This week marks the quarter pole of the NHL regular season for the New Jersey Devils. They just played their twentieth game last night and will technically meet that mark during tonight’s game. This week also carried the big news that the Las Vegas expansion team now has a name: the Vegas Golden Knights. I do not think it is a bad name. I do hope they last longer than the last NHL team with the word “Golden” in their name. The name and logo news brings another reminder that all 30 NHL teams will undergo an expansion draft in June and every team will have to decide who to protect from that draft. Based on how the team has performed a quarter through this season and this reminder, let’s project who the Devils may protect from being picked by Vegas.
The Expansion Draft Rules
Let’s remind ourselves what the rules are. The NHL released the full set of rules back in June on their website. Here are the high-points:
- Vegas has to pick a player from each team. They will select 14 forwards, 9 defensemen, and 3 goalies. They must also select 20 players that are signed for the 2017-18 season.
- All teams can protect either seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie OR eight skaters and one goalie.
- Exempted players will include first and second year professionals as well as players with potential or actual career-threatening injuries that missed the previous 60 games.
- Players with no movement clauses must be protected.
- Teams must expose at least one defenseman and two forwards who played 40 or more games in 2016-17 or 70 or more games in 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.
- Teams must expose at least one goalie who either is a restricted free agent at the end of 2016-17 or is under contract through 2017-18.
Earlier this week, Chris Johnston at Sportsnet reported on a memo from the league listing 66 players who are exempt from the expansion process. The article includes a list of players who are not exempt yet. It does include Ryane Clowe, who is on the Devils, he’s currently an assistant coach, and will never play hockey in the NHL again. Johnston’s article projects that Clowe will be exempted given his situation. I’d be surprised if he is not. With that all said, who should the Devils protect?
Projected Protected Devils
For this exercise, I am using the wonderful Expansion Draft Tool at CapFriendly. It’s easy to use and play around with for the expansion draft. Use it before a team hires the people behind CapFriendly (that’s what happened to General Fanager). After looking at who could be protected, I think the best grouping would be the seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender group. You’ll see why in a bit.
Let’s get the easy ones out of the way first. The Devils have to protect one goaltender. The choices are Cory Schneider, Keith Kinkaid, and Scott Wedgewood. The answer is Schneider. He’s been the best and most important Devil for the past few seasons now. He will still be crucial to the team’s success when the team moves on from re-building to contending for playoff spots. With the team’s record now, it could be earlier than you think. Schneider should be protected. I think he will be. Wedgewood being exposed meets the goalie exposure requirement as he’s a RFA this summer.
As for defensemen, the choices available are Andy Greene, Damon Severson, Ben Lovejoy, Jon Merrill, John Moore, Kyle Quincey, and a bunch of minor leaguers. Greene and Severson are no-brainers. They represent the team’s top pairing. Greene has been a solid hand for several years and could do it for a couple more. Severson is impressively playing well in such a role at the age of 22; it would be ridiculous to leave him open. As for the rest, no one really jumps out at me as someone that needs to be protected. I don’t have a favorable opinion of either of them, really. I could see the Devils protecting Lovejoy. Ray Shero did sign him to a significant contract last summer; I don’t think he’ll want to expose him if he can. This means John Moore is exposed, meeting the requirement of one defenseman signed through next season. While Moore has been productive with four goals and five assists, he’s been porous in his own end for two straight seasons and he’s been bringing others’ underlying numbers down in 5-on-5 play. If the Devils defense wants to improve, then they’ll need to move on from him. This is a way to do that.
Now comes the hard part: the forwards. The Devils only have six forwards and Clowe that are signed through 2017-18. Two of Taylor Hall, Travis Zajac, Michael Cammalleri, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, and Devante Smith-Pelly have to exposed. Back in March, I wrote about the long game Shero must play and that includes thinking about this draft. Shero made a bold move already: he traded Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall. He’ll have to make another one regarding these six.
Smith-Pelly is likely to be exposed if only because he has not made a large impression on the team. Sure, two goals, four assists, and 36 shots in 18 games is not bad for someone who has played around thirteen-and-half-minutes of ice time per game. But players like DSP are not uncommon. Nick Lappin - who has been mostly in the bottom six like him - could do what DSP has done. He’s been doing it now and arguably better (e.g. DSP’s CF% at Corsica is 43.7%; Lappin’s CF% is 51.1%). Beau Bennett has had some great underlying numbers while playing part of his season in the bottom six. Most of all, DSP is the least likely member of this group of six to be a part of the team’s future. Therefore, I would expose him.
As for the other exposure, the decision becomes much more difficult. Hall definitely won’t be exposed. If he was, Shero would deservedly be run out of town. While Henrique and Palmieri have not impressed much in this season, I doubt the Devils will give up on either just yet. While they have had their struggles this season, leaving either under-30 forward for a poor start could come back to haunt the team Back in March, I floated the idea that it may come down to Travis Zajac and Michael Cammalleri (who has to play another 15 games to meet the requirement). It’s a part of the long game Shero must play. To me, the decision currently would be between those two.
Back in March, Zajac was not at all playing like he earned his contract. So far in 2016-17, it’s been the Rejuvenation of Zajac. Sure, playing with Hall has helped, but Zajac has remained productive since Hall’s injury. Centering Beau Bennett and P.A. Parenteau and now Cammalleri and Lappin, Zajac is now the team’s leading scorer, he’s averaging over two shots per game, and he’s been one of the Devils’ best possession drivers with a 54% CF% prior to Friday’s game. All this while playing in all situations. Is that a player to expose? I think not. From a larger view, Cammalleri has not been doing so poorly himself with twelve points and 41 shots in fourteen games. However, he had a hat trick in one game, a four-point (one goal, three assists), nine-shot monster performance this past Wednesday, and a two point night last night. Three games have driven most of his production. Other than that, Cammalleri has been moved around the lineup to find a good fit for him. He has not been much of a play driver Maybe John Hynes has found it now with Zajac. But between his contract, his age (if he does well now, then do you think he can do it at 35?), his injury prone nature, and his lack of consistent contributions this season, it looks like Cammalleri may be the one worth exposing. He’ll have the rest of the season to make his case for staying, though. I’d like to see him make it, even though it’ll make this harder.
