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Forecasting the 2017 Expansion Draft for the New Jersey Devils

Today, the NHL officially announced that Las Vegas will have the 31st franchise in the league and start playing in 2017-18. This announcement came with the rules for the 2017 expansion draft and this post looks at who the Devils can protect given their current roster.

2016 NHL Awards - Board Of Governors Press Conference
Bill Foley got his team in Las Vegas today.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Las Vegas was officially announced this afternoon to have the thirty-first franchise in the National Hockey League. Their name remains up in the air, but Bill Foley and his group got the league’s latest franchise and they will start playing in 2017-18. No other teams were announced along with them so until there is another expansion, the league will stay at 31 teams for the time being.

This also means that there will be an expansion draft, which is most definitely of relevance to all thirty teams currently in the NHL. The rules have been leaked out earlier but they were officially announced today along with their impact on the schedule matrix (all eight teams in the Metropolitan will get four games each with each other) and the draft lottery (they will pick anywhere from first to sixth in next year’s draft). Here is a summary of the rules for the current NHL teams:

  • All thirty teams have to submit a protected list of players by 5 PM EST on June 17, 2017.
  • The expansion draft itself will take place by Las Vegas from that point and will submit their selections by 5 PM EST on June 20, 2017. The results will be announced on June 21, 2017. So this whole process will take place before free agency next year.
  • All teams must submit a protected list of players that comprises of 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goalie OR 8 skaters and 1 goalie.
  • Any players with a no movement clause at the time of the draft has to be protected. The clause can be waived, however.
  • All unsigned draft choices, first-year, second-year professional players are exempt and won’t need protection.
  • All teams must expose at least one defenseman and two forwards who have played 40 or more games in 2016-17 OR a total of 70 or more games between 2015-16 and 2016-17.
  • All teams must expose a goalie who is under contract in 2017-18 or will be a restricted free agent after the 2016-17 season. Any team who choses the latter to be exposed must tender a qualifying offer the goaltender.
  • Players who have missed more than the last 60 consecutive games or confirmed by the NHL of suffering a career-ending injury in 2016-17 cannot be used to meet the exposure requirements unless the league has approved it. The league may state that they may be exempt from selection at all.

As for the Las Vegas TBD’s, here’s their requirements

  • Las Vegas must select one player from each of the other 30 teams.
  • Las Vegas must select 14 forwards, 9 defensemen, and 3 goalies.
  • 20 of these 30 players must be under contract for 2017-18.
  • The value of all selections must be within 60% to 100% of the cap ceiling for 2016-17. That’s a range of $43.8 to $73 million.
  • Las Vegas can’t buy out the players they pick until the summer of 2018.

This is all set up to help Las Vegas ice a competitive team right away instead of following the tradition of expansion teams being bad at first. Are the rules clear? It’s a lot to take in, but it’s there. But this is what Ray Shero and the other twenty-nine general managers of the league must realize in their decision making processes over the next one and a half weeks. The NHL Draft is on Friday and Saturday, but free agency will begin shortly thereafter. Teams have already moves with respect to the cap and players that they don’t think they will be able to re-sign. The announced expansion draft is another factor in already busy time for all thirty teams - even with prior notice.

The good news is that there’s a really useful tool to help you play around with the expansion draft. General Fanager has put together an Expansion Mock Draft Tool that easily and helpfully identifies who can and cannot be protected. Using that tool leads me to this other, kind-of, not-really good news: the Devils don’t have that many key players to protect.

The Devils will undoubtedly protect Cory Schneider, Adam Larsson, and Kyle Palmieri. It’s a safe bet that Travis Zajac, Andy Greene, and Adam Henrique will also be protected. After that, well, it’s not exactly guaranteed what they’ll do. I can give you what I would do based on the current situation.

Goalies: Schneider - Yep. This is obvious.

Defensemen: Andy Greene, Adam Larsson, and Damon Severson. This would keep the long term signed first pairing together. Among the remaining defensemen, I would pick Severson as the third protected defender. He’s the youngest among the players to be protected and could concievably turn out for the better. Maybe even behind Greene and Larsson one day. This would leave John Moore unprotected, satisfying the must play 70 games over the last two seasons requirement. Jon Merrill would also be unprotected and would likely meet that requirement too.

