It’s never too early to start preparing for an expansion draft, lest you end up supplying a brand new team with two-thirds of a top line. Poor Florida.
We’re still over a full season away from Seattle’s arrival to the National Hockey League in 2021-22, and general managers are undoubtedly organizing their rosters so as to minimize the damage from the upcoming expansion draft. Well, all of them except for the Vegas Golden Knights. They won’t be losing any of their players, because that’s exactly what that team needed: another handout!
Anyway, today we’ll be looking at the Ottawa Senators’ outlook going into the expansion draft; which players do they have to worry about protecting? Who should we be concerned about being made available?
First things first, the roster for next season is still up in the air, so we’re going to have to make some assumptions about who will be signed or not. We’ll say that Anthony Duclair, Connor Brown and Chris Tierney are signed for at least two years each, along with Filip Chlapik, Nick Paul and any other RFAs the team wishes to retain. As for UFAs, they’ll re-sign Mark Borowiecki, as well as Jordan Szwarz to lead the way in Belleville for another year.
In many situations, no-move clauses are the bane of a team’s existence. A player with a NMC cannot be traded or sent to the minors. Additionally, teams are forced to protect any player with a NMC in an expansion draft, unless that player agrees to waive the clause before the draft, which typically doesn’t happen.
In the case of the Anaheim Ducks in 2017, they were forced to protect Kevin Bieksa, which left both Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson exposed. They ended up trading prospect Shea Theodore, now a top-pairing defenseman, to Vegas as an incentive for them to pick Clayton Stoner instead.
One Senator currently has a no-move clause: Bobby Ryan. However, there are certain exceptions to the above rule. NMCs can be negotiated to include both limited trade lists and exclude protection from an expansion draft. Not all of these details are well-documented, but if you recall, unlike with Dion Phaneuf, the Senators were not required to protect Ryan back in 2017. They won’t have to in 2021 either.
A player is considered exempt from the expansion draft if they have accrued two or fewer pro (NHL or AHL) seasons. This can become extremely convoluted thanks to the many details of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Any rules that I explain here can be found at CapFriendly.com, which also has a neat little Expansion Draft Simulator. In case you’re unfamiliar with the entry-level slide rule, it comes into effect if a team has a player under contract during his D+1 or D+2 seasons, that is, their first two seasons after their draft year. When a player reaches ten NHL games in a season, the first year of the contract is officially entered, so a team will typically decide whether or not to delay the contract and send them back down to the AHL, CHL, SHL or what have you, after nine games. Notably, if a player spends their D+1 or D+2 season in the AHL, that does not count as their first pro season. Erik Brannstrom, if you’ll recall, his D+2 season with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. Thus he’s exempt from the draft, even though he’s already played two seasons in the minors.
For Ottawa, the following players are exempt; all 2019 draftees, all 2018 draftees excluding Brady Tkachuk, along with Alex Formenton, Josh Norris, Brannstrom, Olle Alsing, Artem Zub, Parker Kelly and Jonathan Aspirot. Here are a few notable cases:
Jonathan Davidsson, despite playing his first season in North America this year, is eligible for the expansion draft. Davidsson signed his entry-level contract at age 21, three years after his draft year, so the “entry-level slide rule” doesn’t apply. He played the 2018-19 season in Sweden on loan from the Columbus Blue Jackets, and because a year was burned from his contract, that counted as his first pro season.
Goalie prospect Joel Daccord is eligible as well. Since he signed a two-year ELC before the end of the 2018-19 season and played a regular season game with the Senators, that counted as his first pro season. The nine-game rule only applies to players in their first two seasons after their draft year, and Daccord had played three seasons with Arizona State after he was drafted back in 2015.
Teams must meet three criteria when choosing which players to expose. They are as follows:
- two forwards that are under contract in 2021-22, and have met one of the two following requirements: 1) 40 games played in the 2020-21 season. 2) 70 games combined played in the 2019-20 & 2020-21 seasons.
- one defenseman under contract in 2021-22, and that has met requirement 1 or 2 as written above.
- one goalie that is either under contract in 2021-22, or is an RFA at the end of the 2020-21 season./
With this in mind, Ottawa could choose to expose two of Tierney, Ryan, Paul, etc. up front, Nikita Zaitsev on the back end, and Filip Gustavsson in net.
Who do we protect?
Teams have two options when protecting players. They can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or any eight skaters (typically four defensemen) and one goalie. Given Ottawa’s projected roster a year from now, the obvious choice would be to protect seven and three. Up front, Brady Tkachuk, Anthony Duclair, Drake Batherson, Colin White and Logan Brown are locks; although the latter hasn’t established himself in the NHL yet, his value is still too high to lose for nothing, or rather, higher than other players we could lose. That leaves two spots open, for the remaining eligible players, notably including Connor Brown, Rudolfs Balcers, Nick Paul, Filip Chlapik and Vitaly Abramov. Of those three, Brown has the most value and if the team wanted to clear his roster spot to make room for a younger player, protecting him and then trading him down the road for a solid return would be smarter. The last forward I’d protect would be Abramov. He strikes me as a project, a boom-or-bust Mike Hoffman-esque player. The other prospects listed above are solid but can be replaced from within the team’s system. If Abramov’s puck skills and ridiculous numbers in the QMJHL can ever translate to the big club, Ottawa will be over the moon.
The three protected defensemen would be Thomas Chabot, Christian Wolanin and I’d lean towards Christian Jaros over Max Lajoie for the third one. In net, there’s a tough choice to be made between Joel Daccord and Marcus Hogberg. Daccord’s development has been wonderful, and he may end up as the better of the two, but Hogberg has already proven himself to be an NHL goalie, and is still only 25. If it were up to me, I’d protect Hogberg due to his ability to provide the team with quality goaltending immediately, and in the future as well. He’s the safest option.
To summarize, here’s our list of protected players:
F Brady Tkachuk, F Drake Batherson, F Anthony Duclair, F Colin White, F Logan Brown, F Connor Brown, F Vitaly Abramov, D Thomas Chabot, D Christian Wolanin, D Christian Jaros, G Marcus Hogberg
Who would Seattle target?
Given the list above, Seattle has a few nice options available. If they’re looking for the best available NHL player, they’ll go with Chris Tierney. If they want the best young player available, Joel Daccord will be selected. Those two are the most likely candidates in my opinion, although I could also see them opting for Balcers, Paul, or even Anders Nilsson, as Seattle is able to draft pending UFAs and negotiate with them (Deryk Engelland in Vegas for example).
Let’s make a deal?
In the Vegas expansion draft, several teams found themselves in a desperate situation: they were either poised to lose a key player, or were right up against the salary cap ceiling. Vegas took advantage of this, and were able to secure multiple valuable pieces such as William Karlsson or Nikita Gusev, in exchange for helping those teams out. Now, the Senators aren’t in nearly as bad a spot as Columbus or Anaheim were in 2017, but there could still be a benefit to making a side deal.
Would it be worse for the team to lose Joel Daccord or Chris Tierney? Both are valuable, but Tierney stands to be overtaken by some of Ottawa’s centre prospects in the future, particularly Josh Norris. So, why not offer Seattle a third-or-fourth-round pick to ensure they don’t take Daccord? Sure, Seattle may not have been looking to take him anyway, but it’s relatively cheap insurance to protect an additional key player in the organization.
That’s pretty much everything you need to know! Would you protect Jaros over Lajoie? Hogberg over Daccord? Does a side deal with Seattle make sense for Ottawa? Am I horrendously over-valuing Logan Brown? Be sure to let us know, and stay safe!
Which goaltender should the Ottawa Senators protect in the expansion draft?