So among the six that are eligible for meeting the forward exposure requirements, I would expose Smith-Pelly and Cammalleri. This means Hall, Zajac, Henrique, and Palmieri would be protected. That’s four forwards. Are there three more forwards worth protecting? The group after those six are as followed: P.A. Parenteau, Vernon Fiddler, Jacob Josefson, Beau Bennett, Reid Boucher, Luke Gazdic, Petr Straka, Ben Thomson, and Carter Camper. All of those players are up for new contracts on July 1, 2017. Protecting them would be a sign that the Devils intend to keep them for 2017-18, which would be the main purpose. But are there three worth keeping around?
It’s debatable. Parenteau and Bennett have been the best of the bunch. Both can play on the right side and both have received time throughout the varying lines on the team. They have provided some needed depth where necessary. Their production numbers won’t wow anyone, but they’re respectable. Especially for a waiver wire pickup and a flyer on an oft-injured player. Parenteau has five goals and thirty-eight shots in 20 games played. Bennett recently scored his first goal, but he’s helped create six others to go with 34 shots on net. Some of their underlying 5-on-5 stats at Corsica are impressive. Parenteau is first on the team in CF% (54.66%) and Bennett is fourth (53.74%). Parenteau is second on the team in expected goals for with 9.3 and Bennett is fourth with 8.32. When both have played in 5-on-5 situations, they’ve been mostly positive and that points to contributing even when not producing. At a minimum, I like to think they should at least be considered to keep beyond this season. As for a third forward to protect, I would pick Jacob Josefson. Assuming Vernon Fiddler won’t stick around, Josefson could be called upon to center that fourth line and be used in special situations (e.g. penalty killer, shootout). So he would be my third forward to protect beyond the other four that are eligible for the forward exposure requirements.
I could see the argument for the Devils choosing only to protect eight skaters. However, I don’t see why the Devils should expose players that could be useful for 2017-18 that they do not have to expose. Even if the Devils do not retain Parenteau, Bennett, or Josefson this summer; they at least are not left free for the expansion draft.
An Early Projection of Protected Devils for the 2017 Expansion Draft
Protected Forwards: Taylor Hall, Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, P.A. Parenteau, Beau Bennett, and Jacob Josefson
Protected Defensemen: Andy Greene, Damon Severson, and Ben Lovejoy
Protected Goaltender: Cory Schneider
Exposed Players Signed through 2017-18: Michael Cammalleri, Devante Smith-Pelly, John Moore
Other Exposed Players: Vernon Fiddler, Reid Boucher, Luke Gazdic, Petr Straka, Ben Thomson, Carter Camper, Kyle Quincey, Jon Merrill, Brandon Gormley, Reece Scarlett, Seth Helgeson, Karl Stollery, Andrew MacWilliam, Keith Kinkaid, and Scott Wedgewood
Who will Vegas take? It’ll depend on what they plan to do with the other teams, of course. With every other team only allowed to protect one goalie, I think there will be better options than Kinkaid or Wedgewood. So I think it will be a skater. Cammalleri will be an attractive option as it’ll provide cap space and veteran scoring. His past and his age may cool off interest, though. I would not sleep on John Moore. A 26-year old Moore - who does have some good production numbers and a cheap deal to attract some interest - may intrigue them as well. I’m admittedly hoping they take Moore so the Devils can try to upgrade his spot in the lineup.
There’s a lot of hockey left to be played. One game like Wednesday’s wild win, Monday’s beatdown loss, Friday’s ugly point earned, or even tonight’s potentially-rough game alone will not make the difference between who is and is not protected on the Devils. Ray Shero has to consider who he sees the core as this team for 2017-18 and protect them first. How the players play this season can help sway those decisions.
Shero will have to more immediately consider potential trades. The Devils can make for an attractive trade partner in 2016-17. They have oodles of cap space; CapFriendly currently lists them with the second most cap space in the league. They have 47 contracts on their reserve list; they can add players. Should the Devils continue their pace of results, Shero may decide to “go for it” and become buyers at the trade deadline. Even if he decides not to - like last season - he could take on a bad contract with a potential asset for the future like a draft pick or a prospect. What this all means is that the Devils could add players to provide flexibility for the expansion draft.
The Devils could add players their group of skaters that is signed for 2017-18 and meet the 40 game requirement of this season or the 70 game requirement of the last two seasons. They could do so by acquiring someone from another team that has a surplus of such players. Additionally, the Devils could also sign a player who is a pending free agent for 2017 for at least the 2017-18 season and they could be eligible for that requirement. I do not think it would be smart to extend a player and then risk losing them by expose them in the expansion draft in place of someone else, but it is an option. What the Devils really should not do is move any players who meet that requirement. I do not think they will, but doing so - especially at forward - could make for some more difficult decisions. The larger point is that the Devils have the time to add flexibility for his expansion draft protection choices. And if you have time, then you use it. But that time will come before they know it.
Again, this is my early projection of who the Devils will protect in the expansion draft in this coming June. I thank CapFriendly for having a great tool to see what options each NHL team has for protection. Who would you protect on the Devils? Who would you expose and why? Should the Devils make any moves with the expansion draft in mind? Do you agree that the Devils should protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie; or should they just stick to eight skaters and a goalie? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the expansion draft in the comments. Thank you for reading.