All Star Break: Decision Time

The All Star break is over, players raced around the rink, took slapshots and even shot pucks from the rafters of the arena. The (awful) tournament style games are done and teams are returning to the ice, with the NHL schedule starting on Monday. Making things worse, some teams like the Montreal Canadiens are coming out of their bye week, as fans and media members are chomping at the bit to see them back… either to cheer them on or to have new material to complain about.

The way things are shaping up, few teams are guaranteed a playoffs’ spot but many are in a position where they will soon have to make a decision if they’re going for it or if they start selling assets. As the deadline approaches, more teams will be joining the nine or so teams with little playoffs’ hopes, being either too far and/or having too many teams to pass in order to make it. Let’s have a look at roughly where teams find themselves at as the home stretch is upon us.

TEAMGPPTS
BUYERS
4971
5170
4968
5067
CONTENTION
4963
4862
4962
5162
4961
5061
5060
4858
4958
4957
4957
5057
5157
5257
5154
5154
5052
4751
SELLERS
4951
5051
4850
5046
4843
4842
4841
5041
5128

It goes without saying that there could be some surprises since as long as there’s a mathematical chance, anything can happen. This is basically “playing the odds” based on previous years. The nine teams considered as sellers all have pending unrestricted free agents (UFA) amongst them and those are often the most likely to be wearing a new uniform by trade deadline.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the most prominent pending UFA’s on the nine team catalogued as sellers in the table up above. I’ve sorted them by position to make it easier to find how the supply sits today at each position. As we know, supply and demand dictates the market and right now, there are more buyers than sellers. It will change the closer we get to the deadline of February 24th.

TEAMNAMEPOSITIONCAP HIT ($)
Michael FrolikLW4,300,000
Conor ShearyLW3,000,000
Jimmy VeseyLW2,275,000
Zemgus GirgensonsLW1,600,000
Patrick MarleauLW700,000
Melker KarlssonLW2,000,000
Chris KreiderLW4,625,000
Nicolas DeslauriersLW950,000
Mikkel BoedkerLW4,000,000
Vladislav NamestnikovLW3,250,000
Trevor LewisLW2,000,000
Kyle CliffordLW1,600,000
Nate ThompsonC1,000,000
Matthew PecaC1,300,000
Joe ThorntonC2,000,000
Jean-Gabriel PageauC3,100,000
Ilya KovalchukRW700,000
Dale WeiseRW2,350,000
Jesper FastRW1,850,000
Wayne SimmondsRW5,000,000
Tyler ToffoliRW4,600,000
Zach BogosianD5,142,857
Marco ScandellaD4,000,000
Brenden DillonD3,270,000
Michael Del ZottoD750,000
Ron HainseyD3,500,000
Mark BorowieckiD1,200,000
Andy GreeneD5,000,000
Sami VatanenD4,875,000
Derek ForbortD2,525,000
Mike GreenD5,375,000
Jonathan EricssonD4,250,000
Trevor DaleyD3,166,666
Alex BiegaD825,000
Keith KinkaidG1,750,000
Aaron DellG1,900,000
Craig AndersonG4,750,000
Louis DomingueG1,150,000
Jimmy HowardG4,000,000
Marco Scandella, Nate Thompson and Ilya Kovalchuk could all find a new place to call home by Trade Deadline.

Looking at this breakdown, the centre position market is very thin, and teams are always looking for centres. This should drive the asking price up and perhaps even force teams wanting to buy into making more “hockey trades” than “rental trades”. There usually is a good demand for defensemen but even this early, the market seems saturated with a wide range of blue liners. There are some decent names in net for teams searching for an insurance policy in the event of an injury to a masked man.

Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin was taking advantage of the bye week to meet with his team of pro scouts and Assistant GMs in order to come up with a game plan for trade deadline. They are well positioned with Ilya Kovalchuk being so cheap, and with Nate Thompson as a centre with a good faceoffs’ percentage. Marco Scandella is a good defenseman but the return might not be what we had hoped for due to sheer numbers of players available at that position. As for Dale Weise, the Habs will likely have to eat half his salary in order to make teams interested. He has been playing some good hockey since being called up. Expect the unexpected, we are always told. While playoffs’ hockey seems unlikely this season, this should be an exciting time of year regardless. Go Habs Go!

