With the NHL season currently suspended, now seems as good a time as any to take a look at what options Seattle might have available during the expansion draft, and what its team might look like as a result. Over the next several weeks, I'll do a division by division breakdown of which players I believe each of the 30 NHL clubs will protect (Vegas is exempt). Then, I'll assemble a team based on which players I believe will be left exposed. I'll be using the Seattle Expansion Draft Simulator from our friends at CapFriendly.com, feel free to give it a whirl.
Without further ado, let's dive into the rest of the Western Conference with the Central Division.
Chicago Blackhawks (7/3/1)
Toews and Kane would be protected locks either way, so the fact that their contracts force the Hawks to use two spots on them doesn't change anything. Keith still led the club in scoring from the blue line this year but he's 36 years old and will be one year closer to retirement at the time of the draft. Seabrook is the problem here for Chicago, as he is 34 and making $6.875 million against the salary cap. This year, he produced just four points in 32 contests before suffering a hip injury. Getting the blueliner to waive his NMC would be a win for the team, though the fact that Kirby Dach, Adam Boqvist and Dominik Kubalik are all exempt is a game changer.
Netminder: Collin Delia
This was perhaps the most difficult position to determine, as a lot will depend on the upcoming 2020-21 campaign. Corey Crawford is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, while Malcolm Subban will be an RFA. It was my initial belief that Subban would be the most likely choice here, but Delia put up solid numbers in the minors this season (16-13-1 with a 2.66 GAA) and could battle with fellow minor leaguer Kevin Lankinen to be the long-term solution between the pipes.
Defensemen: Seabrook, Keith, Connor Murphy
With the NMC's as they currently stand, there was just one player to discuss here in terms of the blue line, and it was a relatively easy choice. Murphy secured 19 points in 58 contests this year and was third in defensive scoring. Calvin de Haan's injuries woes will likely lead to him being exposed in favor of Murphy.
In addition to Toews and Kane, DeBrincat, Strome and Saad are clear locks to be protected as well. I favored youth for a re-tooling club over experience by exposing Andrew Shaw and Zack Smith in favor of Nylander and Caggiula, though the recently re-signed Matthew Highmore could make a case for himself during the upcoming season.
Colorado Avalanche (7/3/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: Erik Johnson
Given all the top-end talent on this club, it's a little surprising that Johnson is the only player with a NMC. Having said that, the defender would have been protected regardless given his abilities on the defensive side of the puck alone.
Netminder: Philipp Grubauer
In two seasons with the Avs, Grubauer has logged just 73 contests, in part due to injuries. Still, 29-year-old Pavel Francouz has just one season under his belt, though he's performed well with a 21-7-4 record. For now, Grubauer gets the edge but a lot could change during the course of the 2020-21 campaign.
Makar and Girard led the team in scoring from the blue line with 50 and 34 points, respectively, and they're both just 21 years of age. There should be little debate here for the club or the Avs faithful on how to proceed. Makar and Girard are both top offensive producers who haven't even reached their primes. They, along with MacKinnon and Rantanen, will continue to form a dynamic core for years to come.
As mentioned above, it's a little surprising that Rantanen, MacKinnon and Landeskog all don't have NMCs, but it really doesn't matter as all three figure to be with the club for the long haul. From here, one needs only to look at the team's point-total list to pick out the rest of the list. An argument could be made to keep Vladislav Namestnikov, however, his $4 million cap hit won't play well in the long run and the team can get more production at a lower cost from both Compher and Burakovsky.
Dallas Stars (4/4/1)
Despite the occasional comment from team brass about Seguin and Benn underperforming, there isn't a scenario in which these four players aren't protected anyway. No harm, no foul here for Dallas.
In three years with the Stars, Bishop has posted a 74-48-11 record in 143 appearances with a .923 save percentage, a 2.33 GAA and 14 shutouts. The netminder is 33 years old, but he should be capable of playing at peak form for several more years. Backup Anton Khudobin could certainly garner some interest from Seattle, though likely only as a solid No. 2 given the other goaltenders expected to be available in the expansion draft.
Regardless of how the team wants to approach this decision, Lindell, Klingberg and Heiskanen (the top-3 point producers from the blue line for Dallas in 2019-20) will all definitely be protected. The real question mark comes down to whether or not the team should protect Stephen Johns, who missed an entire year due to post-traumatic concussion symptoms. Still, given his ability on the defensive side of the puck, Johns might be worth keeping over some forward prospects.
Forwards: Seguin, Benn, Radulov, Roope Hintz
Going with four blueliners means the organization can only keep four forwards and three are locked in via their NMC's. Hintz is the most logical choice for the fourth spot, though an argument could certainly be made for Joe Pavelski, who was starting to turn it on after a slow start to the 2019-20 campaign before play halted in March. Still, Captain America's cap hit ($7 million) will likely persuade the Stars to expose him in the expansion draft in favor of the 23-year-old Hintz.
