With the NHL season currently suspended, now seems as good a time as any to take a look at what options Seattle might have available during the expansion draft, and what its team might look like as a result. Over the next several weeks, I'll do a division by division break down of which players I believe each of the 30 NHL clubs will protect (Vegas is exempt). Next week, I'll assemble a team based on which players I believe will be left exposed, but first, here's a recap of the previous three divisions. I'll be using the Seattle Expansion Draft Simulator from our friends at CapFriendly.com, feel free to give it a whirl.
Without further ado, let's finish off the list of protected players with the Atlantic Division.
Boston Bruins (7/3/1)
If you want to find a complaint here, you could point to the fact that Bergeron will be 35 years of age next year and is carrying a $6.875 cap hit, but he still racked up 31 goals this season, second only to David Pastrnak for the team lead. As I said, you have to nitpick to come up with a reason to not like the fact that these three are locked in, Boston fans shouldn't have any complaints here.
Netminder: Tuukka Rask
The biggest concern with keeping Rask is his $7 million cap hit, though he will need to renegotiate a new contract prior to the July 2021 expansion draft which leaves open the possibility of him taking a pay cut. The team's most likely candidate for its netminder of the future, Jeremy Swayman, is exempt from the draft.
The only real possibility for a fourth defenseman here would be Torey Krug, but he may not even be with the team heading into the 2020-21 campaign, as he is set to hit free agency this summer. Even if Chara wants to continue playing beyond next season, you don't use one of your limited protection spots on a (then) 44-year-old blueliner.
Pastrnak is just two tallies away from reaching the 50-goal mark this season and is currently the leading scorer for the Bruins, so he might as well have a no-movement clause at this point. The real question for this club is what to do with the seventh forward spot. The rest of this group includes the top six point producers from 2019-20, so who gets that seventh spot is the only real question mark. For now, I peg the team to keep Kase despite the fact that he only has six games with the club under his belt, though Nick Ritchie and Sean Kuraly could garner some interest.
Buffalo Sabres (4/4/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: Jeff Skinner
Even when you take into account the upper-body injury that cost Skinner 10 games this year, his 2019-20 campaign can't be described as anything but a total flop. The 27-year-old's point total is the lowest of his 10-year NHL career and also includes a minus-22 rating. A $9 million cap hit doesn't improve the argument against his NMC being a negative for the club.
Netminder: Linus Ullmark
In my opinion, this is a pretty straightforward decision for the Sabres. Carter Hutton was brought in to fill the gap until Ullmark or Jonas Johansson is ready to take over the reins and the time has already come to turn things over to Ullmark, who's gone 17-14-3 with a 2.69 GAA in 34 outings this year.
Rumors were abound ahead of the 2019-20 campaign that Ristolainen was on the market, and while that may not have changed, the defenseman has still racked up 33 points this year behind only Rasmus Dahlin for the team lead among defenseman. Keeping a fourth blueliner in Colin Miller locks up the top-4 for the club into the future and makes sense given the club's limited options at forward worth keeping.
Reinhart, Olofsson and Eichel make up the team's youthful core and are worth pairing up with Skinner to round out the group. There are a handful of veterans that will certainly be considered, but most ultimately represent the same type of player, so letting Seattle have their pick of Kyle Okposo, Wayne Simmonds, Marcus Johansson or Michael Frolik makes sense in order to keep Colin Miller.
Detroit Red Wings (7/3/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: None
Netminder: Calvin Pickard
Pickard represents a best guess as of right now, though a lot of things remain up in the air for the Red Wings moving forward. What is clear, however, is that Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier won't figure into this decision given their respective ages, cap hits and generally disappointing play of late. How the 2020-21 campaign shakes out could open the door for Kaden Fulcher or Patrik Rybar to state their respective cases.
By selecting the above players for protection, the Wings are exposing their four biggest cap hits, though Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley likely won't be back for 2020-21 as the club moves in a more youthful direction. Bowey, Cholowski and Hronek figure to lead the blue line forward into a new era for Detroit.
This collection of forwards includes just one player currently over the age of 25 in Sam Gagner (30). The team brought Gagner in as part of the Andreas Athanasiou deal and likely won't want to let him walk away for nothing. The rest of the protected list includes up and coming talent that will compose a solid core alongside face of the franchise Larkin.
Florida Panthers (7/3/1)
Huberdeau represents the face of the franchise following the departure of Vincent Trocheck at the deadline, and at just 26 years of age, he figures to lead the forward group for a long time. Yandle is still one of the club's best blueliners and hasn't shown any signs of decline despite approaching his mid-30s.
There's no doubt that Bobrovsky's first season in Florida has been an abject disaster, as he almost certainly won't hit the 60-game and 30-win marks for the first time since 2015-16. Still, the $70 million netminder isn't going to be leaving the Sunshine State anytime soon, even if he didn't have a no-movement clause in his pocket.
After Yandle and Ekblad, who have both reached the 40-point mark this year, there are several candidates in the mix for the third defensive spot. Weegar currently holds the lowest cap hit among Anton Stralman, Mike Matheson, and Mark Pysyk, though he will enter the 2020 offseason as a restricted free agent and could earn a pay increase.
