When the NHL decided to expand the number of teams in 2017 for the first time in nearly two decades, Gary Bettman made it clear that he wanted the Vegas Golden Knights to be competitive right from the start rather than going through the long period of mediocrity that most new teams typically experienced. The rules were written so that only about half of an NHL roster could be protected, guaranteeing that a good number of mid-tier players would be available. Obviously satisfied with Las Vegas’s start in the league, those same rules were left intact for this summer’s introduction of the Seattle Kraken.
The 30 teams that were in the league before Vegas joined (the Golden Knights are exempt from proceedings this year) can protect one goaltender, seven forwards, and just three defencemen, and anyone with a no-movement claude has to be included in those numbers unless he chose to waive that clause beforehand. If a club feels the need to protect more defencemen, that option is available, with the total number of skaters capable of being protected dropped from 10 to eight.
Seattle will have some fairly strict rules to follow of its own. The roster selected needs to include 20 players under contract for the 2021-22 season whose combined cap hits fall somewhere from 60% to 100% of the salary cap. The franchise will have to pick at least 14 forwards, nine defenceman, and three goaltenders among its 30 selections.
Not surprisingly with the rules skewed toward protecting more forwards, the Golden Knights loaded up on the large number of defenceman left available. Their 30-man list comprised of three goaltenders, 14 forwards, and 13 defencemen, including the Montreal Canadiens’ Alexei Emelin. Vegas then flipped a few of those defencemen (including Emelin) for other assets. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Seattle take a similar approach.
Now that we’ve seen this year’s Canadiens team in action for a couple of weeks, we have an idea of how the players stack up, and can begin to think about what awaits the club six months from now on July 21.
First of all, it’s important to know who is exempt from being drafted. All players with two or fewer seasons of NHL experience don’t need to be protected and can’t be selected. For Montreal, that means Nick Suzuki and Alexander Romanov are safe, and that list also includes Ryan Poehling, and Cayden Primeau, among others.
On the flipside, there are three players with no-movement clauses who will all need to be protected. There isn’t much question that Brendan Gallagher and Jeff Petry will be sticking around in their key roles after signing new extensions that kick in a year from now. Carey Price’s situation might be a bit different, however.
To be exposed in the draft, Price would have to waive his NMC, but he would move much closer to home in Seattle if he wanted that element in the latter part of his career. It’s also true that his salary remains one of the greatest financial commitments to a netminder in a league that generally doesn’t allot such a large piece of the pie to the goaltending position. With a team of analytics people, Seattle may come to that same conclusion as well and deem his salary too rich for their plans, even if Price was open to the move. And of course there’s also the fact that he’s been an important player for Montreal, remains one of the most respected goaltenders in the league, and gives the team a better chance to win than just about any option who would come in to replace him. You have to think there’s mutual interest in keeping Price around, but his status will remain a topic of discussion until the protected list is released.
As for players Montreal has to expose, the rules are somewhat forgiving. Seattle needs to have its pick of at least two forwards and at least one defencemen who are signed for next season and finish with at least 27 games played this year or a combined 54 from this season and the last (a player with fewer games played can still be the one picked). There also must be one goaltender either under contract for next year or who is slated for restricted free agency at the end of the season.
