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Even though the regular season is still in full swing, the upcoming expansion draft has been swirling in the news this week both for the broader NHL and also more specifically for the Carolina Hurricanes.
On the NHL front, the league previously suggested that the expansion protection lists might be kept secret which immediately prompted an uproar from the hockey community. This week it was suggested that the lists would be made public.
Closer to home, Ryan Murphy missing Tuesday’s game officially made him ineligible to qualify as a defenseman that meets either experience requirement. That means that as of right now expansion draft rules would require the Hurricanes to expose Justin Faulk to meet the requirement for exposing 1 defenseman who meets the experience requirements. That obviously is not happening, so the Hurricanes need to come up with a plan B to have another experienced defenseman to expose.
Quick expansion draft rules refresher
* Each team can protect 1 goalie, 7 forwards and 3 defensemen. (Note: There is another mix, but I am skipping it because it will not be relevant for the Hurricanes.) In addition, any players who are in only their second season professionally are automatically exempt.
=> Hurricanes upshot: The timing is incredibly good for the Hurricanes. All of Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Noah Hanifin, Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown are exempt. So is Sebastian Aho at forward.
* Each team must expose 1 defenseman and 2 forwards who meet experience requirements of having either played 40 NHL games in 2016-17 or 70 NHL games in 2015-16 and 2016-17 combined.
=> Hurricanes upshot: This experience requirement will significantly impact what Francis must do to prepare for the expansion draft and also who is protected. As noted above, to meet the experience requirement for a defenseman, the Hurricanes will need to add a contract. The most likely solution is to sign either Matt Tennyson or Klas Dahlbeck for 2017-18.
Hurricanes expansion draft: Defensemen
As noted above, between now and late June, the Hurricanes need to manufacture a defenseman who meets the experience requirement, so they can protect Justin Faulk. It could be either Matt Tennyson or Klas Dahlbeck. My vote would be for Klas Dahlbeck simply because I like his game of late and think if not claimed, he could fit the bill for a #6/#7 defenseman next season.
Who gets protected: Logically, the pecking order with Dahlbeck or Tennyson signed and exposed would be Justin Faulk, Ryan Murphy and Trevor Carrick. With Slavin, Pesce and Hanifin exempt, that would leave only Dahlbeck or Tennyson plus veteran AHL-level defensemen exposed.
The wild card: There is a chance that the Hurricanes leave Ryan Murphy unprotected and protect a 25+ career AHLer instead. The reason would be because the team would prefer to lose Murphy (therefore he gets dangled) instead of the other options who must be left exposed at forward.
Hurricanes expansion draft: forwards
The situation is more complicated at forward. My count says that the Hurricanes have 8 or more forwards that they would ideally like to keep. They will need to expose 1 or more of them in the expansion draft.
Who gets protected: The ‘for certain’ protection list includes Jordan Staal, Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm and Teuvo Teravainen. In addition, Sebastian Aho is exempt. That leaves 2 remaining players to be protected from the list of Lee Stempniak, Brock McGinn, Phil Di Giuseppe and Joakim Nordstrom. McGinn and Di Giuseppe must be re-signed (or at least qualified) but once they are whichever of the 2 players are not protected will also meet the experience requirement for exposed players.
Which last 2 forwards to protect and which couple to leave exposed will be a tough decision for Francis. If he wants to focus solely on protecting younger players with upside, he could protect Phil Di Giuseppe and Brock McGinn who are both only 23 years old and could theoretically still have upside. If he wants to focus on protecting his 2017-18 roster, veteran Lee Stempniak could garner protection as could solid depth forward Joakim Nordstrom. Or he could go with a mix of the 2.
If it was up to me, I would do a half and half. I would protect Lee Stempniak. If the Hurricanes lose him, they will need to find another top 9 forward and likely will have to pay more than Lee Stempniak’s $2.5 million salary to do it. I would also protect Phil Di Giuseppe to keep 1 of the 2 younger players. It is a tough call between McGinn and Di Giuseppe, but I think Di Giuseppe has slightly more upside offensively than McGinn. (I respect the opinion of people who go the other route in this choice.) And though I like Nordstrom as a useful depth player, he is a fourth-liner and replaceable.
So my exposed forwards would be Joakim Nordstrom and Brock McGinn though I think there is a reasonable chance that Francis protects the youth and is forced to risk Stempniak in the process. The ESPN crew unanimously had Stempniak as the Hurricanes player taken in their mock expansion draft from this week.
The wild card: I view Lee Stempniak as the wild card as protected player. It will hurt to potentially lose 1 of McGinn or Di Giuseppe, but I think Stempniak is valuable enough that Francis will do so anyway.
Hurricanes expansion draft: goalies
It does not matter the time of year, the goalie position for the Carolina Hurricanes stirs up controversy. I do not see any reason why it would not be the same come June and the expansion draft. Only 3 weeks ago, it would have been a no-brainer to protect Ward and expose Lack. In addition, it would not have mattered anyway because there was no chance that Las Vegas would take Lack. But the plot has thickened with Eddie Lack finally getting his feet under him after almost 2 full seasons in the Hurricanes organization. Both Lack and Ward are signed through 2017-18 and have nearly equal contracts in the $3 million range. The question is fairly straightforward – Which of the 2 does Francis want to be half of his tandem for 2017-18 and which is he willing to risk losing?
Who gets protected: Despite Lack’s late-season surge, I still think Francis protects Ward. That said, even with Lack’s value rising modestly, I do not think 1 run of 6-7 good starts is anywhere near enough to boost him above a pretty good set of goalie options. So unless he is part of some expansion draft wheeling and dealing (see below), I think he survives the expansion draft still in a Hurricanes uniform.
The wild card: With each game that Lack plays well, the chance of Francis being willing to roll into 2017-18 with the same tandem for the third year in a row increases. But if Francis looks more broadly at the struggles in net over the past 2 seasons and wants to try to get better and potentially younger at the same time, the expansion draft could offer a number of intriguing options.
With teams only able to protect 1 goalie, Las Vegas might take 1 or 2 goalies for their own needs, but might also use the position to collect valuable assets that can be traded. Not accounting for teams paying Las Vegas not to take players, the list of potential goalies expected to be available includes Philipp Grubauer (25 years old), Antti Raanta (27) and Joonas Korpisalo (22). There are also a couple veterans who might become available to Las Vegas or via trade before the draft. That list includes Marc-Andre Fleury, Carter Hutton and others.
Canes and Coffee called the Teravainen/Bickell trade (Read HERE) about a week before it happened last June. If I had to make another long shot bet on a fairly unpredictable trade for the upcoming summer, it would be a goalie addition that is related to the expansion draft in 1 way or another.
The potential scenarios are many, but I think the basics would be a deal that sends Eddie Lack and a package of futures to Las Vegas in return for Grubauer, Raanta or Korpisalo to add a young goalie who is ready to be a 1A/1B at the NHL level. The key is that the Hurricanes will need outbid both the current teams and also other teams to win a player of this caliber. A significant side benefit of adding a second goalie this way is that the salary should actually be a decrease relative to Eddie Lack’s.
What is the most likely result?
Wild card speculations aside, I think the most straightforward result of the expansion draft is that the Hurricanes sign and expose Dahlbeck and expose Lack but ultimately lose Lee Stempniak if they protect both of the younger forwards (McGinn and Di Giuseppe) or otherwise lose 1 of those younger forwards if they instead protect Stempniak, as I think Francis will.
Once it’s up, the Thursday Coffee Shop will include a poll and/or discussion question on the expansion draft but feel free to bandy it around here as well.