Forwards: Ryane Clowe appears to require protection at first. I think he could get an exception as he’s truly retired from the game, he hasn’t played since November 6, 2014. Until that is done - if it is done - I’ll assuming he must be protected. That leaves me with six forwards to protect. I would protect Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, Devante Smith-Pelly, Reid Boucher, and Jacob Josefson. This would keep at least a part of the top six together, most notably the top two restricted free agents from this season and two centers (or center and a winger depending on where you see Henrique would play). Among the younger ones, I chose Boucher and Josefson for their skillsets and the roles they can fill in the lineup whether it’s Boucher on an offensive line or Josefson playing on both special teams. Plus, both are pending RFAs and I don’t think Shero re-signs them to new deals and lets them go unless they have a poor 2017-18 season.

There’s more fluidity here at forward. You’ll note I didn’t protect Mike Cammalleri. As I wrote way back in March, Shero has to play the long game and leaving Cammalleri’s fat contract exposed may be a way to get out from that deal. He’s not getting younger, his injury history is well known, and that amount of money could be better used elsewhere regardless of the Devils not intending to be a cap ceiling team anytime soon. In truth, Shero could do this with Zajac given his massive deal as well although that leaves the Devils without a center who could play well against the other team’s best lines. So I wouldn’t do it if it were up to me. This approach also leaves Joesph Blandisi open. It’s nothing against him, it’s just a numbers game and I think Boucher and Josefson give the Devils better options among their lineup. (10:30 PM update: Someone named Neil (@NeilDrinksWhat) on Twitter pointed out to me that Blandisi would be entering his second year of pro hockey in 2016-17. Blandisi is entering the third year of his entry level contract, but he played in Barrie in all of 2014-15 so Neil may be right. This would make him exempt, which would make the preceding sentences and the need to protect him unnecessary.) If Clowe can get an exemption, then I would protect Blandisi in his place. I’m leaving most of other the UFA forwards open, but I also don’t expect most of them to even return to the Devils making their exclusion moot. Patrik Elias is a wildcard, but we won’t know about his status until later in the summer.

Of course, this whole thinking about the team is moot if two of the exposed players doesn’t reach that 40 game mark in 2016-17 or the 70 game mark between last season and this season. Then the Devils will be forced to expose someone else to meet that games requirement. They need two forwards to meet it and I’ve already protected three of the four that did it already. The fourth is Stephen Gionta, who I don’t even know or expect to return to the team next season. It can be avoided based what Shero does this summer in free agency. Other potential players to protect like Stephen Gionta, Tyler Kennedy, Bobby Farnham, and several others are unrestricted free agents. Those spots in the roster will have to be filled. The number of games that they played in the prior season could be something Shero looks for when he looks to pick up someone on the cheap. For example, if Lee Stempniak returns, he already met the 70 game requirement last season. Not that the Devils should necessarily sign someone just to expose them, but it could provide for more flexibility next June. They’ll need that much.

Whether you pick and choose different players, though, it’s clearly apparent that the Devils don’t have a lot of players that absolutely need protection. After Schneider, Larsson, Palmieri, and (probably) Henrique and Zajac, who else is there to really keep for the future? Cammalleri has three seasons left on his deal but at age 34 and his injury history, is he worth being protected? Would it really be the worst thing in the world for the Devils to leave Severson open if his 2016-17 season turns out to show that he’s not going to be all that exceptional? Would it be all that bad if Boucher, Blandisi (who may be exempt anyway), and/or Josefson are just guys in the lineup as opposed to guys to keep around for a while? As much as I’d like to say yes to both, it’s really not out of doubt at the moment. For those that will stay in the lineup for next season, some of their performances will play a big role as to whether they get kept or not. And as for Las Vegas’ selection, well, take your pick for depth purposes, I suppose. Of course, that hinges on who the other teams also expose.

All the same, that’s how the current expansion looks. It will be something to keep in mind when Shero does what he is able to do for the next week or so. It will be a factor to some degree in the decisions that are made, whether it is in the short term or in the long term for the team’s re-build.

Now I want to know what you think. Do you think the rules make sense for Las Vegas? Will they work for Las Vegas putting a solid team together? Who would you protect on the Devils given the current roster? Who do you think is essential for protecting, and who would you leave exposed? Please leave your thoughts about the new Las Vegas team and the eventual expansion draft in the comments. Thank you for reading.