Saturday, March 19, 2016

Snatched: Examining the Impact an NHL Expansion Draft Could Have on the Flames

"Playing defence for your Las Vegas Black Knights, introducing number twenty-six, Tyler Wotherspoon."

"Jouer la défense pour vos Nordiques de Québec, en introduisant le numéro trois, Jyrki Jokipakka."

Welcome to opening night 2017-18, featuring the NHL's first two expansion teams since 2000. On this October evening just over 18 months away, the Las Vegas and Quebec City line-ups both include an ex-Flame poached from the organization earlier in the summer.

So how did it come to be that Calgary could lose two solid young defencemen? It's all part of the expansion draft process, a tentative framework for which was unveiled last week at the general manager meetings in Boca Raton, Florida.

Retained by the NHL and tasked with laying out the groundwork for how expansion could work was former Canucks GM Laurence Gilman. While the plan is still very much in pencil and not pen, and still has to be agreed to by the NHLPA, and while issues like no trade clauses still need to be addressed, it gives everyone some sense of how it will work.

Here are the key points of the plan that was presented:
  • Teams can protect seven forwards, three defencemen and one goalie. Alternately, if a team is defence-rich, they can opt to protect a total of eight skaters and one goalie.
  • Teams can lose a maximum of one player per expansion team.
  • Players in their first or second pro season are exempt (my understanding is "pro" is defined as AHL/NHL only).
  • Unsigned players that are greater than two years removed from their draft year would be available unless teams protect them.
  • Teams must expose a minimum of 25 percent of their team payroll from the previous season.

Of course, this all hinges on if expansion goes ahead. The league will announce this June if it will proceed and if so, whether it will be one or two teams entering the league in 2017-18. Las Vegas is the front-runner and seems most likely. Quebec City is the other candidate but they could be a victim of the lousy Canadian dollar.

Based on these guidelines and assuming it will be two teams, I looked ahead to June 2017 and took a stab at who Flames GM Brad Treliving might choose to protect at that time.

Who Calgary Would Protect

With five absolute must-keeps at forward, there is no question that Treliving, like most if not all GMs, would choose the first option of protecting 11 players total.


Easy Choices (5)
  1. LW Johnny Gaudreau
  2. C Sean Monahan
  3. C Sam Bennett
  4. C Mikael Backlund
  5. RW Michael Frolik

These are no-brainers. Ages 23, 22 and 21 respectively as of when the expansion draft would take place, young stars Gaudreau, Monahan and Bennett represent the current and future foundation of the Flames up front. A little bit older but in their prime, Backlund and Frolik have developed into a dynamite duo of similar-styled two-way players who are also key cogs.

More Difficult Choices (2)

6. LW Micheal Ferland

A month away from his 24th birthday, Ferland has all the tools. When he's on his game and emotionally invested, he can be very effective. He can be mean, intimidating and can get under the opposition's skin. He can also handle the puck very well for a big man and coach Bob Hartley has always praised his hockey IQ. Regardless of how much of a scoring touch he develops, he can still contribute in plenty of other ways and is young enough still that the overall package is too intriguing to risk losing.

7. RW Emile Poirier

This has been a disappointing season for the 22nd overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. After getting into six NHL games last year as a 20-year-old, another giant step forward was expected this season. Instead, Poirier's development has hit a speed bump and his AHL numbers are down significantly from his rookie year. If he can re-discover his Brad Marchand-like game that made him so effective in junior -- dangerous scorer, agitator that plays with an edge, he plays a position in right wing that the organization has very little depth. It's too early to give up on him yet, but he needs to bounce back next season.

Other Candidates to Consider
  • LW Joe Colborne
  • LW Lance Bouma
  • LW Hunter Shinkaruk
  • RW Garnet Hathaway

Colborne continues to improve each year and his offensive totals keep climbing but despite his first round pick pedigree, he's a supporting piece, not an integral piece. Bouma is a dependable, gritty bottom-six forward that could attract interest but his $2.2 million cap hit may deter teams, especially should he not be able to get back to contributing 10-12 goals next season. The red flag on Shinkaruk is why the Canucks were so determined to trade him away so soon after he was drafted. Hathaway is a likable, energy player that goes and goes but is not the calibre of player a team would prioritize as someone to protect.

One scenario that could change things and bump Poirier and maybe Ferland as well onto the non-protected list is an acquisition via trade or free agency of an established top-six winger(s) this summer. But that remains to be seen.

