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Expansion Plan: Projecting the Pittsburgh Penguins’ protection list for the 2021 expansion draft

The Penguins' roster is getting awfully thin at the bottom, but that means Pittsburgh need not worry about losing one of their stars come expansion and instead focus on keeping important secondary players.

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.)

• • • 

It was little more than two years ago that the Pittsburgh Penguins handed the Vegas Golden Knights the very face of their franchise, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Granted, it was a decision made out of necessity. A logjam in the crease, with a high-priced Fleury fighting with youngster Matt Murray for time in the blue paint, was the reasoning behind the decision, and it was Fleury who helped facilitate his drafting by Vegas by waiving his no-movement clause ahead of the draft.

The next time the draft comes around, though, Seattle won’t be picking up a top-tier talent and the NHL’s 32nd club – be they called the Sockeyes, the Kraken, the Whatchamacallits or the Whosiewhatsits – will instead be left to pick from the bottom of the Pittsburgh lineup and hope to find a William Karlsson-esque pickup. Finding that kind of player from what the Penguins have to offer will be difficult, however, because in the two post-Stanley Cup seasons, it’s become increasingly evident that the prospect pool is drying up and it’s beginning to feel as though we’re far closer to a Pittsburgh club that misses the post-season than we are to another bunch that hoists the Stanley Cup.


  • Sidney Crosby (NMC)
  • Evgeni Malkin (NMC)
  • Jake Guentzel
  • Alex Galchenyuk
  • Bryan Rust
  • Jared McCann
  • Dominik Kahun


  • Kris Letang (NMC)
  • Brian Dumoulin
  • Marcus Pettersson


  • Matt Murray

NOTABLE EXPOSURES: Patric Hornqvist, Brandon Tanev, Jack Johnson, Casey DeSmith

STRATEGY: Let’s just address it straight away: if the Penguins want to use the expansion draft to their benefit, what they must do is leave some of their worst contracts exposed and hope that Seattle might be enticed by the potential to add an NHL veteran. Now, be that Hornqvist – who isn’t necessarily on a bad contract, but will be in his mid-30s – or Tanev or Johnson, it’s anyone’s guess. But the best the Pittsburgh could hope for is to shed some salary by way of the expansion draft.

Beyond that, though, the Penguins should look to retain some of their depth. The trio of NMCs – Crosby, Malkin and Letang – are automatically protected, but ensuring Guentzel and Galchenyuk aren’t exposed keeps scoring in the top- and middle-six, Rust is a useful middle-lineup player, McCann has upside and was a desirable addition earlier this season and Kahun scored 37 points in his rookie campaign. The top-end skill is there, so complement it by keeping secondary contributors around.

THE NO BRAINER: If it weren’t for the NMCs, Crosby would be the answer here, but the captain’s clause, as well as Malkin’s, means the easiest decision is keeping Guentzel. Sure, he plays alongside Crosby, but Guentzel has accumulated 78 goals and 157 points in three big-league campaigns and has become a better goal scorer in each season, beginning with a 16-goal output, rising to a 22-goal campaign as a sophomore and firing home 40 this past season. He’s a top-six scorer who the Penguins must hold onto with both hands.

THE TOUGH DECISION: Maybe it’s not quite as difficult as choosing your favorite child, but the Penguins will need to pick one of the two Dominiks – Kahun or Simon. The latter showed some offensive flair this season and managed 28 points in 71 games while averaging fourth-line minutes, but Kahun’s output bested that. This season could change which Dominik is protected. If Simon is the better of the two, Kahun could take a backseat come expansion.

LESSON LEARNED: Make the decision that is best for the salary cap. That’s what the Penguins did with Fleury and it’s what Pittsburgh needs to do again when Seattle’s expansion draft rolls around.

Up Next: St. Louis Blues

Previous:Anaheim Ducks | Arizona CoyotesBoston 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

(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)

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