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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Carolina's inclusion in the 2019 playoffs was a popular one in the hockey world: the team's play gave fans hope for the first time in a decade and the post-victory celebrations caused more than a few ripples around the league. But a miracle playoff that included topping the defending champions from Washington before sweeping the New York Islanders helped show the regular season wasn't just for show.
It's one thing to have a nice playoff run every once and a while, but it's too far and in-between to hop on the Hurricanes bandwagon with confidence. The Hurricanes have the assets to become a contender for the next couple of seasons and keep the momentum from their fun 2018-19 season campaign alive. Compared to 2017, when most of the team's core was too young to make an impact (or not even drafted), the Hurricanes are looking good ahead of the expansion draft in 2021.
In 2017, the Hurricanes lost forward Connor Brickley to Vegas, but only after GM Ron Francis sent a fifth-round pick in an effort to steer clear of other players available (it's believed Lee Stempniak was the player the Golden Knights were targeting). The Hurricanes were one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference and missed the playoffs by quite a margin, but they're almost certainly going to lose a roster player this time around. A lot can change in two years, but the Hurricanes are ready for a few extended playoff runs in the coming seasons and have a load of talent – in the NHL, AHL and junior – that they can make up for any loss they have.
PROTECTED (7F, 3D, 1G):
- Jordan Staal (NMC)
- Sebastian Aho
- Teuvo Teravainen
- Andrei Svechnikov
- Nino Niederreiter
- Warren Foegele
- Morgan Geekie
- Jaccob Slavin
- Brett Pesce
- Dougie Hamilton (NMC)
- Alex Nedeljkovic
NOTABLE OMISSIONS: Jake Bean, Petr Mrazek, Haydn Fleury
STRATEGY: Carolina isn't far off of being a top team in the NHL but just needs consistent goaltending and a bit of refining around the edges to make that happen. By 2021, with Petr Mrazek set for the UFA market that summer, the Hurricanes should have already made Alex Nedeljkovic the team's starter and will look to keep him in the long run. In front of him, the Hurricanes should look to extend Dougie Hamilton after his deal expires in 2021 and keep him united with Jaccob Slavin on the team's top pairing. The Hurricanes wouldn't have signed Slavin to a seven-year deal that began this past season if they didn't want him in the long-term plans, either.
One of the more interesting names on this list is Morgan Geekie, Charlotte's superhero from the team's Calder Cup victory a few months back. Geekie had a solid pro rookie season and he projects to be a solid third-line center with a level of energy you can't find every day. Geekie showed great improvements as the year went on and if his playoff run is any indication, he'll be a fixture to make the Hurricanes out of training camp this summer.
THE NO BRAINER: It's almost standard to just say teams will try their best to keep their core together, but Carolina has a group that's truly exciting. Montreal made Aho's contract situation quite easy for the Hurricanes, who now have their top star signed for the next five years. That means Aho, Staal, Teuvo Teravainen and Niederreiter are signed until at least the end of 2022, with the first three extending past that. Even ignoring Staal's NMC, those four are untouchable and are the heart of the franchise moving forward.
TOUGH DECISION: Carolina has had one of the best defense cores for a few years now, but something has to give. Jake Bean, an RFA in 2021, won't become the top-pairing defenseman he was once believed to become, but he's still one of the best U-23 defensemen in the organization and, at 20, he can make Seattle very happy. Haydn Fleury is in a similar situation because of the depth the team holds and could become a solid shutdown defenseman if Seattle decides to select him. If one of them do go, Jesper Sellgren and Domenick Fensore can easily serve as replacements by 2021.
LESSON LEARNED: Patience is key. While first-round picks Elias Lindholm and Jeff Skinner are off plying their trade elsewhere, Slavin (fourth round in 2012), Pesce (second round in 2013) and Warren Foegele (third round in 2014) have panned out better than they could have expected. The Hurricanes have been known to stay patient when developing prospects and it's starting to pay off. Sure, they'll lose some key pieces at the expansion draft, but they've got the prospect pool to make up for it.
Up Next: Chicago Blackhawks
(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)
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