  • RW Josh Jooris
  • C Matt Stajan
  • C Derek Grant
  • C Freddie Hamilton
  • C Turner Elson
  • C Bill Arnold
  • C/RW Drew Shore
  • LW Kenny Agostino
  • LW Bryce Van Brabant
  • LW Mason Raymond
  • LW Brandon Bollig
  • RW Tim Harrison

A pending UFA, if Grant re-signs this summer, he has demonstrated an ability to be a useful bottom-six NHL forward. In his short stint with Calgary, Hamilton has displayed similar qualities, the one difference being he's a RFA this summer. But 'serviceable' is not the kind of label that gets you protected nor gets you selected by an expansion team either.

Minor leaguers Elson, Arnold, Shore, Agostino and Van Brabant are all pending RFAs and there are no assurances they will be re-signed. Arnold and Agostino, in that order, would be the most intriguing names. Jooris is also a pending RFA this summer. As for the veterans, Raymond and Bollig will be off the books as of July 1, 2017 anyway and Stajan will be too old and makes too much to be a guy an expansion team would have interest in.

Harrison is due to graduate from Colgate University in 2017 so he would move to protected if he signs with Calgary prior to the expansion draft.

  • C Mark Jankowski (*if he signs)
  • LW Andrew Mangiapane
  • LW Morgan Klimchuk
  • LW Brett Pollock
  • RW Hunter Smith
  • RW Austin Carroll
  • C Pavel Karnaukhov

Jankowski is on this list assuming Calgary signs him after his college season ends in the next couple weeks.


Easy Choices (3)
  1. TJ Brodie
  2. Dougie Hamilton
  3. Mark Giordano

These three are the easy slamdunks for me. The handful who are critical and/or concerned about the length of Giordano's long-term extension might consider exposing him in order to protect one of the younger defencemen like Jokipakka or Wotherspoon, but I don't think there's the slightest chance this happens and if it did, he would be grabbed by an expansion team in a heartbeat. Giordano is the captain, he's the backbone of the team and this season he's two goals away from being the first Calgary defenceman since Al MacInnis in 1993-94 to score more than 20 goals. There's still plenty in the tank with this guy.

  • Jyrki Jokipakka
  • Tyler Wotherspoon
  • Brett Kulak
  • Ryan Culkin
  • Dennis Wideman
  • Ladislav Smid
  • Deryk Engelland
  • Patrick Sieloff
  • Rushan Rafikov
  • Adam Ollas-Mattsson  (*if he has not yet signed)

Barring a trade or buyout, Smid, Wideman and Engelland (who lives in Las Vegas in the off-season) will all be wrapping up their existing deals and will be on their way elsewhere anyway. The guys the Flames would love to hang onto based on their body of work this season are Jokipakka, Wotherspoon and Kulak and it's for those reasons that they could be the most sought after players. Young, cheap defencemen that are NHL-ready are a coveted thing for any team, never mind an expansion team.

Culkin could put himself in that same mix with a strong year in 2016-17. As for Sieloff, you sense his time with the organization is running out. He would be a pending RFA after next year and may not be re-signed anyway. Ollas-Mattson is a guy that would have to be signed or else based on his 2014 draft year, would be available (see Brandon Hickey below).

  • Jakub Nakladal
  • Rasmus Andersson
  • Oliver Kylington
  • Brandon Hickey (*if he signs)
  • John Gilmour
  • Kenney Morrison
  • Keegan Kanzig
  • Riley Bruce

With the risk of losing two young defencemen a year from now, it puts an added incentive on re-signing Nakladal, who has looked fine in a third pairing role with Calgary the past month. Andersson and Kylington could also help fill the voids if the Flames lose Jokipakka and/or Wotherspoon.

The Hickey situation is worth noting. Because the second-year Boston University blue-liner was drafted in 2014, Calgary would have to expose him unless he leaves college and signs with the Flames this summer or early next. I think the odds of that happening are good but it would put some pressure on the organization to get him under contract sooner than later as otherwise, I'd put him at the top of the wish list if I was an expansion team looking at the available Calgary players.


Easy Choices (1)
  1. Jon Gillies

This is where things gets interesting. Real interesting.

In case you have forgotten as I did when I originally published this piece Saturday morning (thanks to Randy Sportak for the reminder), Gillies is currently in his second pro season. It's a detail easily overlooked given he never dressed for a game last year. But by signing when he did on April 15 with the Flames season still going and by joining the team and practicing as the third goalie, that kicked in his entry-level contract and burned the first year.

So while it sure doesn't feel like it considering Gillies only played seven AHL games this year before undergoing season-ending hip surgery, 2016-17 will already be the final year on his three-year ELC. That means he needs to sign a new deal next summer and more importantly, that presumably means he would need to be protected in the expansion draft if the criteria for "pro seasons" goes by service time as calculated contractually (which I have not yet confirmed but seems logical).

