Mock expansion: The Ottawa Senators protected defencemen

Yesterday, we started releasing the list of protected players for the Ottawa Senators, part of the process for SBN hockey's mock expansion draft. We made the initial decision of protecting only one goaltender in order to protect five defenders and nine forwards, and also announced that the one goaltender we're protecting is Brian Elliott.

Today, we're onto the defenders. We've got to choose five, but our choices will be guided not only by those players who will be most useful. We also need to leave some decent players available: Each team must leave unprotected at least one defenseman who appeared in 40 games last season OR 70 games in the last two seasons combined. On the plus side, we don't have to worry about any players who have played less than 50 games in the NHL, so obviously someone like Jared Cowen is exempt from the draft.

So let's get moving: Our protected defencemen include:

1. Sergei Gonchar: We're not going to leave the new guy unprotected. Although some fans are already writing this signing off as too much, too long, for a player who's too old, Gonchar was signed for a reason: He's one of the league's best blue line producers, and he should awaken the powerplay. We'll give him a chance to try before closing the book on him.

2. Filip Kuba: Undoubtedly, protecting Kuba will be the most controversial decision on this list. Many fans have probably been looking for an opportunity to get out from underneath Kuba's contract, and this expansion draft could be just such an opportunity. But people are probably forgetting one thing: Kuba's contract isn't that expensive, and he's actually a pretty good player. Signing Gonchar might have made another offensive defenceman like Kuba a bit of a luxury, but there's little question that Kuba is among the team's five best defencemen--and he's as good as any other similarly-priced replacement we would be able to find.

3. Chris Phillips: No question here. Franchise player, and we hope to keep it that way. And Phillips is one of few defensive defencemen remaining on the team. Protecting him is not just obvious, it's necessary.

4. Chris Campoli: This will likely be another controversial decision, but it seems like the best move to us. Campoli's contract is reasonable, and his upside is greater than that of Matt Carkner. Protecting him may guarantee an over-emphasis on offensive defencemen, but his play in the post-season last year proved he can be defensively reliable. If he can add the offensive production from his early career with the depth of his game last season, Campoli will turn into a solid defenceman.

5. Erik Karlsson: Easiest decision of them all.

So who does this leave available for drafting? A few good players, actually. First off, we actually have three defencemen who meet the 40/70 games threshold: Brian Lee (75 games over last two seasons), Matt Carkner (81 games last season), and the newly-signed David Hale (87 games over last two seasons).

Carkner was the closest to being protected; the writing management team here at Silver Seven were actually debating between the protection of Carkner or Kuba. His contract is way cheaper ($700k for Carkner, compared to $3.7M for Kuba), and he's a physical defensive defenceman, something Kuba is definitely not and there is a shortage of. But offensive defencemen are much rarer than defensive ones, and waiting in the wings for the Ottawa Senators are Jared Cowen and Eric Gryba, a few guys who can play a punishing physical style, and might make the roster even outside of this fictitious expansion draft.

As a ninth overall pick, Lee is a pretty good asset to leave unprotected. But to be frank, he hasn't shown that he can be any more capable than the five players we've chosen to protect. Whether you want to blame him or the Senators management for his disappointing development, the fact is that he hasn't shown himself to have the consistency to stick in the NHL.

Finally, we come to Hale. Few of us know much about him, but as a player on a two-way contract who's expected to play most of the season for Binghamton, it would be difficult to justify protecting him over any of the other players. Scouting reports tout him as a defensive defenceman (24P in 302 NHL GP indicates he's certainly not a scorer), so he could fit as a depth defender on an expansion teams. If that happens, so be it; we've only invested a couple months into him, so it's not much to have lost.

The good news is that only one goalie or one defenseman can be selected from each existing team. So only one of Leclaire, Carkner, Lee, or Hale could be selected; if it's Leclaire, our defence is fine. If it's any of the three defenders, then the other two--along with Cowen and Gryba--should be reasonably expected to form the sixth and seventh defender on what will still be a pretty good defence squad.

Tomorrow, the forwards.

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