One thing we can say for sure: Though the Vegas Golden Knights will build the foundation of their organization at this 2017 Expansion Draft, the player they select off the Vancouver Canucks roster will play only a very minimal part in that.
There is a reason the Canucks finished 29th last season: they don’t have much depth. That equates to some pretty easy decisions on who gets protected, and not a lot of difference-makers exposed to NHL’s 31st team.
Here is who we think the Canucks will protect, and which player we think the Golden Knights will pick.
This list of protected forwards provides a window into where this franchise is, after years of draft neglect under former GM Mike Gillis. The first two names are ageing veterans who are no longer first-line players, yet are asked to be so on a nightly basis. Eriksson might be one, but is coming off an 11-goal, 24-point disappointment last season.
And the young guys? They are pretty good, but devoid of the kind of pedigree that Daniel and Henrik had at a similar age.
The tough decision for GM Jim Benning comes in exposing 30-year-old, pot-stirring winger Derek Dorsett, who is coming off a scary neck injury last season. The Canucks are small and timid, and just as they pushed their Alberta opponents out of the rink over the past decade, well, the tables are turned now. It’s not that Dorsett is such an integral part in Vancouver, but his qualities are in such short supply.
And the player they’ll likely protect ahead of Dorsett — Swiss winger Sven Baertschi — is yet another smaller, timid forward that the Canucks have in abundance. Brendan Gaunce, a first-rounder in 2012, will be exposed. At 23, he’ll be considered by Vegas.
It is moments like these when a team truly takes stock that you realize how long a slog remains ahead in Vancouver. The good news? The Canucks won’t lose a player to Vegas that will put much of a dent on that process.
Tanev, 27, has become the Canucks most valuable blue line asset. The decision may one day come to deal him for some youth, but that decision is a long ways off. Right now he’s a first-pairing defenceman who will help the Canucks keep pucks out of their net and survive the next couple of rebuilding years.
At 25, Gudbranson is just entering his prime. Sure, he had an injury-plagued season last year, but the Canucks are in no position to do anything other than give Gudbranson a fresh start and hope he can become that rock-solid, second-pairing defender that he has always projected to be since the Florida Panthers took him third overall in 2010.
At 31, and with two more seasons at $5 million remaining on his contract, Edler is the one player here whose Vancouver expiry date is nearing. Protecting him isn’t a big deal, and Benning will hope Edler can recapture a long lost game that earned him that contract in time to reap some youth and draft picks at the 2018 trade deadline.
That leaves Luca Sbisa (27), Alex Biega (29), and Andrey Pedan (23) available to the Golden Knights. Pedan, a 6-foot-5 Lithuanian, might be enticing to Vegas if they want to roll the dice — he’s an interesting long shot pick, but since it’s not clear if he’ll ever be an NHLer, Sbisa is likely the preferred choice.
With Ryan Miller a UFA, the Canucks have no other choice but to protect Markstrom, who was oddly rewarded with a three-year, $11 million deal in the summer of 2016.
He’s being paid like a poor man’s No. 1, but his game ranks as something less than that, so far anyhow. The hopes in Vancouver are that a rising tide — i.e. a better roster — will raise Markstrom’s level. It had better, because one thing we’ve learned is, no rebuild stands a chance in front of leaky goaltending.
There’s nothing here for Vegas.
VEGAS PICK PROJECTION
Luca Sbisa, D
This is a tough choice, because there really isn’t a lot to pick from on a depleted Canucks roster. But Sbisa fits the bill as a player who can help Vegas through its maiden season, and then be turned over at the 2018 trade deadline to a contender seeking blue line depth. Have a good year in Vegas, and he might recycle into a second- or third-round draft pick. That thought process will be a big part of the Golden Knights’ protocol in this expansion draft.