On Saturday, July 17, every NHL team (except the Vegas Golden Knights) will submit a small list of players who can’t be selected in the expansion draft. The Seattle Kraken will then choose a roster of players who were left off those lists to form the majority of their lineup for their inaugural season in 2021-22.
The existing teams can choose to protect seven forwards, three defencemen, and one goaltender. There’s also an option to protect eight skaters if a team prefers to hold more than seven forwards or three defencemen, though that’s two fewer protected skaters, and therefore a rare option. Even so, six teams — the Arizona Coyotes, Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, and Pittsburgh Penguins — opted for that path in 2017 when Las Vegas entered the league.
It’s the first decision every one of the 30 eligible general managers needs to make, choosing the strategy that works best for his roster. Marc Bergevin has been contemplating that for his group of Montreal Canadiens players, using the playoff run to make final evaluations. These are the players who are eligible to be protected that he’s dealing with.
|Josh Anderson||27.2||RW||UFA 2027|
|Joel Armia||28.1||RW||UFA 2021|
|Brandon Baddock||26.3||LW||UFA 2022|
|Joseph Blandisi||27.0||C||RFA 2021|
|Paul Byron||32.2||RW||UFA 2023|
|Phillip Danault||28.4||C||UFA 2021|
|Laurent Dauphin||26.3||C||RFA 2021|
|Jonathan Drouin||26.3||LW||UFA 2023|
|Jake Evans||25.1||C||RFA 2022|
|Michael Frolik||33.4||LW||UFA 2021|
|Brendan Gallagher||29.2||RW||UFA 2027 + NMC|
|Charles Hudon||27.1||LW||RFA 2020|
|Jesperi Kotkaniemi||21.0||C||RFA 2021|
|Artturi Lehkonen||26.0||LW||RFA 2021|
|Corey Perry||36.2||RW||UFA 2021|
|Michael Pezzetta||23.3||LW||RFA 2021|
|Eric Staal||36.7||C||UFA 2021|
|Tomas Tatar||30.6||LW||UFA 2021|
|Tyler Toffoli||29.2||RW||UFA 2024|
|Lukas Vejdemo||25.5||C||RFA 2021|
|Ben Chiarot||30.2||LD||UFA 2022|
|Joel Edmundson||28.0||LD||UFA 2024|
|Cale Fleury||22.6||RD||RFA 2021|
|Erik Gustafsson||29.3||LD||UFA 2021|
|Brett Kulak||27.5||LD||UFA 2022|
|Jon Merrill||29.4||LD||UFA 2021|
|Gustav Olofsson||26.6||LD||RFA 2021|
|Xavier Ouellet||28.0||LD||UFA 2022|
|Jeff Petry||33.6||RD||UFA 2025 + NMC|
|Shea Weber||35.9||RD||UFA 2026|
|Jake Allen||1990-08-07||30.9||UFA 2023|
|Charlie Lindgren||1993-12-18||27.6||UFA 2021|
|Michael McNiven||1997-07-09||24.0||RFA 2021|
|Carey Price||1987-08-16||33.9||UFA 2026 + NMC|
It’s not only a matter of protecting the players you want to keep. There are certain rules for players who need to be left exposed. There must be one goaltender who is either under contract for next year or a restricted free agent at the end of this one. Carey Price, Jake Allen, and Michael McNiven all satisfy that requirement. Each team must also leave at least one defenceman and at least two forwards unprotected who are under contract for the 2021-22 season and who played 27 games this year for 54 total over the past two campaigns.
Seattle will select a roster of at least 20 players under contract (they are still able to pick pending unrestricted or restricted free agents besides) that comes in somewhere from 60% to 100% of next season’s $81.5 million salary cap. The 30-player list they end up with has to have at least 14 forwards, nine defencemen, and three goaltenders.
Four members of the Eyes On The Prize staff submitted mock protected lists (made easy by CapFriendly’s mock expansion draft tool). These were the results of those ballots.
There was no controversy surrounding the goaltender who would be protected. There had been some talk about asking Price to waive his no-movement clause (teams are required to protect any player who has one) to either accept a move closer to his home province or to help protect Allen who has a much more palatable salary for the new franchise. After the post-season Price had, however, he proved he wasn’t a player you want to even risk parting with as the Canadiens’ window of contention opens.
