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Expansion Plan: Projecting the New York Islanders’ protection list for the 2021 expansion draft

The Islanders were the only team to protect five defensemen ahead of the 2017 expansion draft, but expect a different protection scheme this time around as New York keeps its forward group together and awaits younger blueline reinforcements.

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.)

• • • 

The assumption might be that a team that a team that is fresh off of its highest point total in more than three decades and one that advanced to the second round of the post-season for only the second time in more than 20 years has a list of obvious protections to make, but the Islanders are a franchise that is coached well enough to be arguably greater than the sum of its parts. That’s not so much a knock against New York, either, as it is praise of coach Barry Trotz.

Under Trotz, an Islanders team that was defensively deficient last season became one of the soundest in the league overnight, and the Stanley Cup-winning coach led his team to stunning success. But it also means the Islanders don’t have a laundry list of talent that is going to throw some massive wrench into their plans. Matter of fact, they might be as well-positioned as any team entering the expansion draft because a great number of their up-and-coming talent will be exempt from the draft altogether.

Considering where New York was last time around, as the only team protecting five rearguards and trading away a few picks in order to protect other players in June 2017, the Islanders shouldn’t be worried at all about what’s on the horizon.

PROTECTED (7F, 3D, 1G):
Forwards:

  • Mat Barzal
  • Anders Lee
  • Brock Nelson
  • Jordan Eberle
  • Josh Bailey
  • Anthony Beauvillier
  • Kieffer Bellows

Defensemen:

  • Nick Leddy
  • Ryan Pulock
  • Devon Toews

Goaltenders:

  • Semyon Varlamov

NOTABLE EXPOSURES: Andrew Ladd, Cal Clutterbuck, Leo Komarov, Josh Ho-Sang, Michael Dal Colle, Johnny Boychuk, Thomas Hickey

STRATEGY: If the Islanders had hit more home runs with their draft picks, it would make life much more difficult, but instead, there are question marks surrounding some young talents which makes exposing those players easy. We’re talking about Dal Colle and Ho-Sang, of course, who were first-round choices in 2016 and 2014, respectively. Neither have found their fit with the Islanders and chances are if they’re still around come 2021, they’ll be exposed.

But because of the lack of talented young guns coming up through the system, it also means the Islanders have to keep what talent they have in town. That means veteran pieces such as Lee, Nelson, Eberle and Bailey are all protected. When it’s all said and done, New York might have one of the oldest protection lists.

THE NO BRAINER: Barzal is the future of the franchise and he’s only getting started. His offensive output dipped under Trotz, but whose hasn’t? The defense-first system doesn’t lend itself to stuffing the scoresheet, but he was given more responsibility and looks like he can take on the top-line center role that was vacated when John Tavares departed. Barzal’s next contract is going to make it clear how much he means to the franchise.

THE TOUGH DECISION: Do you spend a protection slot on Bellows? As part of this exercise, we have, but the 2016 19th-overall pick hasn’t managed to make his mark with the big club and one wonders if he won’t be left available if he doesn’t manage to catch on in New York. The extra spot could then be used to protect another young player, maybe even Dal Colle, who while he hasn’t lived up to his potential has been a decent bottom-six asset.

LESSON LEARNED: Moving money and picks to Vegas in order to influence their selection didn’t backfire in a big way for the Islanders, but given what we’ve seen with other teams, it might be best to avoid taking such a tack in 2021.

Up Next: New York Rangers

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(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)

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