During last week's general manager meetings in Boca Raton, FL, the NHL began communicating its basic framework for league expansion. This June, the league will vote on and announce its intentions to expand. If expansion is approved for 2017-18, and that is the earliest possible date at this point, teams will have a year to react and plan accordingly. An expansion draft will be held in June 2017, sometime between the end of the Stanley Cup Finals and the entry draft, and the expansion team(s) will begin play during the 2017-18 season.
SB Nation blog Pension Plan Puppets crafted an excellent primer outlining the expansion draft rules as they are known today (highly recommended read). With the caveat that nothing has been finalized and everything is still subject to change, here is what we should reasonably expect regarding the draft process:
- Each team can only lose one player if the league expands by one team, or two players if the league expands by two teams.
- Each team will be required to make at least 25% of its prior season's payroll draft-eligible.
- Players who begin their first career professional season in 2016-17 (first year pro) or 2015-16 (second year pro) will be exempt from draft eligibility in 2017, along with prospects that have not played a professional season. Both AHL and NHL seasons are counted as professional seasons.
- Unsigned draft picks (usually college or European players) are exempt from the draft for two years following their entry draft year.
- Each team has two options for determining which players to protect: a 7-3-1 option which allows seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender to be protected, or an 8-1 option which allows eight skaters (forwards or defense) and one goaltender to be protected.
The player protection rules are stricter than they were when the last expansion draft was held in 2000 (prior to the CBA) to build the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets rosters. Teams will be forced to expose more players as draft-eligible this time around. With either a 7-3-1 or 8-1 option, each team runs the risk of exposing either a top-six forward or a top-four defenseman, along with a backup goaltender. This is by design, as the NHL is trying to provide expansion teams with an opportunity to become competitive earlier in their tenures. The 7-3-1 option exposes more defensemen to an expansion draft, while the more flexible 8-1 model could be used to protect more defensemen but would leave more forwards exposed.
Still undetermined at this stage is how to handle no-movement and no-trade clauses. The CBA doesn't include provisions for either player movement in the event of expansion, and the NHL and NHLPA will have to mutually agree on a ruling. Initial talks began last week. Speculation among hockey business analysts is that the league and PA will probably compromise with an agreement to honor no-movement clauses, requiring a team to include those players on their protected list, but that no-trade clauses will not have to be honored for purposes of the expansion draft.
So what does all this mean for the Carolina Hurricanes roster?
Exempt Players: Let's get the easy/fun part out of the way first. Noah Hanifin is exempt from an expansion draft for 2017-18. So are Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin. So are Sebastian Aho and Aleksi Saarela, along with Haydn Fleury, Roland McKeown, Valentin Zykov, Andrew Poturalski, Nicholas Roy, and Alex Nedeljkovic, to name a few. Players drafted in the last two years, or still in a junior or college program, or playing in their first professional season in 2015-16, should fall under exempt status.
No-Movement Clauses: Perusing hockey contract sites (General Fanager, CapFriendly, etc.), no current Canes player holds a full no-movement clause, and there are five players with no-trade clauses. Two are UFAs at the end of 2016-17, and three are core players that the Canes would put at the top of a protected list anyway, so the eventual ruling on NMCs/NTCs shouldn't be a big concern.
Forwards: 16 forwards currently active in the Hurricanes organization have played in at least one NHL game this season. None are exempt from the expansion draft because they all began playing professional seasons prior to 2015-16, including Phil DiGiuseppe, Brock McGinn, Brody Sutter, and Brendan Woods. Nine forwards have contracts that expire at the end of this season; five are UFAs and four are RFAs.
- UFAs: Nathan Gerbe, Brad Malone, Riley Nash, Derek Ryan, Chris Terry
- RFAs: Joakim Nordstrom, Victor Rask, Brody Sutter, Brendan Woods
- Under Contract through 2016-17 or beyond: Phil DiGiuseppe, Elias Lindholm, Jay McClement, Brock McGinn, Andrej Nestrasil, Jeff Skinner (NTC), Jordan Staal (NTC)
Defensemen: Once again the Canes young rookie defense corps comes through when it's needed!
- UFAs: None
- RFAs: Michal Jordan, Ryan Murphy
- Under Contract through 2016-17 or beyond: Trevor Carrick, Justin Faulk (NTC), Ron Hainsey (NTC), James Wisniewski (NTC)
- Exempt: Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin
Goaltenders: Daniel Altshuller played under his first professional contract during 2014-15 (though in the ECHL), which designates him draft-eligible as a third year pro.
- UFAs: Cam Ward
- RFAs: None
- Under Contract 2016-17 or beyond: Daniel Altshuller, Eddie Lack
Applying the expansion draft rules to the Hurricanes roster as it is currently constructed, the 7-3-1 option best suits their roster situation, protecting the most forward positions since several defensemen are exempt.
Four forwards on the Canes' current roster would be considered locks: Staal, Skinner, Lindholm and Rask (assuming the Canes extend his contract this off-season). DiGiuseppe, Nestrasil, and Nordstrom have all certainly made strong cases to be the remaining forwards protected, but they would be competing with any additional forwards the Canes acquire via trade or free agency heading into next season. If Sebastian Aho (or another prospect) can made the roster out of training camp, it would improve the situation by creating another protected roster spot. Even with seven forwards protected, some very good roster players could be exposed for the draft.
On defense, once Faulk is protected the Canes are in great shape with Hanifin, Pesce, and Slavin exempt. The Canes would then have the luxury of also protecting either Trevor Carrick or Ryan Murphy (if he is extended as an RFA) or an off-season acquisition. Should any prospects (like Fleury or McKeown) make next season's roster, they would be draft exempt.
Eddie Lack is the current front-runner for the one protected goaltending spot, competing with whoever is signed to fill the Canes' second goaltending spot in the off-season.
In Summary (applying to the current Hurricanes roster as it exists today):
- Protected Forwards: DiGiuseppe, Lindholm, Nestrasil, Nordstrom, Rask, Skinner, Staal
- Protected Defensemen: Carrick, Faulk, Murphy
- Protected Goaltender: Lack
- Draft-Exempt: Hanifin, Pesce, Slavin
- Draft-Eligible: Altshuller, Gerbe, Hainsey, Jordan, Malone, McClement, McGinn, Nash, Ryan, Sutter, Terry, Ward, Wisniewski, Woods
Obviously, not all of the players on the draft-eligible list will even be on the Hurricanes roster at the end of 2016-17, several have contracts expiring this summer that may not be renewed. But those players will need to be replaced, and outside of more prospects cracking the roster, it does set an expectation for the number of players that would have to be made eligible. By the way, given the current roster salary expectations going into 2016-17, those draft-eligible players should meet the 25% salary requirement, but it's another factor to manage as players are signed.
There are many moving pieces between now and June 2017, and much still to be ruled on and finalized. None of the expansion terms have been set in stone yet and any or all could change between now and June. The Canes will end up losing a good roster player, as will all 30 NHL teams, in exchange for their cut of the $500m expansion fee.
That said, with regard to the expansion draft, the Hurricanes find themselves in a very solid position. One thing that is certain is come June 2017, the Hurricanes roster won't look the same as it does today. The draft rules will have a bearing on who is signed (or re-signed) in the off-season and the length of their contracts. Heading into this off-season with so many prospects, draft picks, young roster talent, and expiring contracts (only eight players are currently signed through 2017-18), they are in a good position to not only make the best of the expansion draft, but also to take advantage of situations where other teams might find themselves not so fortunate.