The first six names on the above list are all basically locks to be protected by the Panthers barring something drastic changing during next season, though Hoffman and Dadonov will be unrestricted free agents this summer. The last spot will likely be determined during the course of the 2020-21 campaign, and while Toninato likely leads that list given his position (center) and inexpensive cap hit, Noel Acciari and Colton Sceviour could present an interesting argument over the course of the upcoming year.
Montreal Canadiens (7/3/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: Carey Price
Consistently voted by his peers as the No. 1 goalie in the league, the Habs still can't force their way into a playoff spot. Price was just three victories away from reaching the 30-win mark for the sixth time in his career prior to the NHL's shutdown. Being 'stuck' with him due to a no-movement clause isn't even close to a problem for the Habs.
Locked in due to no-movement clause.
The glaring absence here is Shea Weber, but given his massive cap hit ($7,857,143) and the fact that he's already 34 years of age, we'll almost certainly see him left exposed in the upcoming expansion draft. Petry and Chiarot are locks for the protected list and it will likely come down to Mete or Cale Fleury for the last spot depending on how the youngsters perform next year.
All seven players on this list are currently under 30 and all were top-10 point producers for the club this season. Leaving Paul Bryon off this list will likely see him snatched up by Seattle, but it's worth it to keep a solid young core together that could help get the Habs deep into the playoffs for the first time since their last cup win back in 1993.
Ottawa Senators (7/3/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: None
Netminder: Anders Nilsson
The upcoming 2020-21 campaign will determine who patrols the crease for the Senators heading into the future. For now, the spot on the protected list goes to Nilsson, though Marcus Hogberg could get a look after going 5-8-8 with a 3.12 GAA in 24 appearances this season. The 30-year-old Nilsson spent much of the 2019-20 campaign on injured reserve after sustaining a concussion, but he should at least get a chance to be the No. 1 guy again next season.
Chabot's numbers this season haven't quite lived up to his exceptional 2018-19 season, though he was on track to eclipse the 40-point mark for a second straight season prior to the league shutdown. After the 22-year-old, nobody on the Senators blue line is capable of producing offensively. Borowiecki is one of the top defensive blueliners in the league, which warrants keeping him. Zaitsev represents a merging of those two talents and should be capable of pushing the 20-point mark on an annual basis.
Bobby Ryan is a capable scorer but he isn't worth the $7.25 million cap hit he carries, even if he can play a full 2020-21 season. Instead, the club should focus on players that can grow with Tkachuk and White, like the 21-year-old Batherson. Mikkel Boedker could be another wild card in this situation but he's struggled to break into the lineup with any consistency this season.
Tampa Bay Lightning (7/3/1)
Considering what these three guys mean to the franchise, there should be no surprise all of them were given no-movement clauses on their respective deals. Stamkos will be the first one up for renewal following the 2023-24 season, which might mark the time he finally makes the move to join his hometown Leafs to round out his illustrious career.
Netminder: Andrei Vasilevskiy
The only reason Vasilevskiy doesn't appear on the above list is because the portion of his eight-year, $76 million extension that includes a NMC doesn't go into effect until 2021-22, after the expansion draft. Still, it really doesn't matter, as the team won't be parting ways with their 25-year-old netminder who has been a perennial contender for the Vezina Trophy.
In these three players, the Lightning have the three main components of any quality blue-line corps. The star (Hedman), the defensive stalwart (McDonagh) and the young talent (Sergachev). This team is too deep at the forward position to consider keeping a fourth defenseman, though it would almost certainly be Erik Cernak if the organization did.
No player on this list tallied fewer than 30 points this season, and with the exception of Johnson, the other six all topped the 40-point threshold. Cirelli is the only one not under contract beyond the 2021 expansion draft and that's only because he'll be a restricted free agent this summer. Certainly Yanni Gourde could make a case for himself next year, but it's hard to imagine him bypassing anybody.
Toronto Maple Leafs (7/3/1)
No-Movement Clause Locks: John Tavares
The only surprising part about the Leafs' NMC list is the fact that Tavares is the only one on it. In two seasons with Toronto, the 29-year-old has racked up 148 points in 145 contests and figures to continue producing at a point-per-game pace for the remainder of his seven-year, $77 million contract signed in July of 2018.
Netminder: Frederik Andersen
It's been a long road for Andersen to get to this point considering he was drafted twice, first by the Hurricanes in the seventh round of the 2010 NHL Draft then again by Anaheim in the third round in 2012. Prior to the shutdown, the 30-year-old was on track to reach the 60-game mark for a fourth consecutive year and would have absolutely notched 30-plus victories.
Barrie and Rielly are absolute locks for the protection list, so it comes down to the third defender, which for me is a choice between Cody Ceci and Jake Muzzin. The 31-year-old Muzzin offers more offensive upside while Ceci is the better shutdown defender. Keeping four blueliners would likely mean exposing Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen and Zach Hyman, which is a step the organization is unlikely to make.
After the top four players, the waters get a little muddied with the addition of Alex Kerfoot, who will compete with Johnsson, Kapanen and Hyman for the last spot on the protection list. One scenario would involve the team allowing Hyman to hit the free agent market when his contract expires after the 2020-21 campaign and then using the seventh spot on Kerfoot. Ultimately, it will be a decision heavily dependant on how next season shakes out.