Minnesota Wild (7/3/1)
While age and cap hit are two factors that need to be accounted for, these players were pretty much locks to be protected anyway. Especially considering they were four of the top-6 point producers for the Wild this past season, and any one of them would have likely been selected if left exposed. There's no reason the team should consider asking any one of them to waive their NMC.
Netminder: Devan Dubnyk
When evaluating the netminding situation in Minnesota, Dubnyk's 2019-20 campaign should probably be removed from the equation considering he spent a significant chunk of time away from the team dealing with a family matter. Prior to this year, the veteran netminder had logged 60-plus games and racked up over 30 wins in four straight seasons. There's no reason to think Dubnyk can't get back to that level of performance heading into 2020-21 and beyond. Kaapo Kahkonen is an intriguing prospect, but it's still too early to turn the reins over to the relatively untested youngster.
Defensemen: Suter, Spurgeon, Matt Dumba
The biggest question here is whether to go with a 4/4/1 and keep Jonas Brodin protected, however, this would require the club to expose three additional forwards. For a team in a re-tooling mode, young talent is paramount to moving forward, which unfortunately leaves Brodin as the odd man out. It seems almost certain that the 26-year-old defenseman would be Seattle's selection if left exposed.
As mentioned above, three more players would be up for grabs if Brodin was protected. Keeping youngsters Eriksson Ek, Kunin and Greenway in the system warrants the decision to go 7/3/1. All three players are 23 or under and represent a strong core around which general manager Bill Guerin can build. Veterans Mikko Koivu and Alex Galchenyuk are unlikely to still be with the club heading into the 2020-21 campaign, much less ahead of the July 2021 draft, further stressing the importance of youth.
Nashville Predators (4/4/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: Roman Josi
General Manager David Poile has historically been hesitant to hand out NMC's, but he was willing to dish one out in order to keep Josi around on a long-term deal through 2026-27. Considering the team would have kept the 29-year-old blueliner around for the long haul anyway, there won't be any negative repercussions from having him under a NMC.
Netminder: Juuse Saros
This may be a controversial pick, however, Pekka Rinne is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career and will be 38 years old heading into the expansion draft. Additionally, unless the club signs him to an extension, the veteran netminder won't even be under contract at that point. All of this leads me to believe the organization will make the difficult choice to move on to Saros as the future of the franchise.
For the second time, I believe the Preds will protect four blueliners. Ellis and Ekholm shouldn't come as a surprise, yet the club will need to protect its future by locking up Fabbro. This could come at the expense of forwards like Colton Sissons and Kyle Turris.
Forsberg, Duchene and Johanson led the club in scoring this season, so there's little reason to believe they would be exposed in the draft. From there, it comes down to a handful of players, including Calle Jarnkrok, Kyle Turris and Craig Smith. Ultimately, though, I believe Arvidsson has the highest ceiling if he can stay healthy and warrants being held on to.
St. Louis Blues (7/3/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: None
Netminder: Jordan Binnington
Binnington might as well be on a no-movement clause, as there's no chance that the Blues won't protect him. He's just 26 years old, he's already won a Stanley Cup and is the future of the franchise between the pipes. Backup Jake Allen could get a look but more likely would be a player Seattle would consider signing on the free agent market.
The defensemen section here could be summarized as simply as: well, yeah of course! The biggest question here is whether Pietrangelo is still with the club considering he is headed for free agency this summer. Assuming he re-ups, then this is a near lock for how the organization will approach the situation.
While a few other blueliners could be mentioned in the discussions above, it would mean allowing players like Sundqvist, Sanford and Thomas to face exposure. Both Alexander Steen and Tyler Bozak will be on the back-half of their 30's and carry significant cap hits that warrant letting them potentially walk away. A strong 2020-21 campaign from Samuel Blais could put him in the mix to unseat Sundqvist or Sanford.
Winnipeg Jets (7/3/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: Blake Wheeler
While the numbers in 2019-20 weren't as impressive as his previous two seasons in which he topped th 90-point mark, it marked the seventh straight year in which the Jets' captain racked up 20-plus goals. The most interesting part of the Jets' situation is the fact that Wheeler is the only player with a NMC.
Netminder: Connor Hellebuyck
Were it not for the league shutdown, Hellebuyck would have been a lock to reach the 60-game mark for the third straight year and he may have pushed for 35-plus wins. The 26-year-old netminder may as well have a no-movement clause because the Jets aren't going to let him go anywhere. The Michigan native is signed through the 2023-24 campaign and could spend the next decade playing for Winnipeg.
Morrissey and Pionk are locks here, so the discussion comes down to DeMelo versus the likes of Tucker Poolman, Sami Niku and Nathan Beaulieu. If the organization can convince him to stick around beyond the 2019-20 campaign, his defensive abilities would be hard to replace and warrant protecting him.
As I mentioned above, Wheeler is the only player with a no-movement clause, but Scheifele, Laine, Ehlers and Connor should be considered locks nonetheless. The question marks come after that point with Eakin and Roslovic. Those two players both fill important depth roles in the top nine and are both also under the age of 30 with manageable cap hits. Players in contention for spots heading into the draft would include Andrew Copp, Mason Appleton and Adam Lowry.