Expansion Draft’s Effect Upon the 2016-17 NHL Trade Market
At the dawn of a brand new year, NHL scribes such as myself usually make predictions over how we see events unfolding over the remainder of his season and into the next. This year, I predict the expansion draft in June will have a significant effect upon the NHL trade market.
Though the expansion draft is slated for June 21, it will play a substantial role in any major trades leading up to the March 1 trade deadline. It could also affect offseason deals up until June 17, when the current 30 teams must submit their lists of protected players to the league.
Under the draft rules, teams can either protect 11 players (seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender) or eight skaters (four forwards and four blueliners) plus a goalie. Any team acquiring a forward, defenseman or goaltender signed beyond this season must ensure they can protect those acquisitions in the expansion draft.
For example, let’s assume the Toronto Maple Leafs trade left wing James van Riemsdyk to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Cam Fowler before the March 1, 2017 trade deadline.
Because of van Riemsdyk’s age (26), current salary ($4.5 million), offensive prowess and eligibility for unrestricted free agency in 2018, some observers consider him the Leafs’ best trade bait to acquire a top-four blueliner. The Ducks are deep in young defensemen under contract beyond this season and need a skilled scoring left winger.
While in-season “hockey trades” are rare in today’s salary-cap world, such moves still occasionally take place. Last January, the Columbus Blue Jackets shipped center Ryan Johansen to the Nashville Predators for rearguard Seth Jones.
Adding Fowler certainly addresses the Leafs need for another top-four defenseman. However, it would affect the number of blueliners they can protect from the expansion draft.
Currently, the Leafs would protect Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and promising Connor Carrick. Adding Fowler to the mix means they must adopt the eight-skater protection route to keep him plus Rielly, Gardiner and Carrick.
Going that route puts the Leafs at risk of losing a forward such as Connor Brown, Leo Komarov or Matt Martin in the expansion draft. While that might not seem like a great loss, they are significant role players for the Leafs. Management could be unwilling to leave any of them exposed.
Instead of considering a swap of van Riemsdyk for Fowler before the March 1 trade deadline, the Leafs might be better off waiting until after the expansion draft. That would allow them to use the 11-player protection option to protect more key players.
Some teams, such as the Minnesota Wild, risk losing a good young player in the expansion draft regardless of which protection option they choose.
The Wild could use the eight-skater plan to protect four blueliners. Ryan Suter is automatically exempt from the draft because of his no-movement clause. Assuming they protect Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba, they risk losing a good young forward such as Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Jeff Zucker or Mikael Granlund. Should the Wild opt to protect three defensemen, Spurgeon, Brodin or Dumba could be the odd man out.
Rather than risk losing a young forward or defenseman to the expansion draft for nothing, Wild management could put one on the trade block for either a draft-ineligible player, a quality draft pick or a good prospect. Given the Wild’s current strong play, that move probably won’t happen until the playoffs have ended.
Teams carrying depth in goaltenders could also decide to trade one of them, rather than leave them exposed in the draft. Such is the case with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Long-time starter Marc-Andre Fleury has lost his role to rising star Matt Murray, who backstopped the Pens to the Stanley Cup last season. Fleury carries a no-movement clause. Under draft rules, he must be protected unless he agrees to waive it.
Since last summer, speculation suggests the Pens could ask Fleury to accept a trade. That move could come either before this season’s trade deadline or prior to the submission date for player protection lists.