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Monday, July 25, 2016

The Good, the Exempt and the Ugly: How the 2017 Expansion Draft Could Impact the Flames

"On defence, no deck of cards is complete without a joker, introducing number three, Jyrki Jokipakka."

Welcome to opening night of the 2017-18 NHL season as one-by-one, players for Las Vegas -- first expansion team since 2000 -- are introduced to a thunderous ovation from the 17,500 screaming fans at T-Mobile Arena.

How did it come to be that Calgary lost this solid young blueliner that was named to Team Finland for the World Cup in September? It's simple. He was left unprotected.

Preferring him over Micheal Ferland and the other Flames available, and given the valuable commodity that a young NHL-ready defenceman can be, I would expect Las Vegas to roll the dice on the 6-foot-3 Finn.


Viva Las Vegas

After much speculation, the official announcement came last month that Las Vegas would, indeed, be joining the NHL as the 31st team and would start play in 2017-18. Tasked with building that roster and making the team as competitive as possible and as soon as possible is longtime NHL executive George McPhee, who was recently named the inaugural general manager. First opportunity for McPhee to start acquiring players will be the expansion draft on June 17, 2017.

So what are the expansion draft rules? Turns out, cracking the Da Vinci code would have been easier than getting verified information when it comes to protection rules. I've been in regular contact with the brains behind General Fanager -- a very useful resource I use daily -- and including a revelation that just came to light this morning, here's a high-level snapshot of the expansion draft rules as they've been assembled by that website in consultation with multiple sources including an NHL executive. For more detail, visit General Fanager's expansion draft rules page, which includes a thorough and just recently updated FAQ.
  • Teams can choose to protect either 11 players (7 forwards, 3 defencemen, 1 goalie) or nine players (8 skaters, 1 goalie).
  • Players in their first or second pro season (defined by CBA section 10.2) are exempt. This means players must play at least 10 pro games for a season to count. (e.g. Gillies is exempt)
  • Seasons in the AHL in which an entry level contract slides generally do not count unless you turn 20 during a certain date range (e.g. Poirier, Shinkaruk are not exempt.) 
  • Pro experience in Europe does not count unless it came while that player was under a standard NHL contract. (e.g. Pribyl, Rittich are exempt)
  • Unsigned draft choices are exempt
  • Players with a 'no movement' clause must be protected as long as their contract continues beyond the 2016-17 season. (e.g. Wideman does not need to be protected.) 
  • Teams must expose at least one defenceman and two forwards, who are: (a) under contract for 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.
  • Teams must expose at least one goalie, who is under contract for 2017-18 (or will be a RFA, although in this instance, they must be issued a qualifying offer first.)
  • All teams will lose one player.

Based on these rules, I looked ahead to next June when the expansion draft will be held and took a stab at who Flames GM Brad Treliving might choose to protect when that time comes.

Breaking down the good, the exempt and the ugly when it comes to Calgary's roster and the expansion draft.


The Good: Who Calgary Would Protect

With six players at forward I'm sure the Flames ar eager to protect, I suspect Treliving, like most GMs, would choose the option of protecting 11 players total at a breakdown of 7-3-1.

1. Forwards

LOCKS (4)

LW Johnny Gaudreau
C Sean Monahan
C Sam Bennett
C Mikael Backlund
    Why You Would - Young stars Gaudreau, Monahan and Bennett represent the future foundation of the Flames up front. Ages 23, 22 and 21 respectively when the expansion draft will be held, these three are no-brainers. Meanwhile, Backlund plays an important two-way role as second line centre and his economical $3.575 million AAV is something to take advantage of before he is set to become a UFA at the end of 2017-18.


    PROBABLE (2)

    RW Troy Brouwer
    RW Michael Frolik

    Why You Would - Both were hotly-pursued UFA signings over the past two summers and are key members of this team's construction. Frolik's two-way game nicely complements Backlund, making them a formidable pairing. Position versatility and ability to play the PK helps. Brouwer was a sought-after addition for his playoff experience, size, ability to snipe around 20 goals, play with edge, kill penalties, be a right-shot on the power play, and be a 'motivating' voice in the dressing room.

