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Who Should the New Jersey Devils Protect for the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft: An AAtJ Roundtable

On Saturday, 30 of the NHL’s 31 teams must submit a protection list ahead of the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft on July 21. For the New Jersey Devils, the AAtJ writers answered who they would protect from the Devils and who they would want Seattle to take.

New Jersey Devils v Philadelphia Flyers
Me? Well, maybe not you, Andreas Johnsson.
Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

The expansion draft is less than a week away. The Seattle Kraken will create their inaugural roster. Before then, the remainder of the NHL needs to determine who on their roster they will protect and who they will expose for the Kraken. The New Jersey Devils and just about every other team in the National Hockey League has to submit their protection lists to the NHL on Saturday. The league will release the protection lists on Sunday. On Wednesday, July 21, Seattle will make their choices live on ESPN2 and Sportsnet at 8 PM ET.

This is partially why this week has been full of player transactions and even more speculation. Some teams have several players with no-movement clauses that require protection. Other teams are up against the salary cap for 2021-22 and may want to use this draft to ease the pressure. Others may choose to make a deal with the Kraken to avoid them taking someone the team has to expose but does not want to lose. As the deadline for the protection lists gets closer, more moves may be made.

This is a New Jersey Devils blog, so I decided to ask the staff at All About the Jersey to participate in a roundtable about the expansion draft. There were two main questions to ask. Who on the Devils would you protect? Who do you want Seattle to take from New Jersey? These are their answers. Normally, I leave this part for the end, but as this post may go long, I encourage you, the People Who Matter, to please leave your own thoughts about the expansion draft in the comments. If you want to have a go at making your own choices, then please use the CapFriendly Seattle Expansion Draft Simulator, which uses all of the same rules the NHL teams will have to follow for Saturday. Thank you for reading and enjoy the roundtable.

Who on the Devils Would You Protect in the Seattle Expansion Draft?

Before detailing everyone’s responses, I will note that all of the writers went for the 7-3-1 option where seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender would be protected. Also, everyone protected Mackenzie Blackwood. That should be one of the most obvious choices in this exercise as the Devils do not have any other NHL-quality goaltenders in their system.

John Fischer (JF): Forwards: Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, Janne Kuokkanen, Yegor Sharangovich, Michael McLeod

Defensemen: Damon Severson, Jonas Siegenthaler, P.K. Subban

While the 2021 New Jersey Devils were objectively bad, the team has plenty of players that warrant protection. They do not need to really protect more than three defensemen. Therefore, the 7-3-1 option would make the most sense. The goaltender to protect is obvious. It will be Mackenzie Blackwood. Based on their usage last season and the fact the coaching staff has not changes, I would think the Devils will keep Severson and Subban. I am not convinced Subban will last the whole 2021-22 season with New Jersey, but I do not think he gets exposed for Seattle. As for the forwards, it is imperative that Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt are kept as they are part of the core. The performances last season of Pavel Zacha, Janne Kuokkanen, and Yegor Sharangovich command protection for the expansion draft as well. Ultimately, I settled on Miles Wood and Michael McLeod for the last two forward spots to be protected. As with Subban, I am not sure Miles Wood will see out his contract in New Jersey. But given his usage and being given an ‘A’ to him, I do not think the Devils will leave him to be available for Seattle. As for McLeod, it basically comes down to being more valuable than Nick Merkley.

This would mean that the exposed Devils to meet the league’s requirements are Andreas Johnsson, Nathan Bastian, Will Butcher, and Scott Wedgewood. (And if he’s given a qualifying offer, Evan Cormier.) The goalies not named Blackwood are exposed; that is straight forward. Butcher was passed over by lesser defenseman in this past season and only received regular minutes after the team sold assets by the deadline. That indicates to me that he may not be in New Jersey’s plans. For the forwards, the Devils have to expose two forwards that are signed through next season and have played 27 games last season or 54 games in the last two seasons. Two forwards fit those requirements: Johnsson and Bastian. Johnsson had some fine underlying on-ice rates but his contributions were underwhelming as he found his way down the lineup. I think he will get exposed. Bastian, unfortunately, is the victim of the numbers game in my view. Between Hischier, Bratt, Zacha, Wood, and Bastian, Bastian is the one the Devils could most easily replace. Now, if the Devils can sign McLeod or Merkley before the protection lists are due, then Bastian can be protected in place of either of them. (This was written on July 10.)

