This week is the annual NHL GMs meeting in Florida. The biggest upshot from the meetings is some reasonably detailed guidelines for how an expansion draft would work if the NHL adds 1 or 2 teams.
It is important to note that these rules are not official/final, so there is a chance that things change a bit. It is also important to note that the intent per this week’s meetings would be to allow for a full ‘transactional year’ before the expansion draft. That means 2 things. We are looking at no earlier than 2017-18 for a new team or possibly 2 to join the league. There is no surprise there. The other result is that teams would have a full year to maneuver their roster based on the upcoming draft. So for example a team that had too many good defensemen but not many forwards that they wanted to protect would be encouraged to trade a defenseman for a forward rather than risk losing their fourth defenseman for nothing.
Here are the basics and what it means for the Hurricanes:
All first and second-year professional players would be exempt from the draft as would any players drafted within the past 2 years.
Basically, this means that all players drafted in 2015 or 2016, importantly except Noah Hanifin would not be subject to the draft. Because Hanifin jumped straight to the professional level, he will be entering his third year professionally. That is not the case with any other 2015 draftees and could not be the case for any 2016 draftees who would could at most be professional for 1 year.
But players drafted 2 or more years prior but not yet signed to a contract would not be exempt
This could be an important category for the Hurricanes. It primarily applies to European players and US college players. If not signed at the time of the expansion draft, all draftees from 2015 and prior would be exposed. For the Hurricanes, this has the potential to include Sebastian Aho, Aleksi Saarela and a few other later-round picks. If signed, Aho, Saarela and others would become first year professionals and become exempt from the expansion draft.
Of the players not exempt, teams can only protect either 3 defensemen, 7 forwards and 1 goalie or 8 skaters (any mix of D and F) and 1 goalie
The upshot is that you can only protect about half of your roster and probably at maximum 3 defensemen unless you want to give up 3 forward protections just to gain 1 defenseman. This is significant and likely to be incredibly poor timing for the Carolina Hurricanes who are stocked with young defensemen. If the draft happened, this summer it would be easy for the Canes. All of Hanifin, Pesce and Slavin would be exempt as first-year defensemen. But when you roll forward to the summer of 2017, only players like Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown who are moving up from juniors next season would be exempt.
If I had to pick right now, I would protect Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin and Noah Hanifin and have nightmares for days about the prospect of losing Brett Pesce for nothing. Any other veterans who might stay like Ron Hainsey and James Wisniewski would also be exposed as would be older prospects like Ryan Murphy and Trevor Carrick.
Possible impact: If all 3 of Slavin, Hanifin and Pesce continue their development next season, this situation could actually push Ron Francis to trade 1 of them to get fair value back in the form of a forward that the Canes might be able to protect. 7 forward slots are not a ton either, but my math says Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask would be certain. That leaves 3 spots for the most wanted of Joakim Nordstrom, Andrej Nestrasil, Phil Di Giuseppe plus whoever the Canes sign next summer for more than 1 season. Basically the question could come down to if the Canes have more roster spots that they can protect at forward and would try to convert a young defenseman into a forward who could at least be protected.
The players exposed to the draft must be at least 25% of the team’s total salary
This 1 could have interesting ramifications for the Canes this summer. Many of the players that the Canes might protect being pretty inexpensive. Slavin, Pesce and Hanifin will still be on their entry-level contracts, and a couple other possibilites like Rask, Lindholm, Di Giuseppe, Nordstrom and Nestrasil will be on fairly inexpensive contracts. Might it actually make sense for Francis to add a big contract or 2 this summer on 2-year deals to add some potential salary to possibly expose to the expansion draft? Francis will need to add some salary to reach the salary cap floor anyway. These possible new rules could push him to make a bigger contract or 2 at least 2 years even if he initially preferred to do 1-year deals.
Expansion team(s) could become another bad salary dumping ground
Toronto has recently entered the business of taking bad contracts in return for payment in futures. I hate the idea that adding another team trying to reach the cap floor could open up another trading booth for the big market teams with bad contracts that they want to get rid of. With the volume of budget that Francis has right now, I like the idea of most of the big market teams being unable to do much in the open market because of salary cap limitations. The good news is that nothing will change this summer when Ron Francis has the most money available.
Most significant takeaways for the Hurricanes
1-If the expansion draft is for 2017 and follows these rules, the timing stinks for the Hurricanes. If it happened a year earlier, the Canes young guns on D would all be exempt, and it would be easy to protect everyone important. Rolling back to 2017 would force Francis to expose 1 of Faulk, Slavin, Hanifin and Pesce in addition to any other veterans added.
2-With fewer core players at forward, sadly I think the situation would force Francis to trade a good young defenseman to get value back at forward where he has more spots he can protect.
3-The 25% salary thing could be tricky and alter the kinds of contracts Francis offers this summer.