and Denis Gurianov. Hintz will assume the No. 2 center spot next season after playing out of his mind during the playoffs and is bound for a strong sophomore effort before signing a new deal next summer. For Gurianov, he has struggled to force his way into an NHL spot over the past few years after going No. 12 to the Stars in 2015 but he’s highly skilled and coming off of a good season in the AHL. He’s a dynamic scoring threat that has improved his defensive game over the past two seasons and should earn a good look up the lineup in Dallas as the season goes on.
The talent level starts to deplete after that, but this is when good depth matters. Look at Radek Faksa, for example: his career-high is just 33 points (twice), but his value as a bottom-six energy guy with good physical instincts and the ability to chip in 15 goals a year at $2.2 million is important. Same goes for 24-year-old Jason Dickinson. He’ll be an RFA in 2021 but the Stars will look to sign him prior to the expansion draft and keep him part of the core after showing big improvements in his game this season, his first complete season as an NHLer.
THE NO BRAINER: The three defensemen. That’s it. Simple as that. On many nights, John Klingberg is the most important player on the ice and Esa Lindell only seems to get better with every passing season. The real star, however, is Miro Heiskanen, who deserved a bit more Calder Trophy love than he got. Heiskanen played in all 82 games, scoring 12 goals and leading rookies in ice time with 23:09. By keeping these three together, the Stars can focus on building around them by adding veterans to fill out the bottom lineup spots.
THE TOUGH DECISION: Keeping Dallas’ top three forwards (all on NMCs) and Roope Hintz is obvious, but what about the rest of the forward core? In this case, the team would elect to keep some unproven forwards in lieu of expensive deals for older players, such as Joe Pavelski. Pavelski is going to be a major asset to the Stars, but in order to acquire him, Dallas GM Jim Nill had to overpay to secure his contract. By signing Pavelski, the Stars are definitely expecting him to be a leader right out of the gate and make the team a contender within the next two seasons. Fortunately, it’s unlikely Seattle would consider choosing a 36-year-old on a $7-million deal, even for one season, so the potential of losing their prized signing is a risk worth taking.
LESSON LEARNED: Protect your young assets. Eakin was a tough loss, especially as the team still looks to find secondary scoring. Even though forwards like Gurianov and Dickinson might not be big targets for Seattle, making sure they stick around – on cheap deals, nonetheless – makes keeping the team a playoff contender much easier.
Up Next: Detroit Red Wings
(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)
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