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Meltzer's 411: The Expansion Ahead

Preparations already beginning for the Seattle expansion draft in 2021

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer

The next National Hockey League Expansion Draft is still two years away. The new Seattle franchise will become the league's 32nd team starting in the 2021-22 season. The new team will play in the Pacific Division, with the Arizona Coyotes moving to the Central Division. Correspondingly, the imbalance of teams in the Eastern and Western Conference will be corrected from the current 16 East/15 West to 16 in both Conferences. 

With the draft still 24 months away, it makes little sense to speculate about the list of players any team will protect or expose to the Draft. The current outlook is bound to change over the next two seasons.

However, it is not too early to go over the rules and strategies that teams employ. 

The rules are identical to the 2017 Expansion Draft, even down to the newest franchise selecting 30 players; one apiece from each of the franchises that existed prior to the 2017 Draft. Although the Vegas Golden Knights will have been around for four seasons by the time the 2021 Expansion Draft, they will be exempt from losing a player in the next Draft.

As with before, teams have two options for crafting their protection list. They can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight position players (any desired combination of forwards and defensemen) and one goalie. 

Who is eligible for selection? All players who have completed an entry-level contract (in most cases, meaning that they've completed at least three professional seasons) are potentially eligible, depending on their contractual status for 2021-22 and health. Specifically: 

  • All NHL teams MUST expose one defenseman who is under contract in 2021-22 and, additionally, played in at least 40 NHL games in 2020-21 or played in at least a combined 70 NHL games over the prior two seasons.
  • All NHL teams MUST expose two forwards who meet the same conditions.
  • All NHL teams MUST expose one goalie who is under contract for 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent (RFA) on July 1, 2021. If a team elects to expose an RFA goaltender, they must tender a qualifying offer to him prior to the submission to the NHL of the team's protected list for the Expansion Draft.

In terms of formulating a protected player list, all teams MUST protect any player with a no-movement clause (NMC) in his contract unless the player agrees to waive it. At present with the Flyers, only team captain Claude Giroux has a NMC.

Who is exempt from the Draft? 

Essentially, all unsigned Entry Draft picks, slide-rule eligible prospects and all pro players who still have at least one season remaining on their entry-level contract are exempt. 

In some instances, a player who has played three professional seasons but was signed out of Europe or college hockey and "slid" to the American Hockey League at age 18 or 19, will still be exempt from the Expansion Draft because their entry-level contract still has one season to run. For example, Robert Hägg was exempt from the 2017 Expansion Draft because, despite having played three AHL seasons with the Phantoms, the first year fell under the Slide Rule and he still had a season to run on his entry-level deal.

While the rules for the 2021 Expansion Draft will be identical to the 2017 Draft, teams strategies for approaching the Draft will likely be different. It may be tough for Seattle to duplicate all the wheeling and dealing that Las Vegas did in building a roster that ultimately reached the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season.

"Your team is good to lose a good player no matter what," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said on April 8. "I think, next time around, teams might be more inclined to just work around whatever happens."

Back in 2017, former Flyers general manager Ron Hextall elected not to do what many other teams did -- make arrangements where they compensated Las Vegas either to not take a certain player off their list of unprotected players and/or to select a specific exposed player from another team's list and then flip them in a trade for Entry Draft pick assets and/or prospects.

Ultimately, the Flyers lost veteran role-playing center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to Vegas in the 2017 Expansion Draft. Shortly before Philly finalized its protected list, the team traded forward Nick Cousins (whom the club did not have room to protect from the Expansion Draft) to the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes protected Cousins. 

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