The Vegas Golden Knights have blanded their way into existence in the past few weeks, with their milquetoast name and color scheme. Right around the time a team will be hoisting the Stanley Cup in June, they’ll be ready to form the initial roster for their inaugural season of 2017-18.
By the rules of the expansion draft as laid out on NHL.com, the Vegas Golden Knights will be selecting just one player from each of the 30 existing teams. Eligible players for the draft must be under contract for the 2017-18 season and not have a no-movement clause (included limited no-movements), unless that player agrees to waive the no-movement clause prior to the draft, which is highly unlikely.
Each team has two paths they can take on how they want to protect their players prior to the draft:
- 7 Forwards, 3 Defensemen, 1 Goalie
- 8 skaters of any combination (at least one defenseman or at least one forward), 1 Goalie
I’m having a hard time envisioning why an NHL team wouldn’t select the first option that enables them to protect 10 total skaters, rather than just 8. It’s not as if there is some team so overloaded on must-have defensemen that they feel compelled to protect, say, 4 or 5 of them.
So let’s run through the Penguins roster to determine which skaters they are most likely to protect come June, keeping in mind that trades, performance declines, or injuries are subject to disrupting this list by June.
The Penguins have five guys on either limited or full no-movement clauses, so they are automatic protections:
- Evgeni Malkin
- Sidney Crosby
- Phil Kessel
- Patric Hornqvist
- Carl Hagelin
That leaves two potential protections to select from the following list. I’m including their salaries and when their contract runs through, as it may come into the decision process.
- Eric Fehr ($2M, 2018)
- Bryan Rust ($640K, 2018)
- Scott Wilson ($625K, 2018)
- Tom Kuhnhackl ($625K, 2018)
Of note, Conor Sheary is a Restricted Free Agent next year. Vegas is allowed to draft RFA’s (but no one knows exactly how many they can draft total), so Sheary is eligible for the expansion draft. I don’t anticipate him staying that way and could see the Pens signing him to an affordable short-term deal before the expansion draft.
All of the players in the Fehr to Kuhnhackl bin are exactly the types of guys that end up being selected in expansion drafts. These 3rd and 4th line types are cheap for the new team and will help keep things competitive in those early, rough years. I don’t think the Pens would mind terribly if any of the Fehr to Kuhnhackl bin are lost. Secretly, they are probably hoping that Vegas takes Fehr so that they can clear his $2M off the books and re-allocate it to Sheary.
I’ll predict the seven protections are Malkin, Crosby, Kessel, Hornqvist, Hagelin, Rust, and Sheary.
Kris Letang is the only defenseman with a no-movement clause, so he’s an automatic protection. The other two could get pretty interesting, though.
Olli Maatta is young (22) and full of upside, but it’s no secret that injuries have plagued him in the early portion of his career. He signed a very lucrative, long-term contract prior to his repeated shoulder and other ailments, so I’m wondering if there’s some buyer’s remorse by the Pens. Would they like to dangle his $4.1M through 2022 out in the expansion draft, knowing full well that Vegas would snap him up and take the risk on his health? Would it bother them if Vegas did select him?
Ian Cole at $2.1M through 2018 is the only other defenseman, somewhat amazingly, under contract next year. Brian Dumoulin is a Restricted Free Agent and aside from his recent run of poor play, I expect the Pens will sign him to an affordable deal, too. Derrick Pouliot is also an RFA, but his case is a little more gray. He’s fought off injuries and inconsistent play in his young career. If he’s signed to a new contract, he’s a type that is a candidate to be exposed in the draft.
In the end, I’ll predict the Pens protect Letang, Maatta, and Dumoulin, banking on youth and leaving Cole and Pouliot exposed. As with the 3rd/4th line forwards above, Cole is the perfect type of player for an expansion franchise to grab — a productive veteran on a modest deal with Stanley Cup-winning experience.
It’s Murray who will be protected. He’s the future. Fleury, through no fault of his own, is making things awkward on the team and that’s straight from the GM’s mouth, too. There’s no way that Fleury finishes up this campaign with the flightless bird on his sweater.
The return for Fleury will be a goalie that is fodder to be included in the expansion draft, so it’s got to be someone with a no-movement clause. We looked at some candidates a couple of weeks ago.
SO WHO WILL VEGAS SELECT?
Now that’s a really good question. If the list of players submitted for the draft is the same as I’ve shown above, Vegas will be looking at:
- Eric Fehr
- Bryan Rust
- Scott Wilson
- Tom Kuhnhackl
- Ian Cole
- Derrick Pouliot
- Goalie obtained in Fleury trade
Of course without knowing the goalie, it’s more difficult. Also we don’t know who the other 29 NHL teams will submit and what type of players Vegas will select before they raid the Penguins for a player.
But in a vacuum, I would say that Ian Cole would be my pick. He’s a solid #3/4 defenseman that can be a solid penalty killer and team leader on a team that will be relying on castoffs and young players for the first year of their existence.
If the Golden Knights wanted to gamble on upside, Derrick Pouliot would be a strong selection. His potential is that of a top pairing d-man, but injuries and inconsistencies have held him back.
Whoever is selected, the Penguins will miss their contributions, but it doesn’t appear to be anyone that can’t be replaced long-term.