When the NHL announces the roster for the Vegas Golden Knights on June 21, 2017, one thing is certain: a player from the Carolina Hurricanes will be on the list. Beyond that are a lot of moving pieces and hypotheticals, with the bulk of the 2016-17 season remaining to be played and important decisions to be made irrespective of the impending draft.
That said, six months out, how are the Canes currently positioned with regard to the Expansion Draft, and what do they need to consider as the season progresses?
The league published the Expansion Draft rules on June 27. Given the current construction of the Hurricanes roster, we offer an explanation of the most relevant rules affecting the draft along with a status check and a few prognostications for how the Canes might handle roster protection and exposure.
Keep in mind that June 17, 2017 is the deadline for each team to provide its Protected List to the league in preparation for the expansion draft, so trades or other roster transactions (signings, etc.) would need to be completed before that date.
Protected List Rules
Clubs will have two options for players they wish to protect in the Expansion Draft:
A) Seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender
B) Eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goaltender
Option A protects eleven players while Option B protects nine, though Option B allows more flexibility in terms of which roles to protect. Why would a team opt to protect fewer players? It comes down to position depth and exempt status (discussed in detail below). Option A could expose a top-four defenseman, while with Option B, a team could either protect zero eligible defensemen (and add an eighth protected forward) or protect four or more defensemen (potentially exposing a top-six forward).
The Hurricanes don’t currently benefit from either scenario in Option B (more to follow as to why), so they can take advantage of the two additional protected players offered by Option A.
All players who have currently effective and continuing "No Movement" clauses at the time of the Expansion Draft (and who to decline to waive such clauses) must be protected (and will be counted toward their club's applicable protection limits).
This rule has created some confusion because the CBA is purposefully vague in its definition of a No Movement Clause when applied to expansion drafts, and specific terms and conditions in player movement clauses typically aren’t known outside of the parties directly involved in a player’s contract.
For Expansion Draft purposes, the league and NHLPA agreed that players with full No Movement clauses in effect at the time of the draft (as opposed to no-trade or partial no-movement clauses) will be required to be protected by their current club. To further eliminate the ambiguity, on Nov. 22 the league distributed a list of the 66 current protected players. The only contract impacting the Canes is that of forward Jordan Staal, who would certainly be protected regardless.
So at least with regard to the current roster, the Canes remain in good shape, and in fact, may be able to take advantage in a trade scenario with other teams who find themselves in a difficult situation with player contracts. Chicago has eight players with NMCs, Pittsburgh has five, and both teams could be looking to work around those limitations heading into the Expansion Draft.
All first- and second-year professionals, as well as all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward their club's applicable protection limits).
Bask in the glory that is the Hurricanes’ exempt list. The Canes find themselves at a significant advantage with five exempt players on the active roster, including a projected top six forward (Sebastian Aho) and three projected top-four defensemen (Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce, and Jaccob Slavin). Derek Ryan is also exempt from the expansion draft, though he’s a UFA at the end of this season.
Having three exempt defensemen allows the Canes to take advantage of the 11-player Protected List option, and should they extend Ryan’s contract, they could find themselves with 16 protected current roster players headed into the expansion draft.
The exemption provision also protects a majority of the players developing in Charlotte along with all other prospects who are yet to play in a professional game (the full exempt list is in the table below).
As an aside, a ‘professional year’ is defined as a year played in any professional league after a player has signed an NHL standard player contract. So for players like Aho (or most notably, Chicago’s Artemi Panarin) who played in a professional league before signing an SPC, those years do not count toward the protection limit.
Relevant to the Hurricanes, forward Erik Karlsson, currently on the Checkers roster, is not draft exempt, because he played in the Swedish Hockey League for a year after signing his SPC plus two professional seasons in Charlotte. The same goes for goaltender Daniel Altshuller, who has logged three professional seasons between Charlotte and the ECHL Florida Everblades since signing his SPC.
Player Exposure Requirements
Now that the rules for protecting players have been established, let’s turn attention to the rules around exposing players to the draft. All clubs must expose players that meet the following minimum criteria.
One defenseman who is a) under contract in 2017-18 and b) played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.
Here’s where the Canes find their first expansion draft dilemma. Justin Faulk is the only defenseman currently meeting the minimum criteria for exposure. Currently none of the other non-exempt defensemen meet both the required tenure and contract status. The Canes are obviously not going to expose Faulk, so there are a few other viable actions they can take.
- Extend Klas Dahlbeck’s contract - Dahlbeck meets the minimum required games played (80 over the last two seasons) but is not under contract for 2017-18. He would need to agree to terms on at least a one-year contract prior to the expansion draft deadline, and will be an arbitration-eligible RFA. He is currently on a conditioning assignment in Charlotte.
