“Did somebody say craps?”
On Tuesday, the Associated Press broke the news that the NHL would indeed expand to Las Vegas during the 2017-18 season. The franchise will be the NHL’s 31st team and the first major professional sports franchise in the gambling capital of the United States.
The new teams means the Capitals will lose one player during next summer’s expansion draft.
According to reports, General Manager Brian MacLellan will be allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. The NHL has mandated that each NHL team must expose at least two forwards and one defenseman who have played either 40 games in the previous season (2016-17) or 70 games in the previous two seasons (2015-17). Teams can only lose a maximum of one player. Players who are pending unrestricted free agents, do not need to be protected.
- The expansion team must select players that have a total value of between 60 and 100% of the 2016-17 salary cap.
- The expansion team can’t buy out anyone it picks in the expansion draft until the following off-season (2018).
- The expansion team will be given the same draft lottery odds as the team that finishes third last in the league and cannot pick later than sixth in the 2017 NHL entry draft. It’s possible the expansion team could end up with the first overall pick, if it wins the lottery.
- Teams must protect players that have no-movement clauses active in the 2017-18 season. No-movement clauses active in 2016-17 will have no impact. There will likely be exceptions made for players with no-movement clauses who are out with career-ending injuries (i.e. Ryane Clowe and Nathan Horton). Teams are not expected to be forced to protect those contracts.
With that in mind, here’s who we would protect.
Protected forwards: Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, TJ Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson
This list ls largely dependent upon two assuming: 1) the Caps will re-sign TJ Oshie and 2) the Caps will not re-sign Justin Williams. These are both debates for another time, but I went based off what I think the Caps are most likely to do. Even if they were to re-sign Williams, I still think they’d expose a forward in his mid-thirties over any of the options above.
All of these are no-brainers except for Tom Wilson. Wilson is a divisive player, and I’m far from his biggest fan, but his age and pedigree make him the guy I’d protect over more easily replaceable players such as Jay Beagle and Michael Latta. This isn’t necessarily because I think Wilson is currently more valuable to the Caps than a guy like Beagle, but because he’s less replaceable if he were able to realize his potential. His size and style of play also brings a more unique, less replaceable element to the team, whereas a guy like Beagle could be more easily replace by Latta, Chandler Stephenson, or a similar player.
Protected defensemen: John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov
The only tough decision for me came down to Dmitry Orlov vs Karl Alzner. The Caps are likely to lose whichever of these two they leave unprotected and there’s really no good option here. The loss of either player will be a tough pill to swallow.
Reasonable minds can disagree here on which one to leave unprotected. Orlov has a lot more detractors than Alzner, so I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with me. I think Alzner is great, and I think there’s a case to be made that he was the Caps second best defender this past season behind Matt Niskanen. But he’s due a raise, he’s older than Orlov, and he doesn’t have as much upside. This is why I’d protect Orlov over Alzner.
One important thing to note here is that Alzner is a free agent after the 2016-17 season. Perhaps the Caps can work out a “wink-wink” agreement with Alzner where they agree to a deal but don’t re-sign him until after the draft. This would keep them from having to protect him and all but nullify the chances of him being taken in the expansion draft.
Protected goalie: Braden Holtby
In summary, the Caps don’t have too many tough choices up front, as the most valuable player they could lose is Beagle, a fourth line center.
On the back end, the Caps will have to decide what to do with Alzner’s contract situation. If they re-sign him to an extension before the draft, Orlov will likely be exposed and taken. If they don’t re-sign Alzner before the draft, and thus leave him unprotected, the Caps will likely lose Nate Schmidt in the draft. I don’t think there’s any way Las Vegas takes Brooks Orpik over Schmidt or Orlov.
Philipp Grubauer may be appealing to Las Vegas, but there will be a lot of valuable goalies exposed in the draft.
I am going to separate the players into tiers.
Protected forwards: Nick Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alex Ovechkin are all must protect.
If the Caps sign Johansson for more than one season, which they shouldn’t, then he falls into this category as well. Do not re-sign Oshie or Williams before the draft, and they can go unprotected.
That leaves two or three spots (depending on Johansson) for Wilson, Beagle, Stephenson, and whomever they are forced to sign for more than one year this summer. Wilson first, Beagle and UFA would be next.
Protected defensemen: John Carlson and Matt Niskanen are must protect.
Orlov would be the next on my list barring a UFA signing or trade this summer, but he will be battling this year with Nate Schmidt and possibly a new defenseman for the spot.
No need to consider Taylor Chorney or Brooks Orpik here as they are unlikely to be taken.
Protected goalie: Gru…Holtby
I would have as many UFAs as possible heading into the expansion draft. There is no need to sign a guy just to be forced to protect him. A UFA could be selected, but the team would most likely have a chance at signing him two weeks later. However, two forwards and one defenseman may have to be left unprotected who are under contract in 2017-18 and played 40 NHL games the year before or 70 in the previous two years (which would include the one we just watched). Orpik and Chorney would both qualify for the defensemen. Michael Latta could qualify for one of those spots, assuming he plays 27 games next season. The other would have to be filled by someone signed this summer, one of the Caps UFAs next summer (signed beyond next year), or someone else currently in the system that would fulfill the requirements, Wilson, Beagle, Stephenson or Stan Galiev (if either gets the games played requirement).
If the Caps were to sign any of their free agents, where would they slot in? Alzner would be a must protect for me, definitely over Orlov. We saw what happened in Game Six against the Penguins when he was injured. As for the forwards, in order of neediness of protection, Oshie, Johansson, Williams, Richards, Chimera, Winnik.
So, who would be left unprotected and why? There are a lot of people hoping that Orpik will not only be left unprotected, but will be taken. Orpik will not be taken by Vegas to fill their cap. If he is taken, it will be because they value him. UFAs have a long history of being taken in these drafts in the past. Mike Richter was taken in 1998 by Nashville only to be quasi-re-signed by the Rangers three weeks later as one example. If the team needs to fill out the roster for cap reasons at the expansion draft, they will look at UFAs. Because of this, I do not think he will be taken. The other defensemen selections are rather easy after the decision of Orlov or Schmidt. Beagle is the most valuable forward that has a chance to be left unprotected. Latta, Galiev, Stephenson and the other Hershey guys do not have huge value.
Philipp Grubauer could be at risk, but then I think about the other goalies that will be forced to be left unprotected and am calmed.
Your turn: Who do you think the Caps should and protect?
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