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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The defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues – surely the long-suffering fanbase won’t get sick of hearing that anytime soon – find themselves in an incredibly rare position in the salary cap era. Coming off of their Cup victory, the Blues have been able to keep nearly their entire roster intact, making only minor changes this off-season. (And if GM Doug Armstrong somehow finds a way to fit Patrick Maroon back into the lineup, the changes will be even fewer.) The way the salary structure in St. Louis is set up, too, we might not see many changes to the group in the years to come.
Only one top-six forward, Brayden Schenn, is set to become an unrestricted free agent in the next two seasons and only four players total will be eligible hit the open market before the summer that precedes the expansion draft. That means the Blues could, realistically, keep almost their entire group together on through to the official introduction of the league’s 32nd franchise with only a few UFA-related changes here or there.
The Blues’ current situation isn’t all that different from their situation heading into the 2017 Vegas expansion draft, though. At that draft, with seven forwards, three blueliners and one goaltender protected, St. Louis was able to keep most of its integral pieces and lost only David Perron, who has since been brought back into the fold. Similar good fortune at the Seattle draft can help the Blues stay in contention leading up to and coming out of the next round of expansion.
PROTECTED (7F, 3D, 1G):
- Vladimir Tarasenko
- Ryan O’Reilly
- Jaden Schwartz
- Oskar Sundqvist
- Robert Thomas
- Sammy Blais
- Jordan Kyrou
- Alex Pietrangelo
- Colton Parayko
- Vince Dunn
- Jordan Binnington
NOTABLE EXPOSURES: David Perron, Robert Bortuzzo, Ville Husso
STRATEGY: Zero no-movement clauses opens up plenty of options for St. Louis, but there are a few players who will fall into that automatic-protection-without-automatic-protection category, which is to say they’re untouchable. Ryan O’Reilly, the post-season MVP and St. Louis’ best player last season, heads up that list as the team’s top-line center, but he’s followed closely by Vladimir Tarasenko and defenseman Colton Parayko, who, if Alex Pietrangelo were to depart as a UFA (which we aren’t predicting he will), would slide into the No. 1 defenseman role for the Blues.
But St. Louis also has to use some of its protection slots to ensure the next wave of talent stays in place. Robert Thomas had a criminally underrated nine-goal, 33-point rookie campaign, Sammy Blais turned heads as a fourth-liner in the post-season and Jordan Kyrou has massive upside and could be an NHL fixture as early as next season. Also in need of protection are Vince Dunn, who is already a top-four rearguard, and Jordan Binnington, who will be an unrestricted free agent but who we’re projecting will remain a solid starter in St. Louis.
THE NO BRAINER: Sadly, St. Louis’ wisest decision might be exposing David Perron once again. He was good this past season, scoring 23 goals and 46 points in 57 games and another seven goals and 16 points in 26 playoff contests, but he’ll be 33 when the expansion draft rolls around with a $4-million cap hit. That’s money and a roster spot that might be better utilized on an up-and-comer by that point, especially if prospects Dominik Bokk and Klim Kostin are ready to challenge for a top-six role.
THE TOUGH DECISION: What do you do with Binnington? Even if he’s a solid starter over the next two seasons, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in two seasons’ time and Ville Husso will be right there, waiting in the wings. If Husso meets his potential by that time, it could become a difficult decision for the Blues. A ploy to keep both would be to allow Binnington to go UFA, use the protection spot on Husso and then re-sign the former once the expansion draft is all said and done. That could prove risky, however.
LESSON LEARNED: Don’t protect replaceable players. Ryan Reaves, for as good as he might be in the room, didn’t need protection at the 2017 draft and the Blues had no players of his ilk – the fourth-line, crash-and-bang type – on their Cup-winning club.
Up Next: Tampa Bay Lightning
Previous: Anaheim Ducks | Arizona Coyotes | Boston Bruins | Buffalo Sabres | Calgary Flames | Carolina Hurricanes | Chicago Blackhawks | Colorado Avalanche | Columbus Blue Jackets | Dallas Stars | Detroit Red Wings | Edmonton Oilers | Florida Panthers | Los Angeles Kings | Minnesota Wild | Montreal Canadiens | Nashville Predators | New Jersey Devils | New York Islanders | New York Rangers | Ottawa Senators | Philadelphia Flyers | Pittsburgh Penguins | San Jose Sharks
(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)
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