The ramifications of this technicality if it is, indeed, the case are significant as it means any goaltender brought to Calgary this summer with more than one year remaining (or signs a multi-year deal) would need to be left exposed in the expansion draft given the Flames won't want to risk losing Gillies, who in my latest Top 20 Prospect Rankings I slotted as the team's No. 1 prospect.

  • TBD (see above)
  • Joni Ortio

Whoever is brought in to be the starter, assuming the Gillies situation is as explained above, would need to be exposed in the expansion draft. Same story for Ortio, the pending RFA who if he re-signs after this season, would be in a back-up role at best.

Depending on who Calgary brings in, this goalie left exposed could attract the interest of an expansion team. It's impossible to guess given we have no idea who that person might be. But know that whether or not the expansion draft ends up happening in 2017 and this technicality could greatly influence Treliving's approach this summer when it comes to recruiting for that starting goaltender role that is needed with Gillies expected to spend all of next season in the AHL.

  • Mason McDonald
  • Nick Schneider

McDonald will likely turn pro next season and could spend his first year in the ECHL as the starter while Gillies gets the majority of starts in Stockton. Schneider is under contract already.

Final Word

Considering the expansion draft is still over a year 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 later, once we know if expansion will proceed and with how many teams.

I'll endeavour to get clarification around the Gillies situation also. Mind you, if a goalie brought in ends up exposed, if that goalie does get selected, that means either Wotherspoon or Jokipakka becomes safe so there's some give and take with this situation.

Should expansion be delayed by a year, that is another game changer as suddenly guys like Oliver Kylington and Morgan Klimchuk are no longer exempt.

It does make for good debate though and in a city in which the off-season will be a month longer than it was a year ago, the more topics like this for conversation, the better.

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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  1. I read/heard that players with NMC may not be drafted? If this is the case, would it be a good idea to sign Johnny and Sean to NMC in their upcoming contracts?

    Then we don't have to protect them, and give us more options.

    1. How they'll handle no-movement clauses haven't been determined yet but expansion draft may be an exception. Or, it could mean you have to include NMC's in your protected list and that would negatively impact teams if they have veterans (e.g. Matt Stajan) they'd rather not use a protected spot for.

    2. Neither Gaudreau, nor Monahan are group 3 UFAs; therefore, they are simply not eligible not negotiate limitations on player movements(NMC, NTC). Also, as Darren pointed out, it is yet to be decided how players with NMCs will be treated.

    3. Gaudreau/Monahan response is absolutely correct. Players need to be in the league for an extended period (seven years pro, I believe) before they can have NMC/NTC negotiated into their contracts.

  2. lots of questions surrounding this still:
    -what exactly is a second year pro?
    -do expiring contracts count against the 25% exposure rule?
    -NMC/NTC clarification

    1. My understanding from a reliable source is NHL/AHL experience only is what counts for pro experience. The 25% is in regards to previous year's payroll as those players are still on the team as of the June expansion draft. Who is to say they won't still be re-signed before July 1 when they become free agents? I know it's unlikely but that's why there is no other way to treat that. As for NMC/NTC, more clarification required, indeed.

    2. Thanks Darren, I guess the question I had in terms of experience is what exactly counts as a season at the AHL/NHL level as there are two definitions in the CBA?

      Is it a 'Professional Season':
      (A) for a Player aged 18 or 19, mean any season in which such Player plays in eleven (11) or more Professional Games (including NHL Regular Season and Playoff Games, minor league regular season and playoff games, and games played in any European professional league, while under an SPC), and (B) for a Player aged 20 or older, mean any season in which such Player plays in one or more Professional Games (including NHL Regular Season and Playoff Games, minor league regular season and playoff games, and games played in any European professional league, while under an SPC).

      Or an 'Accrued Season':
      any League Year during which a Player was on a Club's Active Roster for 40 (30 if the Player is a goalie) or more Regular Season Games, provided that, for the purposes of calculating an Accrued Season under this Agreement, games missed due to a hockey-related injury incurred while on a Club's Active Roster shall count as games played for purposes of calculating an Accrued Season but only during the League Year in which the injury was incurred and a maximum of one additional season.

      The Accrued definition would allow us to keep Gilles without protection.

      Great article as usual!

    3. Come to think of it, Gilles didn't play any games in 2014/15 despite his contract status, so theoretically he will be finishing his second professional season and first accrued season next year.

    4. I gotcha now. When I get a chance, will try to see if the management team knows more than what was stated. Otherwise, we'll wait until June to see if it even matters and if so, I trust all these details will be sorted out.