If June yields an NHL expansion announcement and an expansion draft for the summer of 2017, it could have some interesting effects throughout the league. Details could change before being finalized, but the current best guess is that teams would be able to protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen and 1 goalie or alternatively 8 skaters of any mix and 1 goalie. Further, first and second year professionals (AHL or NHL) would be exempt. In addition, it is expected that teams would need to expose a minimum of 25% of their prior year salary to the expansion draft.
There could be a number of obvious and less obvious impacts on the Hurricanes many of which actually impact the 2016-17 roster that precedes the expansion draft itself:
The Canes hunt for a second goalie
In reviewing the Hurricanes options to add a second goalie, I wrote a post that listed a number of teams with 2 pretty good goalies who would have to make 1 available in the expansion draft. I think this could be the greatest impact on Ron Francis’ work for the 2016-17 season also with the potential for a longer-term impact. The free agent list with only James Reimer, Cam Ward and Chad Johnson as decent free agent goalie choices is incredibly slim and would present a challenge and even possible bidding war to land a top choice. When you consider that Anaheim (Andersen/Gibson), Pittsburgh (Fleury/Murray), Tampa Bay (Bishop/Vasilevskiy) and St. Louis (Elliott/Allen) all have 2 pretty good goalies and the risk of losing 1 for nothing next summer, the number of goalies available could more than double when trade options are considered.
Timing and value of Canes depth on the blue line
The 2-year pro protection and likely summer 2017 timing of an expansion draft could not be better for the Carolina Hurricanes. All of Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin and Brett Pesce would be exempt from the draft as would next-generation prospects Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown. The Hurricanes would then have the ability to protect 3 more defensemen. If the current roster was still intact, that would include Justin Faulk, Ryan Murphy and even 1 of Ron Hainsey or James Wisniewski who would be free agents next summer. If the Canes youth continues to develop, it is unlikely the team would bring back both veterans anyway. If the Canes decided to part ways with both Hainsey and Wisniewski, the team could then even protect AHLer Trevor Carrick.
The simplest upshot is that rules and timing of an expected 2017 expansion draft make it possible for the Canes to protect almost all of the team’s defensemen. If the draft instead occurred in 2018, the Canes would be only to protect 3 of Faulk, Hanifin, Slavin, Pesce and Murphy which could make for some difficult decisions.
Another less obvious upshot is that if the Canes decide to trade a young defenseman (I suggested that Brett Pesce and/or Ryan Murphy could be available via trade in this post.), the value could actually be higher both now and also next summer because of the expansion draft. In addition to being a good young player and having a modest sub-$1 million salary for 2 more seasons, Brett Pesce also comes with the bonus of being a player who would not need to be protected in a potential expansion draft next summer. For a team with 3 good veteran defensemen that the team would protect, most additions of a fourth defenseman would be rentals even if signed past the 2016-17 season because they could be lost next summer. That would not be the case with Brett Pesce. Also, with teams that exit the 2016-17 season with 4 good defensemen, 1 would need to be exposed to the expansion draft. Teams that lose a top 4 defenseman next summer could immediately be shopping for a replacement. If the Canes young defensemen continue to develop during this season, 1 of them could be even more valuable next summer in trade to a team that loses a key defenseman to the expansion draft.
A few teams that are deep at forward could have more than 7 players that they would want to protect
7 is a decent number of forwards to protect when you consider that most teams have a couple players that might be unrestricted free agents and/or a player or 2 might be overpriced and not missed too much if lost. But for a few teams that are really deep at forward, the limit of 7 keepers could pose a problem scheduled for next summer.
There are a few other teams that could be impacted but Tampa Bay is arguably the most glaring example. If the Lightning re-sign Stamkos, I count 9-10 forwards that they would ideally like to protect (Stamkos, Killorn, Johnson, Paquette, Kucherov, Drouin, Palat, Boyle, Filppuula and possibly Callahan). Knowing that they could lose 1 or more of these players next summer for nothing, might they be willing to trade 1 now for futures who would not need to be protected? With the Lightning’s unprotectable depth at both forward and goalie plus salary cap challenges if Stamkos returns, could Brett Pesce who is a good young player who is light on salary for 2 more years and also exempt from the expansion draft be a perfect fit and part of a bigger deal for young goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy or a good young forward?
The situation is not quite as challenging but could also come into play for other teams with up front depth that reaches past 7 protectable forwards.
Especially if/when expansion is announced and the rules for the draft are officially announced, a number of players who might otherwise be locked down could become available because of the risk of losing them for nothing next summer. With the Hurricanes having a number of key roster slots to be filled for the 2016-17, this could present a tremendous opportunity for Canes GM Ron Francis.