By far the most interesting information that came out of the GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., this week pertained to a potential expansion draft.
Though nothing is official and many details still need to be ironed out, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did say if the decision is made to expand by the 2017-18 season an announcement would need to happen by this June so teams could prepare for an expansion draft, which would in all likelihood take place in the summer of 2017.
We learned that teams will be able to protect either seven forwards and three defencemen or eight skaters of any makeup – teams rich in defencemen might elect to take the latter option for example. Players in their first or second years in the pros will be exempt, but players entering the final year of their entry-level deal could be up for grabs. This means a lot of quality players and promising prospects will be left unprotected.
Some of the most fascinating roster decisions will revolve around netminders because regardless of how many skaters a team protects, each club will only be able to protect one goalie.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some teams that could potentially face difficult goaltending decisions if the NHL goes forward with expansion for the 2017-18 season.
The Ducks are an interesting case because they’re one of the few teams in the league who have multiple young goaltenders with the potential to be a quality No. 1. At times throughout their young careers both John Gibson and Frederik Andersen have shown plenty of promise. Gibson is 22 and locked up through 2018-19, while Andersen, 26, is a pending restricted free agent who will earn a new contract in the summer.
Anaheim could potentially be put in a precarious position. If they can only protect one of these netminders, would they consider trading the other prior to the hypothetical expansion draft in order to get something rather than giving up the asset for nothing? Chances are that's what they'll be forced to do and you'd have to think they'd keep Gibson over Andersen.
Pittsburgh’s goalie situation should be the envy of most franchises. They’ve got a quality starter present day with Marc-Andre Fleury and an outstanding prospect poised to be Fleury’s successor in the form of Matthew Murray. It would be a difficult choice the Penguins would be forced to make.
Now, if the NHL decides players with no-movement clauses are exempt – this is still up in the air – then this would be moot because in that case the Pens would very obviously protect Murray and not have to worry about Fleury who has a no-move through 2018-19.
By the time an expansion draft would take place, Fleury will be 32. The veteran has been with the Penguins organization since being drafted first overall in 2003.
Meanwhile, Murray has made a name for himself with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He was named the AHL’s rookie of the year last season and won the Baz Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL's best goaltender. He has continued his strong play this season and was recently named to the U-24 North American roster for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.
Semyon Varlamov’s stats have progressively dipped since the 2013-14 campaign and he’s under contract for another three seasons. He’s approaching his 30s so if the Avalanche felt Calvin Pickard is their goalie of the future then maybe they’d risk not protecting the Russian. Pickard, 23, is a pending RFA in need of a new deal.
If an expansion team was looking for a short-term solution in net they could turn to the Stars. Both Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are under contract through 2017-18. Both are 32. Both have been inconsistent this season. Lehtonen has a no-trade clause.
Jimmy Howard would be in a similar situation to the two Stars goalies. It’s clear Petr Mrazek, a pending RFA, is the Red Wings’ goalie of the future but Howard has a no-trade clause. An expansion team might struggle getting to the cap floor and picking up Howard’s $5,291,666 annual cap hit – even if he was used in a backup role – could be a positive thing.
Although Devan Dubnyk hasn’t been able to sustain his incredible 2014-15 numbers, he’s still a viable starter and locked up for another five years with a no-trade. Darcy Kuemper, a pending RFA, is four years younger with a higher ceiling. This is another situation where a team could be forced to choose between a proven veteran and upside.
We can’t foresee any circumstance where the Capitals wouldn’t protect Braden Holtby and that would mean Philipp Grubauer could be available. Grubauer has been solid as Holtby’s backup and if you’ve watched the 24-year-old German it’s clear he has potential to be a starter in the league. Maybe this puts the Capitals in a similar situation to the one the Ducks could find themselves in, as mentioned above. Holtby has a no-trade that kicks in in 2017-18.