There are two important things to keep in mind pertaining to how the Montreal Canadiens will approach the Vegas Expansion Draft.
1. The 7F-3D-1G protection model is the one that makes the most sense for them. Protecting only eight skaters and a goaltender would force them to expose either a forward or a defenceman they wouldn’t want to lose, so you can scratch that option.
2. What they do between now and 5 p.m. ET on June 17, when their protected list must be submitted, is where the real intrigue lies. If Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin doesn’t make a trade in the coming days, the risk of him losing one of his 19 starters will be considerably higher.
Here is who we think the Canadiens will protect, and which player we think the Golden Knights will pick.
In addition to being valuable contributors to Montreal’s offence, the team can’t afford to lose any of the players on this list without compensation. There was some question as to which player Montreal would use its seventh protection slot on, but that went away with the acquisition of Drouin.
It’s also possible (but unlikely) Alexander Radulov, who’s a pending unrestricted free agent, gets protected. If the Canadiens are concerned that the Golden Knights have a better offer in store for the Russian than the one they’re preparing, they’ll guard against losing exclusive negotiating rights between now and the final weekend in June by signing him.
No one should be surprised Tomas Plekanec, a Canadiens lifer, didn’t make the list. Not even Plekanec would be surprised, considering his $6 million cap hit and his declining offensive output (his 28 points this season were a career-low). And Bergevin’s trades for Steve Ott, Dwight King and Andreas Martinsen at the deadline made it clear he’s not overly concerned about the possibility of losing Torrey Mitchell or Brian Flynn.
This is where it gets interesting.
When Bergevin traded Greg Pateryn to the Dallas Stars for Jordie Benn, few believed the 29-year-old brother of Jamie would be as valuable a contributor to the Canadiens as he became. Stars GM Jim Nill obviously had an inclination and admitted the possibility of losing Benn for nothing to Vegas sprung him into action. Even still, no one in Montreal thought this player would leapfrog Nathan Beaulieu on the Canadiens’ depth chart, but he did exactly that and earned his way on to the protected list. With two more years left on a contract that pays him $1.1 million per, his value to the team is undeniable.
Andrei Markov didn’t make the list because he’s a pending unrestricted free agent who’s guaranteed to re-sign with the Canadiens. We know it, Bergevin and Markov know it, and if Golden Knights general manager George McPhee doesn’t know it, his director of player personnel (Vaughn Karpan, who served as an amateur scout for 10 years with the Canadiens before being named their director of professional scouting in 2015) will tell him.
Alexei Emelin didn’t make the list because he’s a borderline top-4 defenceman entering the final year of a contract that counts for $4.1 million on the cap. It is unlikely Vegas claims him, especially since his actual salary is $4.4 million.
Brandon Davidson wouldn’t have beat Petry, Weber or Benn for a spot on the protected list, but the 25-year-old who is signed for one more season at $1.425 million can move the puck efficiently and may very well prove to be the most appealing option to the Golden Knights.
Another possibility is that Bergevin deems the market won’t bear a strong enough return for Beaulieu in a trade, at which point he’d have to protect him and possibly offer Vegas compensation for not selecting Benn.
We’d protect Carey Price because… he’s Carey Price. He has a no-movement clause, too.
VEGAS PICK PROJECTION
Brandon Davidson, D
Davidson or Hudon is the best option for the Golden Knights — we’ll go with Davidson. Young, puck-moving defencemen are at a premium in this league, and if Davidson doesn’t slot into Vegas’ opening lineup, he could still prove valuable as a trade asset. There’s no question he’s an NHL defenceman.
While Bergevin says you can never have enough of these types of players, losing Davidson in the wake of signing Jakub Jerabek out of the KHL this spring is digestible.