With the Stanley Cup Finals match up to be set in the next couple days and June just around the corner, the busy mid-June through mid-August NHL schedule is now only about three weeks away. First up on the slate of events that will see significant player movement and opportunities to build out the 2017-18 roster is the expansion draft.
The first and obvious effect of the expansion draft is that the Hurricanes, like every other NHL team, will lose a player. I wrote about this on March 29. The Scott Darling addition changes the goalie slot, but the majority of what I said in that article still holds.
All of the broader hockey media articles that I have read have veteran Lee Stempniak pegged as the player to go. That assumes that Ron Francis will choose to protect younger depth forwards Brock McGinn and Phil Di Giuseppe. I am on record as believing that Francis will instead protect Stempniak and choose to expose one of Di Giuseppe or McGinn and that whichever he exposes will be lost…unless Francis cuts some kind of deal to make it otherwise.
The other upshot of the expansion draft is the endless number of possibilities in terms of adding players either by making a trade with Las Vegas who claims and then trades a player or making a trade directly with a team that has a player that it cannot protect and instead decides to trade that player to get a return.
I will probably pull together something more formal closer to the expansion draft date, but for the sake of May Hurricanes hockey talk, here are a variety of a few random and maybe a bit off the wall thoughts on potential Carolina Hurricanes’ impacts from the expansion draft.
A fourth goalie?
With Scott Darling added and signed, the Hurricanes are up to three goalies at the NHL level. Most would figure that the expansion draft or something related to it could represent an opportunity to subtract a goalie. And that is definitely a possibility and something worth considering.
But I actually see a fairly interesting opportunity to add another goalie. Hear me out before declaring me crazy. My starting point is that any and all goalies are some combination of voodoo, black magic, random luck, hockey karma, dice roll type gambling and other things bordering on witch craft. As such they are completely random. Therefore, the only way to increase one’s odds of having a good goalie is strength in numbers – basically more dice rolls. But this is not easy to obtain. There are only two slots at the NHL level, so you only get two tries – that is unless you can get an NHL-capable goalie at the AHL level. Right now, the Hurricanes are slated to be young at the AHL level with Alex Nedeljkovic, Callum Booth and probably Daniel Altshuller if re-signed. Anything is possible, but I would put the probability of any of these goalies being NHL ready as relatively low.
Michael Leighton theoretically provided a third option at the AHL level in 2016-17, but even when he started red hot in the AHL, Coach Bill Peters just did not have enough guts, trust or whatever else to give him a shot when Eddie Lack was injured. Best guess is that Leighton will not be retained.
So what does this have to do with the expansion draft? There are a decent number of decent goalies with NHL experience including players like Anti Ranta, Philip Grubauer and others. But the Hurricanes already filled their second, third actually, NHL slot with Scott Darling.
Enter the interesting case of Joonas Korpisalo from Columbus. The Blue Jackets will undoubtedly protect franchise goalie Sergei Bobrovsky leaving Korpisalo exposed. Korpisalo is thought to be an NHL starter at some point and has made progress in that direction. His statistics have not been eye-popping at the NHL or AHL level, but Korpisalo is 23 years old, probably closer to NHL ready that Nedeljkovic and Booth and with 45 games of NHL experience (only 30 games less than Darling).
But there is an interesting wrinkle to Korpisalo’s contractual/NHL legalese situation. If my math is right, he will be waiver exempt for the 2017-18 (unless he plays 35 NHL games first), so he could be acquired and safely sent to the AHL. He would give the Checkers a relatively veteran goalie but in the form of someone still in the age range of a prospect. For the 2017-18 season, he provides a third NHL option at the ready in the event of injury or just weak play by the other two options. For 2018-19 and beyond, Korpisalo potentially tracks to be an inexpensive and younger #2 behind Darling if he takes the reins and Francis feels comfortable with him and wants to go younger and cheaper but still with upside in the #2 slot going forward.
Key would be Francis’ scouting team’s assessment of Korpisalo. Again, his numbers are nothing special, but most in the know seem to project him as an NHLer.
The fallacy of so many teams trading their way out of losing a good player
The Twittersphere and many articles abound with the suggestion that team __ will look to trade __ to avoid losing him in the expansion draft. There will certainly be a few teams who make deals to collect something of value for a player who would otherwise be lose. But if one analyzes the situation in a bit more depth from sort of a game theory/player valuation kind of angle, the expectation that a team should automatically trade a player who will be lost if they can get value is oversimplified and actually downright wrong in many cases.
