Who the Canadiens should protect and expose in the upcoming NHL expansion draft

The rules are starting to become clear for the upcoming NHL expansion, and we now have a good idea of what type of impact it will have on the Habs.

The NHL's board of governors is expected to approve the Las Vegas expansion, with the team slated to enter the NHL in 2017-18.

The expansion rules are slowly trickling out. Here's a rundown of what we know so far.

  • Teams cannot reacquire players they trade after Jan. 1, 2017 prior to Jan. 1, 2018. This is to prevent teams from entering arrangements to "hide" players from the expansion draft. There will likely be a lot more guidelines as part of this rule.
  • Teams have to expose at least two forwards and one defenceman who have played either 40 games in the previous season (2016-17) or 70 games in the previous two seasons (2015-17). Teams can only lose a max of one player.
  • The expansion team must select players that have a total value of between 60 and 100 per cent of the 2016-17 salary cap.
  • The expansion team can’t buy out anyone it picks in the expansion draft until the following off-season (2018).
  • The expansion team will be given the same draft lottery odds as the team that finishes third last in the league and cannot pick later than sixth in the 2017 NHL entry draft. It’s possible the expansion team could end up with the first-overall pick, if it wins the lottery.
  • Teams must protect players that have no-movement clauses active in the 2017-18 season. No-movement clauses active in 2016-17 will have no impact. There will likely be exceptions made for players with no-movement clauses who are out with career-ending injuries (i.e. Ryan Clowe and Nathan Horton). Teams are not expected to be forced to protect those contracts.
  • Las Vegas will be required to draft one player from every existing team, including at minimum at each position: three goalies, nine defencemen and 14 forwards.
  • Teams will have a choice between protecting seven forwards, three defencemen and one goaltender (11 players) or eight skaters and one goaltender (nine players). The second option allows for teams to protect four defencemen but forces them to expose three more forwards in order to do so.
  • All players with two years or less of pro hockey experience are exempted from the draft.

Thankfully, the Canadiens will be forced to protect only two players; P.K. Subban and Jeff Petry. Odds are they would have protected those players anyhow, so it's really not a hindrance to their expansion planning. Alexei Emelin is not subject to the automatic protecting, seeing as he only has a limited-NTC in his contract.

The following players would be automatically exempt:

Michael McCarron, Nikita Scherbak, Zachary Fucale, Jeremy Gregoire, Brett Lernout, Tim Bozon, Ryan Johnston, Mark MacMillan, Martin Reway, and Artturi Lehkonen.

Meaning the Canadiens would have to pick seven forwards, a goalie, and one defencemen from the following list: Carey Price, Nathan Beaulieu, Mark Barberio, Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, and Lars Eller. Tomas Plekanec, Charles Hudon, David Desharnais, Sven Andrighetto, Daniel Carr, Torrey Mitchell, Jacob de la Rose, Paul Byron, Brian Flynn, Phillip Danault, Lucas Lessio, Stefan Matteau, Michael Bournival, Alexei Emelin, Greg Pateryn, Victor Bartley, Morgan Ellis, Mike Condon, Mac Bennett, Joel Hanley, Darren Dietz, Connor Crisp, Dalton Thrower, Max Friberg, Gabriel Dumont.

Carey Price is the easiest name to strike off the list. He is the franchise, and he automatically joins Subban and Petry as the first players that are protected.

That leaves us with seven forwards and one defencemen to add.

Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, and Alex Galchenyuk are easy decisions. They're core players, and there's no debate to be had about their worth.

This is where things become a little more complicated. The Habs now have four forwards and one defenceman left to protect.

Daniel Carr, Lars Eller, and Sven Andrighetto are probably the most promising NHL forwards, and along with Nathan Beaulieu they should nab four of the remaining spots.

And then there was one

Should the Habs protect Charles Hudon? Considering how weak they are in terms of high-offense prospects, that would certainly be a wise choice. But perhaps they should protect their loyal workhorse, Tomas Plekanec. Of course, as it stands Plekanec is slated to become a UFA at the end of the 2017-18 season, meaning the Canadiens would spend one very valuable protection spot on a player they could lose at the end of that season for nothing.

There's no guarantee that Hudon will become an impact player in the NHL, however all signs point to him having that potential. That being said, we do know that Plekanec can, and does, make an impact in the NHL. Is it wise to sacrifice one of your most steady veterans to gamble on potential?

If I am part of the Vegas expansion committee, I pounce on the chance of grabbing a player like Plekanec in the draft. Odds are he'll be better than most other centers available.

Even with that risk looming, in the long run it's almost always wise to invest in your future, which is why I would chose to protect Hudon.

The finalized list of the 11 protected players would look like this: Petry, Subban, Beaulieu, Price, Gallagher, Galchenyuk, Pacioretty, Carr, Andrighetto, Eller, and Hudon.

Meaning the Canadiens would expose some reasonable decent players, including Barberio, Plekanec, Byron, and Danault. They would meet all the requirements set by the NHL in terms of leaving experienced players available, and by picking mostly forwards they maximize how many assets they protect.

As long as the Canadiens play their cards right, they should emerge from the expansion draft with little to no effect on their core group of players. At the very worst, they will lose a quality player like Plekanec, or a solid defender like Barberio.

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