Expansion Draft: A Fresh Approach by The Habs

What? The Sasquatch? No, there hasn’t been an announcement. It is simply something I have invented, including the logo so no panic here, you haven’t missed anything. But regardless of what they will be called, the Seattle NHL franchise is slowly preparing to make their debuts for the 2021-2022 season and it will all start the summer before they hit the ice, with the Expansion Draft. Seeing how well it went for Vegas a couple of years ago, General Manager Ron Francis is hoping to be able to duplicate what George McPhee was able to do back then.

The NHL has already announced that the rules for the next Expansion Draft will be the same as they were in 2017 when the Golden Knights came into the league. With that in mind, here’s a refresher of the rules, shall we? A full list of bylaws and guidelines was published on NHL.com but here’s a quick overview of what teams could and could not do:

Seattle will have the opportunity to select one unprotected player from each one of the NHL’s teams, with the exception of Vegas, who won’t lose a single player. Talk about an advantage, but that’s a whole different topic. Teams will have two options for players they wish to protect in the Expansion Draft:

  1. Seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender
  2. Eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goaltender
  • 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).
  • 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).

Player Exposure Requirements

Teams must meet the following minimum requirements regarding players exposed for selection in the Expansion Draft:

i) One defenseman who is a) under contract in 2021-22 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.

ii) Two forwards who are a) under contract in 2021-22 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.

iii) One goaltender who is under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent at the expiration of his current contract immediately prior to 2021-22. 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.

  • Players with potential career-ending injuries who have missed more than the previous 60 consecutive games (or who otherwise have been confirmed to have a career-threatening injury) may not be used to satisfy a club’s player exposure requirements, unless approval is received from the NHL. Such players also may be deemed exempt from selection by the League.

Three different approaches

There are three ways, or three mindsets, when it comes to the approach for the Expansion Draft. As teams went through one recently enough, many General Managers will have had the experience of the Vegas expansion and things may change this time around, GMs having learned from it.

1- Traditional mindset

This approach means getting ready ahead of time by attempting to trade away players instead of losing a good one for nothing. NHL teams quickly realised that this is a lot easier said that done as every team is in the same boat, creating a situation where the market is over-flooded with players available for trades, but there are few takers. Add to that the fact that teams don’t want to give those players away either and they must deal with a salary cap, trading is a lot more complex than it seems. Which leads us to the second option, one that many teams had resorted to, at the pleasure of the Golden Knights’ management, who took full advantage of the league’s more limited expansion protection lists than in previous Expansions.

2- Make side deals with the Expansion team

Caught between a rock and a hard place, GMs had no choice but to negotiate with McPhee, trying to convince him to pick player B instead of player A by throwing at him incentives such as prospects and/or picks. Vegas got even richer by being able to do so and that was one of the reasons why they did so well in their first year and should do well in the future with all the picks and prospects they’ve gathered, putting them even ahead of existing teams. But what have GMs learned this time around?

3- Possible new approach

This is my personal way of thinking and perhaps, the way teams will approach this Expansion Draft. Why not take the avenue of loading up with good players prior to the draft? Take advantage of some good deals from other teams, particularly if you have the cap space to do so. After all, teams in trouble might be enticed to keep some salary in trades. This approach won’t prevent Seattle from selecting a good player off your team. But the fact is that if you have 12 good players left unprotected and you lose one to expansion, you still have 11 left. But if you only have eight or nine and you lose one, it hurts a lot more, doesn’t it?

It is my belief that a team well prepared for the expansion draft will have many quality players left unprotected this time around, instead of less than a handful. A team well prepared with have taken full advantage of other GMs’ desperation to unload players. Would this strategy work? There’s no certainty. What we do know is that the way GMs approached the last expansion draft ended up being a mess, one that painted McPhee and the Golden Knights look like geniuses when in fact, other teams were throwing themselves at him with deals he simply couldn’t turn down.

Impact on the Habs

There is still a lot of time, trades can happen, buyouts (Karl Alzner?), players joining or leaving the team. But here are the Canadiens’ organisation’s free agents statuses for the next two summers leading to the Expansion Draft, according to our friends at Capfriendly.com.

