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Bobby Ryan priced himself into expansion protection, and he’s not the only one

Bobby Ryan laughed off the idea of being selected in the expansion draft because of his $7.25 million contract. He's not the only player who has a big-money deal that will provide protection, though.

Despite a fantastic post-season in which he scored six goals and 15 points in 19 games, the past campaign was the worst of Bobby Ryan’s career. 

Ryan missed 20 games during the season, saw his ice time decline to the lowest it had been since his rookie campaign and put up a mere 13 goals and 25 points. And he did so as the highest paid Senator, earning $7.25 million in the third year of his seven-year deal. For that reason, Ryan’s production, or lack thereof, became a major talking point in Ottawa this past season. 

Some considered Ryan trade bait, the next to go if the Senators were looking to clear some cap space. Others saw him as a buyout candidate, earning too much for what he had produced. Then there were those who believed Ryan could be expansion draft fodder, left exposed by Ottawa when Vegas comes looking to build its roster. And while some players might be concerned if their name had been tossed around in expansion talk, especially those without the benefit of a no-movement clause, that wasn’t the case with Ryan. In fact, when asked if he was worried about the possibility of being left exposed and plucked off the Senators’ roster, Ryan laughed.

“No. Are they going to take $7 million? No,” Ryan chuckled to reporters. “No, I’m good…Not even a little bit (worried).”

Ryan has a good point, though. His contract is so sizeable that it’s a near guarantee the expansion Golden Knights will look elsewhere even if Ryan is left exposed. Paying him $7.25 million per season for another five years might be all right for the Senators — and even that’s a stretch — but it’s definitely not going to be the type of money Vegas GM George McPhee is going to want his team to be shelling out. So, even if Ryan isn’t given protection by the Senators, his contract has offered him somewhat of a guarantee that he won’t be moving on to Vegas.

But Ryan isn’t the only one facing that scenario. There are several other players facing exposure in June’s expansion draft that don’t have to be too worried about a change of address when the Golden Knights start assembling their roster, and those players have their contracts to thank. Here are five players whose deals, by virtue of value, will give them protection in the expansion draft:

Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars — One year, $5.9 million

It’s no secret that, barring a trade, Lehtonen is going to be left exposed come the expansion draft. The Stars went out, acquired and signed Ben Bishop to be their No. 1 goaltender, and Bishop is going to get the lone goaltender protection slot in Dallas. The Stars don’t have to be all that concerned about Vegas taking Lehtonen off their hands, however — even if they might have welcomed the Golden Knights’ selection of the netminder.

Lehtonen has turned in three dreadful performances since 2014-15, one after the other. Over his past 167 games in the Stars’ crease, Lehtonen has a solid 81-52-19 record, but an abysmal .904 save percentage and 2.86 goals-against average. Even if it is just for one season, there’s no reason for the Golden Knights to take on a $5.9 million deal for a below-average netminder. There will be more talented goaltenders with better cap hits available, and with the possibility for a player such as Antoine Roussel, Cody Eakin, Stephen Johns or Esa Lindell to be available from the Stars, there are much better options for Vegas.

Jason Garrison, Tampa Bay Lightning — One year, $4.6 million

Over the past three seasons in Tampa Bay, Garrison has gone from a top-four guy to a bottom-pairing defenseman. There’s no shame in that as a 32-year-old, but the issue is he makes nearly $5 million to skate third-pairing minutes. Not only that, but after a four-goal, 30-point season in his first year with the Lightning, Garrison has turned in just six goals and 20 points over the past two years. 

The value simply hasn’t been there for the Lightning and Garrison’s deal isn’t going to work for many teams, especially not the upstart Golden Knights. 

Garrison absolutely will go unprotected, too. Make no mistake about that. On a team that has a plethora of forwards to protect, the only option for the Lightning is to protect three defensemen. That means Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman and, most likely, Andrej Sustr. Vegas will likely go after one of the Lightning forwards — maybe a J.T. Brown or Cedric Paquette — instead of spending $4.6 million to take on a veteran rearguard such as Garrison.

Matt Moulson, Buffalo Sabres — Two years, $5 million

There weren’t many goal scorers as hot as Moulson from 2009-10 to 2013-14. Over the five-season span, Moulson scored 135 times. Only 12 players, including the likes of John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos, lit the lamp more often. That Moulson has disappeared, though. Over the past three seasons in Buffalo, Moulson has scored 35 goals. That’s fewer than he had in the 2011-12 season alone.

It’s tough to watch Moulson’s scoring prowess drift away, but the fact is he’s gone from a top-line surefire sniper to a sometimes-scorer that plays bottom-line minutes. Worse yet, he’s on the verge of turning 34 and has two years at $5 million per season left on his deal. That’s not a cost-effective contract for the Sabres, and it’s not a cost-effective deal for any team starting out, which is to say the Golden Knights will avoid Moulson’s contract like the plague.

Could Moulson still contribute? Of course he could in the right situation. But it’s hard to fathom the “right situation” is an expansion team trying to find its footing. Vegas will be better off looking at the depth of the Sabres’ roster and taking a chance there.

Andrew MacDonald, Philadelphia Flyers — Three years, $5 million

It’s not MacDonald’s fault, but he has arguably the worst contract in the NHL. After putting together a strong 2013-14 campaign — he averaged more than 24 minutes per night and scored four goals and 28 points in 82 games — MacDonald cashed in after a deadline trade to the Flyers, signing a six-year, $30-million deal.

That monstrosity of a deal backfired for everyone involved, though. In the first year of the contract, MacDonald’s ice time average dipped by four minutes and he put up only 12 points. Then he spent almost the entirety of 2015-16 either scratched or buried in the AHL, underperforming for what he was making. That did lead to somewhat of a minor resurgence in 2016-17, but the only team that is going to benefit in 2017-18 is the Flyers. There is about a zero percent chance any other team is willing to take on MacDonald at $5 million per year for the next three seasons.

The contract alone will be enough to turn the Golden Knights off of MacDonald, but so will the chance to select a depth piece from the Flyers. Vegas could realistically get a borderline top-six forward or top-four defenseman out of Philadelphia in the expansion draft.

Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings — Five years, $5.875 million

Brown was coming off of an 18-goal, 29-point lockout shortened season and was one year removed from captaining the Kings to the Stanley Cup when he signed an eight-year, $47-million deal with Los Angeles. But his game has suffered ever since. Over the past four years, Brown has seen his minutes fall off of a cliff to the point where he’s now a bottom-six winger and it got to the point where Brown was stripped of the captaincy, with the ‘C’ being handed over the Anze Kopitar.

Chances are that the Kings, who recently fired coach Darryl Sutter and GM Dean Lombardi, are going to shake up the roster, and that could mean Brown is left exposed at the expansion draft. Don’t take that to mean the Golden Knights are going to be Brown’s next destination, however. His contract makes selecting him a terrible idea, especially with five years remaining and more than $25 million left to be paid out.

The thing is there may be some team willing to take a shot on Brown at this point if he made, say, $3 million. He put home 14 goals and 36 points in 80 games this past season, which isn’t half bad for a bottom-six winger. The issue is he’s getting paid like one of the top 10 right wingers in the league and it’s awfully hard to find anyone who wants to take on Brown’s monster of a contract at nearly $6 million per season.

Brown fits perfectly into the Ryan category as a player who has been overpaid in recent years for their production and one who could probably laugh off the idea of getting picked up by Vegas in the expansion draft.

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