NHL Expansion Draft: 8 Teams That Could Protect 8

NHL Expansion Draft: 8 Teams That Could Protect 8
Photo: © Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Teams have just four weeks left until they submit their list of protected players for the NHL Expansion Draft.

Each team's management will submit its list of protected players to Vegas on June 17, at which time the Golden Knights will have until June 20 to select their roster.

With the postseason winding down -- and yet heating up all at once -- expansion speculation has been widely covered and fueled as some teams sit in a problematic position of having too much depth and will ultimately lose a strong NHL player to Vegas.

Most teams will opt for the seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie protection option as they look to keep as many players as possible

However, those with four protection-worthy defensemen will likely choose the option of keeping any eight players and a goalie, which are highlighted here.

Anaheim Ducks

They say defense wins championships, and Anaheim's blue line depth is a large reason why the Ducks remain one of four teams left battling in the playoffs. Before we dive into it, know that Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour are exempt. 

In a perfect world, Anaheim would choose the 7-3-1 format and protect Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, and Sami Vatanen on the back end. But perfection isn't in the cards for Anaheim, as Kevin Bieksa holds a no-movement clause (NMC). Unless the 35-year-old waives it, the Ducks will be forced to keep him.

Because of Bieksa, Anaheim could be one of the few teams that keeps eight players and falls into the unfortunate situation of exposing some strong forwards.

Up front, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler all hold NMCs, too. That leaves the Ducks with one keeper spot left at forward, which would absolutely be Rickard Rakell. Andrew Cogliano and likely Vegas pick Jakob Silfverberg would therefore be up for grabs.

Chicago Blackhawks

NMCs for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Artem Anisimov means Chicago's forwards are locked in the event they choose any eight players. Luckily for the Blackhawks, Artemi Panarin is exempt.

That would expose depth center Marcus Kruger; Richard Panik, who is coming off a breakout season; and 22-year-old rookie Ryan Hartman, who finished with 19 goals.

On the back end, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson also hold NMCs. With the eight-player choice, Chicago could choose to protect valuable defensemen Trevor van Riemsdyk or promising 22-year-old Ville Pokka.

The Blackhawks will likely make the choice of protecting Hartman up front, pushing them into the 7-3-1 system, which would be filled out with Panik and Krueger. They would then risk losing either van Riemsdyk or Pokka, the former likely being selected by the Golden Knights.

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche can use help everywhere, especially on the blue line, yet their situation places them as a team that could choose to select four defensemen.

With Francois Beauchemin and Erik Johnson holding NMCs (are you sensing a theme yet?), the obvious third guy in is Tyson Barrie. Unfortunately, that leaves 22-year-old Nikita Zadorov open to Vegas, which would be a mistake for the future.

Zadorov, the 16th overall pick in 2013, was brought in from Buffalo in the Ryan O'Reilly trade in 2015. His numbers don't relay his potential, partially due to playing two of his three seasons on the worst statistical team in the league.

Tyson Jost and Mikko Rantanen are exempt up front, and beyond Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, there isn't a player who screams "protect me."

The next closest guys would be Carl Soderberg or Sven Andrighetto, who made himself at home with five goals and 15 points in 19 games with the Avalanche after being dealt by Montreal at the trade deadline.

Minnesota Wild

There's probably not a team that has it worse than Minnesota in regard to the expansion draft. As the team currently sits, it will lose one of the best unprotected players to Vegas.

Up front, NMCs force the Wil  to protect Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Jason Pominville. If Minnesota potentially chooses to keep any eight, the last spot will absolutely be saved for Mikael Granlund.

However, there is a case to be made for protecting Nino Neiderreiter, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, and Erik Haula. There is no chance general manager Chuck Fletcher allows Vegas to have its choice of one of them, but even in the 7-3-1 option, two of them will be made available.

A trade is Minnesota's best bet and most logical choice because two guys to keep alongside Ryan Suter (NMC) leaves two of Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin, and Marco Scandella exposed.

