If you've been following the SB Nation NHL mock expansion draft, by now you probably know a few things: We're pretending the league is expanding to 32 teams, so the fake Winnipeg Jets (managed by Gabe Desjardins from Behind the Net) and the fake Quebec Nordiques (managed by the Globe and Mail's James Mirtle) will be trying to get the best out of what the rest of the league leave behind.
There are a few ground rules to go over. First off, any player who's appeared in 49 or fewer NHL games is automatically exempt; for this reason, there was no need for us to protect Zack Smith or Bobby Butler. Secondly, we had to make sure to leave "at least two forwards who appeared in 40 games last season OR 70 games in the last two seasons combined." This wasn't a problem for us.
Alright, let's get things started with easiest and then second-easiest decisions:
Team can't give up Spezza for nothing. He's going to be protected. He's paid a hefty salary, but he earns it (at least as much as anyone in the NHL "earns" multiple millions of dollars). There are people out there who might want to see him traded, but you're not going to find any of those people fake-managing this Senators team.
Oh yeah, Alfie's not going anywhere. He's getting older, sure, and maybe he's going to start fading, but Alfredsson's still a huge part of the Senators leadership, scoring, powerplay, penalty killing... basically, everything.
Here we get the controversy. I will begin by saying this was not a consensus decision; in fact, Kovalev wasn't on the protected list at first, and was only added as a last-minute adjustment. He had a fairly abysmal year last year, and is making another $5M this season, both factors that make it unlikely he'll be selected and beg the question: Why is he protected?
Because he's skilled. The Senators need skill. Kovalev is likely as good as any player the Senators can otherwise acquire at this point in the off-season, and if he plays as he's able to, be could be miles ahead of some unnamed replacement. His contract is up after this year, so there are no long-term obligations to him and he's got the added incentive of playing for a job next season. We elected to protect him because he is (or at least should be) a top-six forward, something the franchise has in much fewer supply than bottom-six players.
Michalek had a rough season last year, but that's no reason to leave him unprotected. If he can bounce back from the injuries that kept him down, there's no reason we shouldn't expect him to better the scoring totals he had last season. And he's on a long-term, relatively cap-friendly contract.
Second-line centre, or at least close to it. People might complain about the contract he's got with the Senators, but $4.2M is about market rate for a player who brings what Fisher does.
Neil had a heck of a bounce-back season last year, scoring ten goals and more than doubling his point production from the year before. He seems to buy into Cory Clouston's system, and that's good. And Neil brings something no other forwards on the Senators roster can bring: Hitting and fighting.
Ruutu's cheap, his contract is up after this year, he's effective, and he put up decent numbers offensively. There's little reason to leave him unprotected.
Foligno took a bit of a step backwards last season, and still leaves much to be desired in terms of consistency. But he's still a good young player, and he was just signed to a very reasonable two-year contract.
The playoffs last year showed that Regin is the closest thing the Senators have to a first-line scoring prospect. And with the incredible contract he's just signed, there's no way we're letting him walk.
So, who does that leave unprotected?
Chris Kelly, for one. This isn't necessarily a matter of Kelly being ineffective, it's just that what he offers isn't as rare as that of the players we've elected to protect. With a number of good young centremen in the Sens' system, losing Kelly wouldn't be the end of the world.
Although we did leave one of those young centres unprotected, in Jesse Winchester. While he's been good for stretches, it looks like Winchester will turn into nothing more than a fourth-line player in the league, and a middling one at that. He's given management little reason to invest much more in him at this time.
Winger Ryan Shannon is also unprotected, in large part due to the tremendously disappointing season he had last year. He's struggled to prove he can be an NHL player through his entire career, and now that he's finally got his name on a one-way contract, he looks less deserving of it than when he was fighting for one.
Finally, Francis Lessard is the final expansion draft-eligible player on the Senators roster. Signed to a two-way contract, Lessard is an enforcer expected to spend much of the season with the Binghamton Senators.
So to sum it all up, here's where the Ottawa Senators stand in preparation for tomorrow's mock expansion draft:
Goalies (1): Brian Elliott
Defencemen (5): Sergei Gonchar, Filip Kuba, Chris Phillips, Chris Campoli, Erik Karlsson
Forwards (9): Jason Spezza, Alex Kovalev, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Mike Fisher, Chris Neil, Jarkko Ruutu, Nick Foligno, Peter Regin