- Insert Ryan Murphy into the lineup - Murphy meets the contract requirements but is 31 games shy of the games-played requirement. He last played on Nov. 10 and has been a healthy scratch since returning from a conditioning assignment on Dec. 5.
- Extend contracts for UFAs Matt Tennyson or Ron Hainsey - Murphy is a healthy scratch because of Tennyson’s strong play over the last 15 games. Tennyson is also 25 games shy of the games-played requirement, but if he continues to supplant Murphy in the lineup he should meet that requirement, otherwise, Murphy will. Hainsey finds himself either exposed for the draft or finding another contract in free agency, and might be willing to accept a one-year deal (especially if the Canes were agreeable to a slight overpayment in exchange for meeting the draft requirement).
Two forwards who are a) under contract in 2017-18 and b) played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.
The Canes have six forwards that meet both contract and game tenure requirements. Of those, Jordan Staal is exempt due to his NMC, leaving five eligible forwards: Elias Lindholm, Joakim Nordstrom, Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner, and Lee Stempniak. Additionally, the Hurricanes have several UFAs and RFAs that could be signed to contract extensions to meet the criteria if they decided that the above five players all need to be protected.
One goaltender who is under contract in 2017-18 or will be a restricted free agent at the expiration of his current contract immediately prior to 2017-18. If the club elects to make a restricted free agent goaltender available in order to meet this requirement, that goaltender must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the club's protected list.
Both Eddie Lack and Cam Ward meet the exposure requirements for goaltenders because both are under contract through 2017-18.
Projecting the Hurricanes Protected Players List
With the caveat that this is a ‘point in time’ exercise, and circumstances can and will change as the season continues, following is one possible scenario for creating the Expansion Draft Protected List.
Protected Forwards (7) - Phil Di Giuseppe, Elias Lindholm, Brock McGinn, Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen
- This scenario meets the minimum Expansion Draft exposure criteria for forwards by exposing Nordstrom and Stempniak without requiring the Canes to execute any additional transactions.
- Stempniak may be a more valuable asset in trade versus expansion exposure if the Hurricanes are out of a playoff spot at the deadline. If that is the case, the next best option may be to re-sign and expose one of the RFAs: Di Giuseppe, McGinn, or Nestrasil (arbitration-eligible).
- Andrej Nestrasil, at least for the time being, finds himself as odd man out with Di Giuseppe and McGinn climbing higher in the depth chart, especially on special teams. Nestrasil appears to still have lingering effects from his injury, though as he continues his recovery, that situation could change.
- Pending UFA Viktor Stalberg could be the biggest wild card in the eventual Protected List. Season-to-date he has out-performed the aforementioned RFAs, has the size, speed, and skill to fit the Canes system, and has certainly earned consideration for an extension. That said, if the probability of Las Vegas selecting a pending UFA from the Canes exposed roster is low, it may be worth the risk to expose him and re-sign him after the expansion draft. He would also be worthy of trade deadline consideration if he isn’t in the Canes longer-term plans (which would be a shame, in this writer’s opinion).
Defensemen (3) - Trevor Carrick, Justin Faulk, Matt Tennyson
- Having three exempt top-four defensemen really allows the Canes the luxury of preserving good depth on defense heading into next season.
- This is a bit of a curve ball, but at least season to date, Matt Tennyson has outperformed both Ryan Murphy and Klas Dahlbeck in the third-pairing defenseman role. He’s still young but has been very reliable and fits the Canes system well.
- Exposing either or both Dahlbeck and Murphy still requires further action (either playing Murphy for the required number of NHL games or extending Dahlbeck’s contract) to meet the minimum criteria for player exposure.
Goaltender (1) - Cam Ward
- It’s not a stretch to say Cam Ward isn’t likely to be selected in an expansion draft even if exposed, but there’s a good chance Eddie Lack could be claimed, and if the affable Swede isn’t a good fit for Carolina, perhaps he would be better off with a chance to play for another club.
- Don’t sleep on the fact that the Canes have two exposure-eligible netminders. This could position them well for a trade scenario with a less fortunate organization. The Penguins aren’t going to lose Matt Murray. Would Marc-Andre Fleury be willing to waive his No-Movement Clause to play behind an up-and-coming Canes defense?
Projected Expansion Status
Do you agree or disagree with the Protected List? Would you expose different players? What else would you consider? Please let us know in the comments.
Obviously, situations will change between now and the expansion draft. Some players will see their value shift due to better (or worse) than expected performance, and the team’s overall performance prior to the trade deadline may have more of an impact on roster decisions than the expansion draft.
But for now, the Canes are not at risk of losing their most essential players, and may be in position to take advantage of another organization that is faced with more difficult decisions. At least as far as the expansion draft is concerned, that’s a pretty good place to be.