The expansion draft is what it is: a means to bring a 31st team into the NHL, and in the meantime, a means to hold up the other 30 NHL teams from actually doing much.
We know the Flames need another top four defenceman; however, the draft complicates things by making it far from a sure thing that they’d even be able to keep him beyond this season. This is a team on the playoff bubble, not one that can afford to spend assets on rentals; upgrading the defence now is going to be tricky.
Upgrading the forward group, though? Not so much. And the Flames may be able to take advantage of some other teams left in a bind due to protection restrictions.
The forwards to protect
At a glance, the Flames have just five blatantly obvious forwards to protect: Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik. That still leaves them with room for two more.
The general assumption is those two will be Troy Brouwer and Micheal Ferland. Brouwer, however, has been… uh… less than “good” this season, and isn’t too likely to get much better; Ferland, meanwhile, is a really great piece to have, but not necessarily crucial to success in the way the first five are.
So the Flames definitely do have room to upgrade at the forward position. And there are some teams out there who don’t have the room to keep everyone they may like.
Teams possibly affected
I’m hardly an expert on all of these teams, but some of them certainly stand to lose a decent player for nothing due to the expansion draft. Whether they’re getting boned by unfortunate no movement clauses or they simply have too many good players, some teams could have forwards ripe for the picking – and forwards who could be of long-term use to the Flames.
They’re Anaheim, Columbus, Minnesota, Nashville, Tampa Bay, and Washington.
Thanks to Kevin Bieksa having an NMC for some reason, Anaheim is pretty hooped when it comes to protecting their defencemen; in all likelihood they’ll go the eight skaters route, which will leave one of Rickard Rakell or Jakob Silfverberg available. Unfortunately, Anaheim is a division rival, so probably not too much luck there.
Nashville is another team that one can see being more likely to go the eight skater route as well, given how they have a pretty stellar top four group. They don’t have too much exciting in the way of forwards, but Calle Jarnkrok could be an interesting target.
Tampa Bay is in an interesting spot both due to the fact that they’re likely to have to leave at least one decent forward exposed, and because they’re already up against the cap with a number of restricted free agents requiring new contracts. One of them is Tyler Johnson, whose impending raise could prove problematic (though the Flames won’t exactly be swimming in cap space themselves, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a deal to be found with Tampa at all).
A team with Stanley Cup aspirations, it’s hard to see Washington wanting to sell even with the expansion draft looming; that said, Lars Eller is at least a little bit interesting.
I skipped two teams in this section, though, and they’re the two I think may be the best ones to target.
Columbus and Minnesota
A great winning streak and solid underlying numbers have seen Columbus go through a resurgence this season, but they’re vulnerable to losing a decent forward for nothing.
Thanks to NMCs, the Blue Jackets have to protect Brandon Dubinsky, Marcus Foligno, and Scott Hartnell. That leaves them with just four forwards left they can protect: in all likelihood a combination of Brandon Saad, Cam Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg, Boone Jenner, and William Karlsson.
I’d say Saad, Atkinson, and Wennberg are locks to be protected, which could leave Jenner or Karlsson – two ’93-born centres – available. Jenner scored 30 goals last season, albeit with a higher-than-career-average shooting percentage (this season he’s at 18 points in 53 games), while Karlsson – who’s only in his second NHL season – is looking towards his second 20-point season (he’s currently at 19 points in 53 games).
Neither are exactly eye popping, but both fit in the Flames’ age group and could be useful longer-term pieces.
Then there’s Minnesota, who have quite a number of pretty decent forwards on hand. NMCs will see Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Jason Pominville protected; after them they’ll only be able to keep four of Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, and Jason Zucker. Staal is 32; the rest of the forwards are 24 (or 25, in Zucker’s case) and would fit right in with the Flames’ age group.
Granlund is the Wild’s current leading scorer and Coyle is up there as well (plus he’s really big), but Niederreiter or Zucker could be really good targets for the Flames.
Both of these teams will also likely end up with some defencemen exposed that could be attractive options for Vegas, too, so it’s not as though they’re guaranteed to lose a decent forward – but if the Flames were able to offer an asset that wouldn’t require protection (in all likelihood, picks – maybe even their first, depending on who they’re after?) then they’d at least be guaranteed to not lose someone good for nothing.
As much as the Flames need to round out their top four their forward group needs help as well, and the expansion draft is more likely to help them than hurt them in this case. This could be a deadline trade they might actually be able to make without fear of repercussions from the expansion draft.
Zucker is the most interesting forward to me who may be left available. He scores at a decent rate – although he does have somewhat high shooting percentages through his career – and he’s one of Minnesota’s positive corsi rel forwards (+1.25) all the while getting some of the worst zone starts the Wild have to offer.
Is there a potential expansion draft casualty you think the Flames should target? Will they be able to use it to upgrade their forward group both now and for the long-term?