All four participants opted for the 7-3-1 route, and Shea Weber and Jeff Petry featured on all lists, but there was a bit of debate on who the third blue-liner should be. Three went with the younger Joel Edmundson who had an excellent season and solid playoff performance. One chose Ben Chiarot instead, liking the greater flexibility his remaining contract — one year versus Edmundson’s three — gives the team with a slew of up-and-coming defence prospects.
A consensus was also reached on six of the seven forwards we would protect. Josh Anderson, Brendan Gallagher, and Tyler Toffoli, who all have contracts for at least the next three years, are tapped to stick with the team. Pending restricted free agents, Artturi Lehkonen and Jesperi Kotkaniemi were also chosen by all four. Jake Evans probably wasn’t on many of the mock lists during the regular season, but he really showed his value in the post-season with his speed and defensive play, both of which extended to the playoff-best penalty kill. At 25 years old and carrying just a $750,000 cap hit, that is a very enticing skill set for a club looking at a lot of overpriced bottom-six players left unprotected by other teams.
The majority of the staff feels the same about Phillip Danault, as the prevailing thought seems to be trying to shield as many under-30 centremen as possible, but one list included Joel Armia instead. Armia showed off the puck-protection and penalty-killing skills his big body allows during the playoffs. With Danault’s contract negotiation seeing a bit of drama already, there is some concern a deal can’t be agreed upon by player and team, and therefore a protection spot would be wasted. That concern can be put to rest if a contract extension is signed in the next few days before the protection list is due.
Any version of a list with the options listed above still leaves some key names available. One of the top projected selections from Montreal’s roster is Allen. He ranked 33rd in the NHL in save percentage this year among goalies to play 10 games. He could play a competent starter’s role if required, and serves as a top-end number two in tandem, as Montreal saw this year. It would be a significant loss for Montreal, and probably require Bergevin to make a trade to find a similar goaltender for next year.
The Kraken could have its eye on whichever of Edmundson and Chiarot is left available, Brett Kulak and his one contract year, or possibly restricted free agent Cale Fleury, but it might be more likely that they’d be looking at the forwards if they don’t choose Allen.
There are still two signed forwards who satisfy the exposure requirement who were not included on any of our lists: Paul Byron and Jonathan Drouin. Byron had a decent playoff performance, but it wasn’t one that made him stand out from similar defensive players, and his age (32) and cap hit ($3.4 million for two more years) conspire against his odds of being protected.
Drouin took a leave of absence from the team in April and has been away from the team since. He’s much younger than Byron but has the same two years remaining with a sizable salary. We don’t know what is keeping Drouin from the game, but if it’s something that a change of pace and scenery could help alleviate, Seattle could be very interested in adding a skilled playmaker to the roster.
Corey Perry is also an option. He doesn’t have a contract beyond this year, but the Kraken can still select him and try to negotiate a deal. In fact, they can speak with any unprotected unrestricted free agent in the days between when the lists are submitted on July 17 and July 21. If the parties agree on a deal, that player becomes their selection from his previous club, and everyone else is safe. It sounded like Perry hoped to stay in Montreal at his end-of-season press conference, and an expansion franchise probably isn’t where Perry wants to play in one of his final seasons in the league as he seeks another Stanley Cup.
There’s also Tomas Tatar, who doesn’t have a contract either, but won’t be eager to return to the club that decided to continue on the playoff run without him. He will be looking for a new team for next season. Could that be Seattle? Even if it is, that’s probably not a deal they would want to make until after the draft, taking another player from Montreal’s roster in the meantime.
At least one of the eight forwards in our protected list above will be available, whether that’s Danault or Armia, or Lehkonen or Evans. Any one of them would be an everyday player for the franchise, and potentially for quite some time. That could be a big benefit for a team just getting started in the league.
No matter who the new organization selects, it will be a bit painful for Montreal, and likely leave the GM searching for a replacement. Bergevin won’t be alone as the league adds its 32nd team by siphoning players from the existing clubs. It all sets up a busy off-season, and a short one at that.