Brian Franken (BF): Forwards: Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Miles Wood, Janne Kuokkanen, Yegor Sharangovich, Pavel Zacha, Michael McLeod

Defensemen: Damon Severson, Jonas Siegenthaler, Will Butcher

The 7-3-1 method was easy to choose in my opinion with the way this team is currently constructed. In terms of goaltender, protecting Blackwood is the obvious choice. In terms of defensemen, protecting Damon Severson is a must. I also went with Jonas Siegenthaler as I think he could have some upside as a shutdown defender. The third defensemen spot was something that I debated for a bit. Do you protect Subban to keep him around for his veteran presence and leadership even though his play has dropped off a lot in recent years? Or do you protect Butcher who doesn’t seem to fit in Ruff’s system but is still in his prime and could potentially turn things around? Ultimately I went with protecting Butcher to see if he could rebound and get back on track. This isn’t a decision that I would complain about either way should the Devils decide to expose or protect either player.

In terms of forwards, the locks are Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt. I think Janne Kuokkanen and Yegor Sharangovich showed enough in their rookie seasons to deserve to be protected. I’m still not a believer in Pavel Zacha and think shooting at 16.5% to inflate his goal total covered a lot of his flaws. Still, it’s not like the Devils have a lot of talent so you might as well keep him around and see if he can be useful going forward. I’m protecting Miles Wood because despite being a frustrating player to watch offensively at times, he brings leadership and physicality to the team along with some secondary scoring. It came down to Michael McLeod vs. Nathan Bastian for me. I’d like to keep both around but sided with protecting McLeod since he’s a center and has a bit more skill in my opinion. (This was written on July 9.)

Alex Potts (AP): Forwards: Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, Janne Kuokkanen, Yegor Sharangovich, Michael McLeod

Defensemen: Damon Severson, Jonas Siegenthaler, Will Butcher

I feel like you have to go 7-3-1, there isn’t anyone extra on offense or defense that makes the 8-1 scenario worth it, and there are plenty of guys worth holding onto. As it is, I wouldn’t have minded an extra protection for Nathan Bastian, although I’m not too upset about it. I honestly feel like with the forwards, these are the 7 you have to keep. Other than perhaps McLeod, they are all obvious. And with McLeod, he had a much better year this year. He was basically a fourth liner the entire way, but 15 points in his first mostly full season in New Jersey is not bad, and at 23, perhaps has some more room for growth. I mean, Blake Coleman didn’t break out until he was on the wrong side of 25. Even if he just becomes a bottom 6 staple for New Jersey, if he can do that job well, then it is worth using the 7th protection spot on him. Also, put it like this: if you don’t protect McLeod, you’re probably protecting Bastian, who is in the exact same position. Fourth line guy, smaller upside beyond unless something happens. And between the two, McLeod is the better player at this point.

As for defense, Severson is a no-brainer, and considering that the Devils only recently acquired Siegenthaler, they have to be protecting him, and at 24 years old and a former second round pick, the potential for growth is clearly still there. So the third defender becomes a debate. Now, I know that Butcher did not really fit last year, and he was the healthy scratch on so many nights, but I honestly like him. Subban was the better fit last year, but he still has another year at a $9 million cap hit, and are the Devils bringing him back after that? And if so, for how much? He obviously will be taking a major pay cut to stay in the NHL after next season, wherever that may be. I think the player with the better potential longer term is Butcher, and if he can turn it around, he is worth keeping. Also, put it this way: I think if the Devils expose him, there is a decent chance that Seattle takes him. I mean come on, Vegas took Jon Merrill, and he’s had a decent career since leaving NJ, nothing spectacular, but at least still worth rostering. I feel like Butcher would be the same, but would be better since he actually has some offensive upside. So I would lean Butcher as the third defender protected.