The Wild would almost certainly lose either the 23-year-old Brodin, who is a former 10th overall pick, or the 22-year-old Dumba, a former seventh overall pick. The only bright side would be the non-loss at forward.

Nashville Predators

Nashville is arguably the most likely team to protect four defensemen and, therefore, eight skaters. For a team that runs off its blue line, GM David Poile will start by protecting Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm and fill in from there.

Forwards who don't need a second look include Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and breakout 24-year-old Viktor Arvidsson. That leaves one spot to be filled by captain Mike Fisher, James Neal, or Calle Jarnkrok.

While Fisher would be a strong veteran presence on Vegas, the other two remain better options for the Golden Knights. Neal, 29, is a gritty consistent 20-plus goal scorer. Jarnkrok, 25, has 31 combined goals over the past two seasons at a cap hit of just $2 million for the next four seasons.

The Predators will lose an offensive contributor, but their impeccable puck movers on the back end can alleviate the loss by pushing play and making everyone around them better. 

New York Islanders

The Islanders' late-season surge and handful of solid prospects will help cover the loss of their expansion victim, which is bound to be a blue-liner if GM Garth Snow fails to make a move.

Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey, and Ryan Pulock can all warrant a protective spot, and Johnny Boychuk has a NMC. That's excluding 35-year-old Dennis Seidenberg, who scored 22 points as a steady defensive defenseman in his first year with the team.

John Tavares and Andrew Ladd hold NMCs at forward and the team has a mix of scoring wingers and promising youth to add into its protection consideration. Andres Lee, Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey, Ryan Strome, and Shane Prince are all considerations to protect, which adds up to seven should the team go that route.

If the Islanders do, Snow can find a trade partner for a defenseman such as Hickey or de Haan, whose name has appeared in rumors lately.

Washington Capitals

It was their year, but the monster that is the postseason -- or the Penguins in the Capitals' case -- is not kind to tamers. Now, Washington has a plethora of questions and free-agent contracts, both unrestricted and restricted, to resolve.

GM Brian MacLellan's to-do list certainly has "re-sign Evgeny Kuznetsov" at the top, even if the expansion draft does chronologically come first. Right below that is re-sign Andre Burakovsky, Dmitry Orlov, Philip Grubauer, and Nate Schmidt.

That's just the RFAs, while Justin Williams is a UFA and Kevin Shattenkirk and T.J. Oshie will be two of the most sought-after players this summer.

On the blue line, John Carlson and Matt Niskanen are automatic keepers, while Orlov, Schmidt, and Alzner are each deserving of a protection spot. The offense will see Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson all protected with room for two more if MacLellan believes the 7-3-1 format suits his team best.

Winnipeg Jets

The Jets have a scary good future ahead of them and are a steady goaltender away from putting it all together.

Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little, and Blake Wheeler are the easiest keeper names up front, and Winnipeg would likely welcome the potential selection of Mathieu Perreault's $4.125 million cap hit until 2021. Nikolaj Ehlers, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, and Nic Petan are the most notably exempt.

But the blue line situation hinders things. Dustin Byfuglien (NMC), Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers would be an easy three choices if not for Tobias Enstrom's NMC. Enstrom, 32, is a shade of the 50-point puck mover he was when he broke into the league and has had trouble staying healthy during the past few years.

The forced protection slots for Enstrom and Byfuglien means the potential of losing one of Trouba and Myers for nothing, which would be unacceptable asset management.

The rumors of Trouba's want for a trade are still making headlines and could clear things up if the right deal was struck. But for a team so strong on offense, the Jets will be hard-pressed to find a suitable replacement in a trade or a youthful No. 1 goalie in return, as well.

Keep in mind that in the event of a trade -- which all of these teams will likely attempt to make, perhaps even under the table with Vegas -- the expansion outlook will change immediately. 

Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @JMessing23.
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