POSITIONNAME2020-212021-22CAP HIT
FMax Domi$3,150,000
FNate Thompson$1,000,000
FNick Cousins$1,000,000
FIlya Kovalchuk$700,000
FDale Weise$2,350,000
FMatthew Peca$1,300,000
FJake Evans$925,000
FCharles Hudon$800,000
FLukas Vejdemo$792,500
FAndrew Sturtz$767,500
FAntoine Waked$726,667
FAlex Belzile$700,000
FRiley Barber$700,000
FLaurent Dauphin$700,000
FPhilip Varone$700,000
DMarco Scandella$4,000,000
DVictor Mete$748,333
DNoah Juulsen$863,333
DChristian Folin$800,000
DXavier Ouellet$700,000
DGustav Olofsson$700,000
GKeith Kinkaid$1,750,000
GMichael McNiven$682,222
FTomas Tatar$5,300,000 **
FBrendan Gallagher$3,750,000
FPhillip Danault$3,083,333
FJoel Armia$2,600,000
FArtturi Lehkonen$2,400,000
FJordan Weal$1,400,000
FJesperi Kotkaniemi$925,000
FRyan Poehling***$925,000
FHayden Verbeek$753,333
FAlexandre Alain$753,333
FMichael Pezzetta$743,333
DJeff Petry$5,500,000
DCale Fleury$771,666
DOtto Leskinen *$925,000
GCharlie Lindgren$750,000
* Exempt ** Includes $500,000 paid by Vegas *** See Capfriendly for his detailed status

Marc Bergevin has been very good at limiting the number of No Movement Clause contracts on his team thus far, as only Carey Price MUST be protected, unless he and the organisation mutually agree to wave it to allow him to be exposed. So there’s your goaltender, which means that as of today, Michael McNiven will be left exposed.

Here’s the good news though. In addition to the players currently in Junior, US Colleges and Europe as well as the ones getting drafted this upcoming June, the following players will not need to be protected as they will have completed their first or second year playing professionally:

  • Ryan Poehling *
  • Nick Suzuki
  • Otto Leskinen
  • Josh Brook
  • Cayden Primeau

* While Poehling played one game at the end of the 2018-19 season, it only counts as burning a year on his ELC contract. It doesn’t count as a “year pro” for the Expansion purposes.

Everyone else on the current roster, assuming that they are signed at the time, MUST be protected in order to avoid being made available to Seattle. And this is why, folks, I am saying that the new approach is best. Load up on good players, let them take a good one, don’t waste your picks and prospects to convince them to pick a specific player. This way, the team will have good players remaining regardless. Look not at who you will lose, but who will remain.

My theory

Marc Bergevin’s plan presented to Geoff Molson might have included the Expansion Draft.

I have my theory about what Bergevin and the Canadiens are doing and if I’m right, the Canadiens’ GM will prove without a doubt being one of the league’s best managers out there and clearly answer why Geoff Molson stuck with him in the summer of 2017. His famous plan would have to do with the Expansion Draft as well. Hear me out here…

You will have noticed that Bergevin and the Canadiens have been piling up the picks the last couple of years and they have another 11 picks in the seven rounds at the upcoming Draft, plus another eight the following summer. None of those players will have to be protected for the expansion Draft, many of which won’t be under contract either, not counting against the 50 contracts limit. Combine that with the Reset Bergevin is doing with his team, there should be an abundance of numbers and, hopefully, of quality young players ready to make the jump with the Habs and that, on time for Seattle’s very first season. If he combines that strategy with the third option mentioned above, you should have a very good Canadiens’ team, perhaps even a contender for years to come.

Because of that, I still believe that Bergevin is being truthful when saying that he wants his team to make the playoffs. With the theory mentioned up above though, we could better understand why the Canadiens’ GM insists on not sacrificing prospects and picks for what he considers “temporary help”, as he said so himself in multiple occasions. Believe it or not folks, Bergevin might have just started preparing his team by not only replacing the rotten core of players he inherited, but he might have had his sights on the big picture, and on the Expansion Draft since the Summer of 2017… Go Habs Go!