As for goalie, we obviously don’t need to discuss this. It’s Blackwood. So that means in my scenario here, the Devils are exposing Andreas Johnsson, Nathan Bastian, PK Subban, and Scott Wedgewood/Evan Cormier. That works for me. (This was written on July 11.)

Jenna Verrico (JV): Forwards: Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Yegor Sharangovich, Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, Michael McLeod, Janne Kuokkanen

Defensemen: Damon Severson, Jonas Siegenthaler, Will Butcher

Goalie needs no explanation. You don’t just protect Blackwood from Seattle, we should be paying an army to protect him.

Forwards, honestly, this wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be. So many of our players are still young and new that we only have a select few players to worry about. Hischier, Bratt, Sharangovitch are all no-brainers. I have always been a believer in Zacha and Wood, and this past season showed that was the right call and they should continue to be a part of the future of this team. McLeod came into his own this season as well. Of the remaining eligible players, I think Kuokkanen has the most potential, although I did have a hard time choosing not to protect Bastian in that spot.

Defensively, Severson again is a no-brainer. He is the future leader of our defensive core and an excellent talent. Siegenthaler I thought was a fantastic addition and is absolutely worth protecting and continuing to see his development. The rest of the defense is kind of sketchy, but I’ve always been a fan of Will Butcher and while I’m not sure if there’s room for him in Lindy’s vision, he’s not one of the defensemen I want to see disappear. I have a feeling the Devils will choose to protect Subban instead given how they clung to him all season despite acknowledging his breakdowns and poor performances, but I think that would be the wrong call in more ways than one.

Mike Stromberg (MS): Forwards: Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, Janne Kuokkanen, Yegor Sharangovich, Michael McLeod

Defensemen: Damon Severson, Jonas Siegenthaler, P.K. Subban

7-3-1 was the obvious choice as the Devils barely have three defensemen worth protecting, let alone more than that.

The first six forward choices were relatively easy, with Nico and Bratt being slam dunks, Sharangovich and Kuokkanen being cheap up and coming support players, and while Zacha and Wood have led mercurial careers both are clearly valuable enough to protect, given the other options. I went with Mike McLeod in the seventh slot, partially because the rules require that both Johnsson and Nate Bastian be exposed after the first six selections. Nick Merkley was really the only other player I considered for the last spot but I think you have to give McLeod the nod.

On defense, it’s a little less clear cut to me. Severson is the obvious choice, but it’s a little tricky after him. You just gave up a pick for Siegenthaler a few months ago then re-signed him, so he almost has to be a selection though I remain not sold on him as a player, generally speaking. That leaves one more spot that basically comes down to PK Subban and Will Butcher (unless you’re feeling down enough on those options to protect UFA Ryan Murray). Part of me says expose Subban for the chance you dump his cap hit, but Butcher barely cracked the lineup for the dreadful 2020-21 version of the Devils this season. Subban is more important roster-wise right now and the Devils are 100 miles from the cap anyway, so I’ll protect him.

Conclusion: Surprising to me, all of those who participated picked the same seven forwards: Hischier, Bratt, Zacha, Wood, Kuokkanen, Sharangovich, and McLeod. There was much eyebrow furrowing about Nathan Bastian. But given that the Devils have expose two out of the six of Hischier, Bratt, Zacha, Wood, Andreas Johnsson, and Bastian. Unless Tom Fitzgerald can get Nick Merkley or Michael McLeod (both can qualify for exposure if they are signed for 2021-22), that’s the choice. Out of them, Johnsson and Bastian were seen as the most expendable.

I was also surprised that the third defenseman to protect was not the same. It was Damon Severson, the recently re-signed Jonas Siegenthaler, and either P.K. Subban or Will Butcher. The last name is notable given the second question.

Who on the Devils Would You Want Seattle to Take in the Expansion Draft?

JF: Will Butcher. He clearly doesn’t fit into Lindy Ruff’s plans. He may not fit Tom Fitzgerald’s plans. A change of scenery may be good for him. And while that usually would yield a trade, Butcher’s value is surely low between not playing and not playing particularly well the last two seasons. As much as Andreas Johnsson will be a popular choice, I think Butcher may be the one to let go. Especially Fitzgerald plans to go aggressive and/or get creative to address the blueline. Even if he does not plan to do so now, perhaps this would help him go in that direction.

