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Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

An early look at the Seattle expansion draft and how the Red Wings should prepare

If you haven’t heard by now, the NHL is expanding to 32 teams, welcoming Seattle into the league by the 2021-22 season. As we all know from the NHL’s previous endeavor into Las Vegas, with expansion comes an expansion draft. This one is slated to take place in June of 2021.

The rules for the expansion draft will be the same as the Vegas edition. A reminder on some of the notable requirements:

  • Teams can either protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goalie, or 8 skaters and 1 goalie.
  • Any players with a no movement clause have to be protected.
  • 1st and 2nd year pros are exempt (includes NHL and AHL).

You may be thinking: why should I care about this when its three years away? Well, when you are a team like the Red Wings who are locked into many bad contracts until the end of eternity, doing your due diligence right now wouldn’t hurt.

The last go around the Wings came in with the idea that they were going to lose a player just like everybody else. Instead of panicking and making side deals, they gave Vegas a list to choose from and that was it. They were ready to move on. That proved to be the model strategy that will surely be duplicated this time around.

The Wings went the 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, 1 goaltender protection route. Those players protected were as followed:

Forwards

Defensemen

Goaltender

Notable names left unprotected included Petr Mrazek and Riley Sheahan. Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi were exempt. Vegas ended up selecting Tomas Nosek and the Wings got out relatively unscathed.

Detroit for the most part got it all right. Leaving Mrazek unprotected seemed very controversial at the time, but is now looking like the right move. Important to note, however, is this was Ken Holland‘s decisions. Holland could be long gone by 2021 with his current contract set to expire in 2020. He has even been one of the rumored names to take the GM position with Seattle.

Whoever Detroit’s GM is when the expansion draft rolls around it is clear they still need to follow the model Holland pushed. It’s the least harmful to a team’s future. With that said, there will be hurdles. The best contract situation didn’t have too much of an effect on the Vegas expansion draft. The Wings simply lacked high-end players to protect, so it made it easy to find room for Nielsen (who was required to be protected with a NMC). But by the time 2021 hits, the Wings will be hoping to recap the difficult part of rebuilding — drafting and developing young stars.

That is already starting to take place with the rise of Dennis Cholowski and Bertuzzi, as well as newcomers such as Filip Zadina and Filip Hronek.

Here is the current outlook on the Wings contract situation (courtesy of capfriendly.com). Anyone listed as an RFA or signed past 2021-22 are key here.

(Not included is Darren Helm and Anthony Mantha who are on injury reserve. Helm will be a UFA in 2021-22 and Mantha an RFA in 2020-21.)

There are some other names to consider like Zadina or even the Wings top pick in 2019 (2020 eligible players will be exempt). For now, though, this is the first makeup of what I believe would make the most sense for Detroit.

Forwards

  • Andreas Athanasiou
  • Tyler Bertuzzi
  • Dylan Larkin
  • Antony Mantha
  • Frans Nielsen (NMC)
  • Michael Rasmussen
  • Filip Zadina

Defensemen

  • Dennis Cholowski
  • Filip Hronek
  • Vili Saarijarvi

Goaltender

  • N/A

A lot could change here, obviously. Trades, buyouts, free agency signings, and 2019 draft picks can all alter this list. The potential lockout in 2020 could also play a big role, but we’ll ignore that for now. This list is projected off what we have today. Some names left off include Evgeny Svechnikov, Justin Abdelkader, and Danny DeKeyser. The latter two were previously protected, and the former hasn’t shown much at the NHL level as of date.

I think the names I protected are pretty self-explanatory. Saarijarvi might be questionable but I didn’t see anyone else on the blue-line worth protecting. If Jared McIsaac or Gustav Lindstrom don’t come over to the NHL/AHL by next season they will both be exempt. There are no goaltenders signed through 2021-22 so I decided to leave that one alone.

The main purpose of going though this process now is to be prepared. Instead of making side deals as the expansion draft approaches, Detroit has an opportunity to clean up before then. I don’t think leaving a high 2019 draft pick or someone else brought into the organization would be ideal. Especially with the team interested in being big players in upcoming free agencies. That only cramps the protection spaces even more.

Nielsen is the obvious candidate to look into. His NMC makes his protection mandatory (unless he waives it but thats not something you want to bet on). Moving on from him should be a priority over Abdelkader or DeKeyser. Maybe finding a value deal with some of the forwards for a defenseman would help ease the protection list as well.

All of these things should be considered as 2021 nears. If Detroit wants to get out smoothly once again the time is now to start thinking.