Today on Twitter, I had a great discussion with some fellow Canes fans about the expansion draft rules and its potential impact on the Canes prized young defensive corps.
Here is the more detailed thought process on my assertion that either Roman Polak or Matt Bartkowski could make a ton of sense for the Hurricanes as a 2016 free agent signing.
The rule that changes things
The original batch of rules for the expansion draft said that teams would be able to protect 3 defenseman and also that any players with 2 or fewer years of professional experience would automatically be exempt from the expansion draft. This worked nearly perfectly for the Canes young blue line. Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce would all be exempt because of being only 2-year professionals as would younger prospects Roland McKeown and Haydn Fleury. That would leave 3 defensemen that the Canes could protect from Faulk, Murphy and anyone else that was added to the roster. Essentially, the Canes would be able to protect their 6 best defensemen between the experience exemption and 3 actual protections.
All was good…
But the latest round of expansion draft rules added a new wrinkle that could impact the Canes. Teams will now be required to expose at least 1 defenseman who has either 40 games of NHL experience in the 2016-17 season or 70 games of NHL experience for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons combined.
That creates a potential problem…
With Ron Hainsey and James Wisniewski scheduled to become free agents next summer, the Canes really do not have such a player who they would willingly expose. I guess right now the Canes would expose Ryan Murphy, but only if he actually meets the requirement by playing 35 games this season (plus 35 from last season meets the requirement). If the Canes happen to trade Murphy, Faulk would temporarily be the only player who even qualified.
But the Canes are obviously not exposing Justin Faulk to the expansion draft
Obviously, there is absolutely no way that Justin Faulk will be exposed to the expansion draft.
So the question then is how does Ron Francis accomplish this?
At a basic level, he needs to have a veteran defenseman on the roster who meets the experience requirements and is signed for the 2017-18 season.
So what are the options:
Ron Hainsey: Francis could extend Hainsey for 1 or more years and then risk him in the expansion draft. This is a reasonable possibility with a couple downsides. First, it is not clear that Francis would want to commit to another year of Ron Hainsey (no guarantee he gets selected) at a high price. If Pesce, Hanifin and Slavin and possibly even Carrick, McKeown and/or Fleury progress, Francis might not care to invest more in a mid-30s veteran. Second, it is not clear if Hainsey would sign a 1-year contract that came with a significant possibility that he was really just signing to play in Las Vegas. Whether he wants to stay in Raleigh or choose another destination, he might be better served by coasting past the expansion draft and using his free agent rights to choose his next destination.
James Wisniewski: His situation is similar to Hainsey’s except even riskier in 2 regards. First, after missing a full season with a knee injury and not even playing for the Canes, it is uncertain where he even fits in the blue line mix right now. Re-upping on that uncertainty at a medium price is risky. Second, after not playing last season, he would need to play 40 games in 2016-17 to meet the requirement. So if Francis went this route early and then Wisniewski was injured, he might not even qualify anyway.
Enter Roman Polak and Matt Bartkowski: This is the part where people think I am nuts for calling out 2 random veteran NHL defensemen as good fits for the Canes. But follow me for a second. Both of these players are unrestricted free agents this summer. Both are depth players whose next contract should be pretty inexpensive (think 2 years for $800,000 per year). And both already played 70 games last season, so even if 1 of them was signed and then injured in training camp, he would still meet the experience requirements. Important to note is that either of these players would not actually be selected by Las Vegas. The Canes would very likely be stuck with the player for both of the 2 years as a #7/depth defenseman. That is simply the cost under the expansion rules of protecting more important players.
The reason I keyed in on Polak and Bartkowski is that they meet 3 requirements: 1-Cheap; 2-UFA; 3-Already met 70+ games requirement. If Francis waits and as season rolls forward, more players will qualify either by 40 or 70 requirement.
But could Francis just wait?
It is definitely possible to wait to address this at the trade deadline or even theoretically right before the expansion draft. The risk here is the uncertainty of the availability and players who could meet the requirement.
It seems unlikely, but the situation could be real dicey if the Canes had trouble getting the player they needed. With a completely unacceptable alternative of exposing a key defenseman, Francis would be in a very tough position negotiating-wise.
And especially if Ryan Murphy is part of a summer deal, Canes could use depth defenseman anyway
Right now, another complication is that the Canes have 7 defenseman, so an addition would make 8. But if Ryan Murphy becomes part of a summer trade, then it makes even more sense to add a cheap veteran depth defenseman to mostly/hopefully sit in the press box as a #7. Even if Carrick or especially McKeown or Fleury were better, their development is much better served playing 20+ minutes in Charlotte instead of watching games at the NHL level. Polak is also interesting in the sense that he brings some of the nastiness and willingness to protect players and when in the lineup could help a bit in that regard.
The expansion draft continues to be one of the most fascinating things to fill a long NHL summer.