BF: Andreas Johnsson. For whatever reason, Johnsson never got going for the Devils which was a big disappointment considering he was supposed to be a top 6 player winger for them. He struggled before and after the Devils’ COVID outbreak so I can’t blame the lack of performance solely on that. I would want Seattle to choose him over Subban in my scenario for a few reasons. First, Johnsson has 2 years left on his deal with a cap hit of $3.4M each year compared to Subban’s 1 year and $9M cap hit. I feel the Devils having Subban around to start the 2021-22 season would help since he’s an experienced RD and a movable piece at the trade deadline. By then the Devils would have paid his $6M signing bonus and most of his $2M salary. I could see a playoff team coming in for him especially if the Devils retain 50% of the cap hit. Secondly, having Johnsson’s contract off the books for 2022-23 would help the Devils since after this season they have to re-sign RFA’s including Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt as well as Miles Wood and Pavel Zacha should they still fit in the team’s plan going forward. They have plenty of cap room but this situation playing out gives them more flexibility, especially if they want to lock up Hughes and/or Bratt long term while making other moves.

AP: Andreas Johnsson. When the Devils got Johnsson, I was pretty happy about the decision, and I thought it would end up being a good move for the team. But man, it really did not work out this past season. Only 11 points in 50 games, he was invisible most nights, and this is from someone who was signed with hopes of being a top 6 winger playing alongside Hughes or Hischier. I would be happy if his $3.4 million cap hit over the next two seasons were off the books and with Seattle. Yes, I know Subban has a $9 million hit this year, but I would honestly prefer the extra year at $3.4 to be gone. In the best case scenario, at least as I see it, this upcoming year is a year to improve but not to seriously challenge for a serious playoff run, so having that $9 million contract from Subban isn’t the end of the world. Plus, he did not have a bad year this past season, so he could still contribute. Then, the following year when Subban’s albatross is off the books, you can sign someone to take the team to the next level and hopefully push for some playoff series wins. In this light, I hope Seattle takes Johnsson. Plus, it makes sense for them. He could turn his game around there in a new setting, and at only 26 years old, the Kraken could get a real winner with Johnsson for close to a decade if everything worked out.

JV: Andreas Johnsson. I certainly wouldn’t be upset if they took PK Subban, but there’s no way Seattle is going to bite on that cap hit for a single year. Johnsson did absolutely nothing for us besides cost us Nikita Gusev in my opinion, and he’s wasting a valuable roster spot on that wing. He’s also not cheap— he cost us a whopping $1.1 million dollars per goal he scored this season. Free us of him, Seattle!

MS: Will Butcher. I mean, I guess my top choice would be, like, David Quenneville or whatever but among the realistic choices, I’m going to say Butcher. Andreas Johnsson is gonna be the popular choice here, but I honestly think he’s a better bounceback candidate than Butcher if both are on the Devils roster next season. Johnsson was invisible on the scoresheet but he also had somewhat encouraging underlying numbers. I just don’t know how Butcher fits in on the Lindy Ruff Devils and then he’s probably gone in UFA next summer anyway.

Conclusion: This question yielded two common names I expected: Johnsson and Butcher. This is notable because this is something that Fitzgerald can be proactive about. He could swing a deal to send a sweetener Seattle’s way to take either (or someone else) to ensure that Bastian or Ryan Murray or someone else is not taken. I do not know if that will happen or if it is necessary. Again, a couple of signings changes the situation a bit for the protection list New Jersey must submit on Saturday.

Thanks to Brian, Alex, Jenna, and Mike for participating in this Seattle expansion draft roundtable. As stated earlier, I would like to know your take about who you think the Devils will protect and who you would want Seattle to take from the Devils. Please leave them in the comments. We will have an open post for the Expansion Draft next Wednesday evening for everyone to discuss what happens with Seattle as it happens. Thank you for reading.