Each team will lose a player no matter what per the rules, so there is no way to completely hide. Because of that, there is really only value in trading a player versus losing them for nothing if the next best player who will be lost instead is worth significantly less.
As a simple example, let’s say that a deep team has 10 forwards and that the ones rated 8-10 are all roughly equal. Some people would say that the team should trade the #8 forward who cannot be protected and will be selected even if they cannot get a great return simply because it beats losing him for nothing. But in this case, all it does is cause the team to lose an equally valuable player for nothing. So then they should trade that player too which only means that they lose another player too. The end result is that the team might trade two players out of desperation and not get fair value to avoid losing them and still end up losing roughly the same thing.
The strategy of trading a player instead of losing him for nothing only makes sense if the player who will then be lost instead has significantly less value. The correct way to think of it is whether you would rather just lose the #8 player or whether you would rather lose the #8 and #9 players in return for what is received in trade. In either scenario, the #8 player is gone. The question is whether you want to lose the #9 player too in return for what the #8 player yielded in a trade. If the #8 player is much better than the #9 player and yields a big trade return, this makes sense. If the #8 and #9 players are similar and/or there just is not a great trade on the table for the #8 player, many teams will be better off just losing the player and not making things more complicated than that.
There should be a market for players who will need to be exposed to Las Vegas, but because Las Vegas will just move down the pecking order and take someone else, I am not sure this market will be as many players as some think.
The chance to drop a goalie
Ideal for the Hurricanes would be to lose a goalie in the expansion draft. The Hurricanes have one too many and a few too many salary dollars invested in the position right now. But I think it is unlikely that the Hurricanes will lose Eddie Lack or Cam Ward in the basic version of the expansion draft. I just think there are too many better options in the likes of Philip Grubauer, Anti Ranta, Marc-Andre Fleury or Matt Murray, etc.
But I do think there is a possible scenario whereby the Hurricanes send a goalie to Las Vegas. I could see the Hurricanes sending a goalie to Las Vegas via trade as part of a bigger deal AFTER the expansion draft. I think there is a good chance that Las Vegas will select a couple of the better goalie options and then trade them for futures. If they do that, they might want a short-term veteran netminder for 2017-18. Either Ward or Lack could fit the bill. So the trade looks something like Lack or Ward plus some futures going to Las Vegas in return for a roster NHLer back to Carolina. If Las Vegas does not draft Korpisalo for their own use, maybe the deal is something like Eddie Lack plus a package of futures for Korpisalo. The Hurricanes craftily get back to having a third option at goalie for 2017-18, add a near-term prospect to their goalie pool and do it all while cutting their salary (Korpisalo should be on a two-way contract) and placing the third goalie in the AHL where he can provide a (relative) veteran presence, get ice time and continue his development.
The chance to add a #4/#5 defenseman in a favorable buyer’s market
About that fallacy thing – It might not apply as much for defensemen. When I scroll through rosters on CapFriendly, what jumps out is how many teams have a fourth defenseman who could be interesting. Again, part of the trade equation is understanding who is lost instead, but there should still be some options. I think the key question is just how aggressively Francis wants to add a proven NHL defenseman versus trying to shop somewhat cheaper options.
The market for fourth defensemen could be interesting. Most teams already have three defensemen that they need to protect, so they really cannot add a fourth until after the expansion draft. For example, Toronto is expected to upgrade their blue line during the offseason, but right now they need to protect Rielly, Gardner and Zaitsev, so they cannot add a defenseman until after the expansion draft or else they might just immediately lose him. The Rangers also seem to need help on the blue line, but they have Dan Girardi and Marc Staal with no-movement clauses who must be protected and also captain Ryan McDonagh. So again, unless they bought someone out prior to the expansion draft, they do not have room to add and protect another defenseman.
Briefly put, the market for teams looking to upgrade their blue line will be crowded and competitive as always come draft day and free agency, but because of the tight limit of only three players who can be protected, the market for bidders could actually be incredibly thin before the expansion draft.
Could the Hurricanes scoop up someone like Cam Fowler for a discounted price because of lack of bidding competition? Fowler is maybe not ideal in the sense that he has a $4 million salary for 2017-18 and is scheduled to be a free agent next summer, but at some discounted trade cost, maybe it is best not to look a gift horse in the mouth but instead to capitalize on a market imperfection that makes a good player available for a reasonable price. And the one year term might actually fit fine with playing to win for 2017-18 and buying another year for Hanifin and Fleury to develop.
What say you Canes fans?
What do you think of my late May expansion draft ramblings? Do you see merit in any of these random thoughts?
Do you have any other interesting angles on the expansion draft that are being missed in what you have read so far?