Though nothing has been officially announced, at this point it will be a big surprise if it is not announced that the NHL is adding Las Vegas as an expansion franchise for the 2017-18 season. I wrote about the NHL expansion draft more from the angle of building the Carolina Hurricanes 2016-17 roster on May 17.
The latest on the NHL expansion draft rules
With the process marching in that direction, we are also receiving additional details on how the expansion draft is expected to work. James Mirtle at the Globe and Mail detailed the latest on Friday.
Old news which seems to be still intact includes:
–Each team can lose only 1 player.
–All players with 2 or fewer years of professional experience and those still in lower levels (i.e. Canadian juniors, US college, overseas) are exempt and do not need to be protected.
–Teams will be able to protect 3 defensemen, 7 forwards and 1 goalie or alternatively 8 skaters and 1 goalie (which is an expensive way to add more defensemen or forwards to the mix at the cost of protecting 2 fewer players total.
New news includes:
–Teams must protect players with no-trade/no-movement clauses that extend into the 2017-18 season seemingly with some exceptions for long-term injured players.
–Each team must expose at least 1 defenseman and 1 forward that has either 40 games of NHL experience in 2016-17 or 70 games of experience in 2015-16 and 2016-17 combined.
Upshot for the Carolina Hurricanes in terms of protecting players
The Hurricanes were sitting in a pretty nice spot for a summer 2017 draft with the original expected rules. Right now, the team benefits from having 3 young defensemen (Slavin, Hanifin, Pesce) who would be exempt leaving the ability to protect Justin Faulk, Ryan Murphy and 1 more even. Remember that Hainsey and Wisniewski are scheduled to become free agents next summer, so they would not be relevant unless re-signed.
But the last clause that requires each team to expose at least 1 experienced NHLer (40 games in 2016-17 or 70 games between 2015-16) significantly changes things for the Hurricanes. That rule would require the Hurricanes to expose 1 of Faulk, Hanifin, Pesce, Slavin or Murphy. That situation only gets worse if Ryan Murphy is traded.
I think this could have 2 direct impacts on Francis’ roster building this summer:
1) Francis might now choose to add an inexpensive veteran #7/depth defenseman via free agency or trade. There is some merit to putting a veteran in the #7 slot anyway. Even if someone like McKeown or Fleury played his way up to #7 on the Canes roster either out of camp or after adjusting for an injury or 2, it does not make sense to put these young players in the press box. Their development is better served playing 20+ minutes per night at the AHL level. Ideal (and maybe required) is that the veteran depth defenseman have played 70 games last year (already meeting the experience requirement) and be signed for 2 years.
2) The situation could put Michal Jordan in a bad spot. He played only 36 games at the NHL level last season. If Francis tried to use Jordan for this role, he would need to play 34 games. Depending on injuries that could happen, but I would hate to go into the season absolutely needing Jordan to play 34 games regardless of if it made sense. Easier would be to find an inexpensive veteran who played 70 games last season. The issue is that depth defensemen often do not reach that total. A quick search identified Roman Polak and Matt Bartkowski as 2 veteran defenseman who played 70 games last season, are free agents this summer and will likely meet the inexpensive requirement. The possibilities expand some if you set a cutoff of 55 or 60 and consider players who do not automatically meet the 70-game requirement but could get there with modest ice time in the 2016-17 season.
Could it make more sense for Francis to delay another year in building for success?
Another interesting question is whether it could make sense for Canes GM Ron Francis to delay another year in putting the final touches on building the Hurricanes roster. The Canes need the most help at forward and based on that should target that position this summer if looking to move up in 2016-17. But right now, the Canes have 7 core roster forwards in Jordan Staal, Andrej Nestrasil, Joakim Nordstrom, Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, Victor Rask and Phil Di Giuseppe. The team could protect all of them next season. Any players added will make for another who must be exposed to the expansion draft. The downside is limited because it is only possible to lose 1 player, but it could still drive a preference to add free agents that do not cost futures this summer and save bigger moves for next summer.
At the end of the day, I think it is important for Ron Francis to make some moves to give the 2016-17 team the best chance possible as long as it does not come at too much cost to Francis’ goal of building a deeper organization long-term. In addition, the most the Canes could lose in a 1-team expansion draft is 1 player. It is not worth punting on an entire season to possibly be in a better position not to lose a good player next summer. I do think the need to expose an experienced defenseman will come into play simply because losing 1 of the team’s good young defenseman for nothing unnecessarily is worth some maneuvering. Past that, I think Francis will attempt to use other teams’ potential to lose players to open up more trade possibilities.