These are the players who are or project to be eligible for the expansion draft from Montreal’s full reserve list:
|Josh Anderson||26.7||RW||UFA 2027||21|
|Joel Armia||27.7||RW||UFA 2021||0|
|Brandon Baddock||25.8||LW||RFA 2021||27|
|Joseph Blandisi||26.5||C||RFA 2021||27|
|Paul Byron||31.8||RW||UFA 2023||9|
|Phillip Danault||27.9||C||UFA 2021||0|
|Laurent Dauphin||25.8||C||RFA 2021||27|
|Jonathan Drouin||25.8||LW||UFA 2023||11|
|Jake Evans||24.7||C||RFA 2022||21|
|Michael Frolik||32.9||LW||UFA 2021||0|
|Brendan Gallagher||28.7||RW||UFA 2027 + NMC||0|
|Charles Hudon||26.6||LW||RFA 2020||27|
|Jesperi Kotkaniemi||20.6||C||RFA 2021||2|
|Artturi Lehkonen||25.6||LW||RFA 2021||0|
|Corey Perry||35.7||RW||UFA 2021||0|
|Michael Pezzetta||22.9||LW||RFA 2021||27|
|Tomas Tatar||30.2||LW||UFA 2021||0|
|Tyler Toffoli||28.8||RW||UFA 2024||0|
|Lukas Vejdemo||25.0||C||RFA 2021||27|
|Hayden Verbeek||23.3||C||RFA 2021||27|
|Jordan Weal||28.8||C||UFA 2021||3|
|Ben Chiarot||29.7||LD||UFA 2022||0|
|Joel Edmundson||27.6||LD||UFA 2024||0|
|Cale Fleury||22.2||RD||RFA 2021||13|
|Brett Kulak||27.1||LD||UFA 2022||0|
|Victor Mete||22.6||LD||RFA 2021||0|
|Gustav Olofsson||26.2||LD||RFA 2021||27|
|Xavier Ouellet||27.5||LD||UFA 2022||27|
|Jeff Petry||33.1||RD||UFA 2025 + NMC||0|
|Shea Weber||35.5||RD||UFA 2026||0|
|Jake Allen||1990-08-07||30.5||UFA 2023||-|
|Charlie Lindgren||1993-12-18||27.1||UFA 2021||-|
|Michael McNiven||1997-07-09||23.6||RFA 2021||-|
|Carey Price||1987-08-16||33.5||UFA 2026 + NMC||-|
Starting with the goaltenders, the Canadiens will have two netminders satisfying the madatory requirement for exposure if Price keeps his automatic protection. Because the Kraken would still hold McNiven’s rights (as long as he received a qualifying offer) he would be a viable option. However, there’s little chance that Seattle would make that decision with Jake Allen on the board. He would be a prime target for a team looking to compete right away, though there are some other strong tandems around the league for them to select from.
As much as Bergevin loves the quality of his defence corps this season, outside of Petry and Shea Weber, there’s no one who absolutely must be protected. There’s redundancy built in all throughout the left side of the blue line in the organization, extending down to a handful of promising prospects, so the loss of Ben Chiarot, Joel Edmundson, Brett Kulak, or Victor Mete won’t be a crippling one. The GM can just opt to protect the one he’s most satisfied with, or sees the greatest future for, at the end of the season, and probably shouldn’t entertain the eight-skater option to protect any more than that.
That’s especially true when looking at the number of forwards who could be in danger of being selected in July. There’s no defenceman in the list above worth the protection slots of three of the potential forwards.
Outside of Gallagher’s automatic protection, and with Suzuki still a sophomore, Jesperi Kotkaniemi has to be the top priority on the list. Next would likely come Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli, whom Bergevin will be keen to stick with, especially with their relatively long-term deals making them controllable assets. Jonathan Drouin will probably round out the list of essential protections, bringing the forward list to five.
Then it could depend on how the season plays out. If the team continues on its current trajectory and has a very successful playoff run, maybe Bergevin ensures that his top six stays intact, with new contracts (it’s not going to be easy) for Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar to see how long he can extend the window. If instead the goal is protect the youngest options and keep the team in good shape for the future, perhaps it’s Artturi Lehkonen and Jake Evans who round out the protected list. Signing Danault and bundling him with Evans is also an option to ensure the centre depth returns next year.
The only remaining option for one of the two mandatory exposures for roster forwards signed beyond this season is Paul Byron. As important as he is to the team, he shouldn’t be protected above any of the forwards already listed. The other option could be Evans if he maintains his fourth-line spot to hit the games-played threshold and Bergevin takes the experience route outlined above. Otherwise, either an extension for one of the pending free agents — Joel Armia or Lehkonen are the safest bets — or a deadline trade for a player with a bit of term will be required to get the second qualifying forward.
Of course, with so many picks in hand for the upcoming entry draft, Bergevin may try to make a deal to get a particular Habs player chosen, saving himself from worrying too much about losing a player off what has become a strong roster. Given the talent available at each position, however, Seattle may turn that offer down.
With all that information to digest, this is what the protected and exposed lists could look like. Share anything you’d do differently in the comments, and try out CapFriendly’s expansion draft simulator to see what other teams will be dealing with.