Mock expansion: The Ottawa Senators protected goalies

UNIONDALE, NY - APRIL 03: Brian Elliott #30 of the Ottawa Senators makes a save against the New York Islanders on April 3, 2010 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Last week, we mentioned SB Nation's NHL mock expansion draft: Basically, we polled readers to choose two cities for a fictional expansion of the National Hockey League. The winners were Winnipeg and Quebec City, bringing the two most recent Canadian-based teams back into the fold. The next step in the excercise? Every team blog will be coming up with their protected lists, based on current rosters.

The first choice in the process is how we, the fictional general managers of the Ottawa Senators in the alternate universe, want to build our protected list. As was the case in the NHL's last expansion ten years ago, teams have two choices: We were given the choice to protect either one goalie, five defencemen, and nine forwards OR two goalies, three defencemen, and seven forwards.

For us, the choice was easy: The first format, protecting one goaltender, five defencemen, and nine forwards.

Why? Goaltending was the Senators' biggest weakness last year. Under the chosen format, we were able to protect 15 players; had we chosen to protect both goaltenders, we only save 12 players. And all that protecting both goaltenders means is that we guarantee the Senators' weakest position remains status quo.

So, who did we elect to protect? We chose the younger player, who had a better season last year, has fewer injury problems, and has a lower cap hit.

We protected Brian Elliott.

Is Elliott among the league's best goaltenders? No, and we're not going to try and make that argument. But last year, Elliott had good numbers: A 29-18-4 record, 2.57 GAA, and .909 SP. He was better than his chief counterpart, Pascal Leclaire, in every category through the regular season. And he comes with a cap hit of only $850k, on the last year of his contract, indicating he should have a good degree of motivation to prove he can be a full-time number one goaltender in this league (something he hasn't proven yet).

Which brings us to the player left unprotected, Leclaire. (None of the other goaltenders in the Senators system [Mike Brodeur, Robin Lehner, and Barry Brust] will be eligible to be drafted, as they don't meet minimum NHL games-played requirements.) Acquired to be the team's starting goaltender, Leclaire was anything but in the regular season, fighting injury problems and chronic inconsistency before putting up some of his worst numbers as a professional goaltender. All the while with a cap hit of $3.8M. It would have been an entirely straight-forward decision, if not for two games: First, the Senators' triple-overtime playoff win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, in which Leclaire played a pivotal role, and then the following game, where Leclaire played well despite the loss.

Still, it's difficult (perhaps impossible) to justify protecting Leclaire based on two good games. His cap hit this year is, obviously, $3.8M again this year, but his actual salary jumps to $4.8M in this the last season on his contract.  For that reason, most Leclaire fans can probably feel safe in the knowledge that it's unlikely either of the expansion teams will try Leclaire.

If Leclaire were selected, though, it might prove good for the Senators: The $3.8M he'd clear might be enough to sign free agent Antti Niemi to a contract, and if not would certainly be enough to bring on a UFA like Jose Theodore, Vesa ToskaLOLManny Legace, Sebastien Caron, or Wade Dubielewicz--if the team declines the possibility of giving Lehner an opportunity to jump right into the NHL, or to start the season with an Elliott-Brodeur tandem in the net.

It seems unlikely that Leclaire will be selected by either of the new expansion teams. But if he is, it would be difficult for the Senators' goaltending to get worse than it was last season--so the natural choice is to make sure you keep the player with the lower cap hit.

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