    Why You Wouldn't - Regression by either one of them combined with noteworthy progression from Jokipakkaa and you might see Calgary expose one of them in hopes of diverting McPhee's gaze away from the Finnish defenceman. Of the two and given management's affinity for Brouwer, Frolik is probably the guy I think they would leave unprotected first and he definitely would be someone that could spark some interest from McPhee. The other and more likely alternative (of what admittedly is an unlikely alternative overall!) is the option to keep eight skaters total, regardless of position. In that case neither Brouwer or Frolik would be protected and four defencemen would be kept.


    BEST OF THE REST (1)

    LW Hunter Shinkaruk

    Why You Would - Calgary kid made a nice impression in his first couple months with the organization after being acquired from Vancouver for Markus Granlund. They say the hardest thing to do in the NHL is score goals and Shinkaruk has shown a propensity to do that throughout his career at all levels. He could soon secure a top-six role should he be able to sustain his scoring touch in the NHL.

    Why You Wouldn't - The risk is potentially losing Micheal Ferland, who has all the tools to be an impact player. Frequently praised for his hockey IQ, Ferland is very effective when he's on his game and is getting under the opposition's skin. In terms of other candidates, a bounce-back season for Emile Poirier could get the once highly-touted prospect back in the conversation. Same thing for Lance Bouma and Alex Chiasson, two guys that could muscle their way into the debate if they re-establish themselves.


    2. Defence

    LOCKS (2)

    TJ Brodie
    Dougie Hamilton

      Why You Would - Brodie's $4.65 AAV is ridiculous value already and he has four more years to go. Hamilton's career is just getting going. These two are easy slamdunks for me. Giordano is a lock also as of right now but just to generate some discussion, and on the outside chance there is some non-disputable regression this upcoming season, I've lowered him to probable, although consider it very probable.


      PROBABLE (1)

      D Mark Giordano

      Why You Would - While he's getting older, Giordano remains the team captain and unequivocal leader and he would surely be snapped up by Las Vegas in a heartbeat should he be left unprotected. He remains the backbone of the team, the face of the organization, and having just become the first Calgary defenceman since Al MacInnis (1993-94) to score more than 20 goals in a season, there's still plenty in the tank with this guy.

      Why You Wouldn't - Again, highly doubtful this happens but should you see cracks in Giordano's game this season and with five more seasons to go at $6.75 million, this could be a way of getting out from under his enormous contract if you sense his level of play was on the verge of falling off drastically. Or, for the same reasons Calgary would be willing to expose him, maybe his contract wouldn't be of interest to Las Vegas anyway and in that scenario, Calgary could end up still keeping Giordano while protecting a young player on the rise like Jokipakka.


      3. Goaltender

      LOCK (1)

      Brian Elliott

      Why You Would - Assuming Elliott comes in and gives the Flames solid goaltending as expected, it would not be a surprise to see him extended for 2-3 more seasons making him the goalie the Flames would protect. The good news is Calgary does not need to protect top prospect Jon Gillies as he is exempt.


      The Exempt: Who Calgary Cannot Lose

      Based on the rules as we understand them, here are some of the more notable Flames players that would be exempt so would not need to be protected. I'll refer you to the General Fanager website for a complete list.

      Forwards
      • Mark Jankowski 
      • Andrew Mangiapane
      • Morgan Klimchuk
      • Daniel Pribyl
      • Garnet Hathaway
      • Matthew Tkachuk

      Defence
      • Rasmus Andersson
      • Oliver Kylington
      • Brandon Hickey
      • Adam Ollas-Mattsson

      Goaltenders
      • Jon Gillies
      • David Rittich


      The Ugly: Who Calgary Would Expose

      Expansion rules dictate each team must expose at least two regular forwards and one defenceman signed through 2017-18. These players must end up meeting the criteria of at least 40 NHL games played in 2016-17 or 70 NHL games combined between last year and this upcoming season.

      In net, every NHL team must also expose a goalie, who at minimum must either be signed for 2017-18 or be a restricted free agent that first must receive a qualifying offer.


      Forwards

      LW Micheal Ferland
      LW Lance Bouma
      C Matt Stajan

      Of that group, Ferland is the guy that would surely attract the most interest. Think about that memorable playoff series against the Canucks and how that style of play would be received in Las Vegas. They'd love him.

