Handicapping the Expansion Draft

With Las Vegas officially becoming the 31st NHL franchise, and the 2016 Entry Draft behind us, time to take a very early look at how the expansion draft might impact the Blue Jackets.

Now that Las Vegas has officially had its ticket punched as the lone expansion franchise, we have clarity on the rules that will govern the next June's expansion draft. Also, with the 2016 Entry Draft having come and gone without the volume of significant deals expected, those deals are likely happening soon. The Expansion Draft rules are going to help shape those deals, so it's worth giving the rules a look, and putting some odds on how the Blue Jackets will approach the Expansion Draft.

In their final form, the rules are really quite simple:

  • Clubs can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters (any position) and one goalie.
  • Players with full NMC clauses must be protected, and count as a protected slot. However, the player can waive the NMC for this purpose.
  • All first and second year professionals are exempt, as are unsigned draft picks.
  • Clubs must expose two forwards and one defenseman who played at least 40 games in the 2016-17 season or who played 70 games in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons combined. These players must also be under contract for the 2017-18 season.
  • Clubs must expose one goalie under contract for the 2017-18 season. /

One interesting quirk potentially impacting the Blue Jackets is the time-line, which requires clubs to submit their protected lists by 5:00 P.M. on June 17th. By rule, the NHL buyout window opens June 15th or 48 hours after the Stanley Cup is awarded, whichever is later. While we obviously don't know what the playoff schedule next year will look like, if this year's Final had gone to seven games, the buyout window would not have opened before the submission list deadline. So, teams with multiple players with full NMC clauses -- including Columbus -- may be effectively forced to accelerate some buyout decisions.

Turning to those NMC clauses, the Blue Jackets have six players with full NMCs that would be in force at the time of the expansion draft: Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, David Clarkson, Fedor Tyutin and Sergei Bobrovsky. Of these, we know that Hartnell has already waived his NMC for purposes of a trade, and it seems likely that he would do the same for an Expansion Draft, if he were still around. However, I fully expect he will move on via trade during this off-season, given the need to use his cap space elsewhere. Teams are kicking the tires on Hartnell at present, so a deal here would be no surprise.

Fedor Tyutin and David Clarkson present other issues. Of the two, Tyutin is obviously the more tradable commodity, particularly if just picks are involved. There are still clubs looking to get to the cap floor, and Tyutin can still contribute. Barring that, both would be candidates for buyouts. A Clarkson buyout would save the club $1.5 million in cap space over each of the next two years, and $500,000 for each of the following two years. After that, the club would have a negative $500K hit for each of the next four years.

A Tyutin buyout would save $3.29 million and $2.54 million in cap space in the next two seasons, after which the club would absorb a $1.45 million negative hit for each of the following two seasons. If you combined the two, the Blue Jackets would save $4.79 million this season, and $4.04 next year. They would then have negative hits of $950K for two years, and $500K for two years. These would likely be offset by salary cap increases, making this a viable option. Again, however, they might be forced to pull the trigger this year to insure that protected slots do not need to be allocated to these guys.

We have to assume that the Blue Jackets would elect the 7-3-1 protection scheme, as they will certainly want to protect Ryan Murray and Seth Jones, without impacting their ability to protect forwards. WIth that in mind, the apparent "locks" for the protected slots would include: Boone Jenner, Nick Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky, Alexander Wennberg and Brandon Saad. Cam Atkinson is a "probable" for the number six slot, but could be dangled, depending upon other transactions. That leaves one or two forward slots left, with the candidates for those spots potentially including William Karlsson, Daniel Zaar, Josh Anderson, Alex Broadhurst , Lukas Sedlak and T.J. Tynan. Tynan and Broadhurst received their RFA qualifying offers, while Michael Chaput did not, so is out of the mix. He failed to impress in his NHL stints, and with a bevy of young talent vying for pro contracts, Chaput was the odd man out. In reality, that's a sign that the organization is building impressive depth. Oliver Bjorkstrand and Sonny Milano are both exempt..

On defense, Murray and Jones will clearly claim two of the three slots, with the third going to either David Savard or Jack Johnson. You can make a decent argument either way, but the end result will likely be dictated by their play this coming season. Certainly, either Savard or Johnson will meet the 40/70 rule for an exposed defenseman, as would Dalton Prout (assuming he plays 6 or more games this season.) Alternatively, both could be exposed (knowing we could lose only one) and the protected slot given to Dean Kukan, who will be in his third pro season this year, and has shown real promise. Zach Werenski, Gabriel Carlsson and Dillon Heatherington are all exempt. Michael Paliotta, who was described as a key part of the Brandon Saad trade, was not given a qualifying offer, and will be moving on. A qualifying offer would have required just about a million bucks, and Paliotta's progression simply did not justify the investment, particularly with the other young talent contesting for blue line time. (Interestingly, Alex Broadhurst, the "other guy" in the Saad trade, has favorably impressed.) John Ramage will also be vulnerable in the Expansion Draft.

For the forwards, Matt Calvert would meet the 40/70 rule, but beyond that it gets a little dicey. Again, Atkinson would fit the bill, but they might not want to expose him. The Blue Jackets could sign Gregory Campbell to a one-year extension, which would give them their second 40/70 forward, at a minimal cap hit. The merits of the season performance will be dispositive here.

Now to the goalie situation. By adopting the NMC rule, the NHL has taken the decision out of the Blue Jackets' hands -- they have to protect Sergei Bobrovsky. This undoubtedly played into the reported negotiations at the Entry Draft to move him to Calgary. Absent a Bobrovsky trade, this leaves both Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo vulnerable in the draft. (Forsberg's new one year deal does not make him exempt, but does make him less desirable). This all means that Bobrovsky will be on the biggest audition stage of them all. He will likely have until the trade deadline to show that he can be a healthy, solid #1 netminder going forward. If another chink appears in that armor, I'd look for the Blue Jackets to move him, even if it required carrying some salary back.

Obviously, there are lots of moving pieces here, and a trade or two can alter the entire calculus. It's also important to remember that Columbus can only lose one player, so it's best to avoid the tendency to over-react and try to protect everybody. There are going to be some very good players available, and Las Vegas will have to face the competing demands of on-ice quality and salary cap management. However, one thing is certain -- Las Vegas will have a far more competitive team than any previous expansion club. That has to have Jarmo Kekäläinen and the other GMs from the last expansion round shaking their heads a bit. We have a poster from the lead-up to the inaugural season on our wall at home, which lists the entire opening night roster. Really a very scary picture, and nowhere near the quality of club that Las Vegas will field. Thanks, Gary.

As Kekäläinen noted after the rules were announced -- the club has plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments (subject to the potential buyout time crunch), and he intends to make full use of the time he has. This week promises to see the beginnings of the effort. It will be fun to watch. Stay tuned.

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