      Bouma is a dependable, gritty bottom-six forward that could attract interest but his $2.2 million cap hit may deter Las Vegas, unless he can stay healthy next season and up a dozen goals. 

      As for Stajan, he is past his prime and while he's still a useful player, he is not viewed as an integral part of this team. I don't envision any risk in losing him either as given his salary, there are far more attractive options of guys to pick up if you're Las Vegas.

      Others upfront that may end up meeting the games played requirement include Brandon Bollig, Alex Chiasson, Linden Vey and maybe Freddie Hamilton. There's an tiny chance that Chiasson or Vey could end up protected if they have a big season but one shouldn't bank on that.


      Defence

      D Jyrki Jokipakka
      D Tyler Wotherspoon


      Young, cheap defencemen that are NHL-ready are a coveted thing for any team, never mind a team just starting out like Las Vegas. Jokipakka strikes me as the ideal target if you're McPhee, barring any surprises from the Flames in terms of who they choose to protect.

      That said, capable of creating some debate is Wotherspoon. Now waiver eligible so likely in the NHL to stay, is he on the cusp of a breakout season? If he could pick up where he left off last year, the future is still bright. Add in that he is two years younger than Jokipakka and that could provide McPhee with some temptation.



      Goaltender

      G Nick Schneider

      As it stands today, Calgary has two NHL goalies on one-year deals, who are both set to be UFAs. Neither meets the exposure guidelines.All the other goalies in the organization are exempt. Should they extend only one of Elliott or Brent Johnson, that still doesn't give them a non-exempt goalie to meet the goalie exposure requirement.

      But, I see no reason why Calgary could not choose to expose an exempt player to satisfy this requirement. In that instance, either Nick Schneider (already under contract) or issuing a qualifying offer to David Rittich, would make both a candidate for the Flames to meet the exposure guidelines.


      Final Word

      Considering the expansion draft is still 11 months away, the make-up of the Flames could change quite a bit between now and then so I'll need to revisit this exercise again during the season, once we have a better handle of the roster and who has maybe forced their way into the protection conversation.

      While as things stand today, I'd say Jokipakka is the guy most likely to be picked up. However, with a strong season, Ferland and his rousing, rough-and-tumble game could provide McPhee with some decisions. Or, Shinkaruk for that matter, if the Flames opt to protect Ferland instead.

      The good news for Calgary is the loss of Jokipakka still leaves guys like Wotherspoon and Brett Kulak, who are on the cusp. Plus there is more youth coming in blueliners Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington and Brandon Hickey -- none of whom need to be protected. Adam Ollas Mattsson and Adam Fox are another two longer-term blueline prospects to keep an eye on.

      What expansion certainly does is add yet another layer of intrigue to all personnel moves starting immediately. If you're a GM, now you also need to factor in the ramifications of how bringing in a player or two via trade this season affects who you can protect in the expansion draft.

      This isn't the type of thing that will paralyze GMs, it will mostly be business as usual as they try to improve their team in hopes of a long playoff run next spring, yet it is another variable that you know they will now factoring in, in addition to term, salary, etc.




      By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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      Recent Flames Reading:

      • Under the Radar: Wotherspoon Could be on the Verge of a Breakout Season - While all the talk about Calgary's unsigned RFAs has swirled around Gaudreau, Monahan, Wotherspoon -- on the verge of becoming an impact player -- is also in need of a new deal. (July 23, 2016)
      • FF80F Podcast: Episode 2 - Mulling Over the Flames Season-Opening Roster - In a podcast featuring far better audio than my initial experiment, I got together with Rob Kerr and we went position-by-position over Calgary's potential 2016-17 line-up. (July 19, 2016)
      • Why the Hold-Up? Spitballing Theories For Why 13 and 23 Remain Unsigned Nobody knows for sure what the hold up is in contract negotiations with Johnny and Monahan. However, I did come up with awhole  bunch of theories for you to mull over. (July 18, 2016) 
      • Heat Exchange: Taking a Closer Look at Stockton's Overhauled 2016-17 Roster - With development camp is in the books, time to plot out what Stockton's line-up could look like. As you'll see, there are still some holes to fill on what will be a very young team. (July 16, 2016)