The NHL released the protected and available lists for the upcoming expansion draft, and for the Dallas Stars there were no major surprises but answers to a couple of key questions.
Among the more interesting questions was at the forward spot where there were a few possible options to be left unprotected, and the answer turned out to be Cody Eakin who is now available for selection in the expansion draft. Brett Ritchie, Antoine Roussel, and Valeri Nichushkin were protected along with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and Radek Faksa.
Eakin, while not a major surprise, was still an intriguing decision. At the start of this past season, he likely was in a stronger position on the depth chart, but a rough 2016-17 campaign and the emergence of some strong depth at the center position for the Stars appears to have knocked Eakin down a few notches and led to him being unprotected.
Ritchie may have been on the protection bubble way back in September, but he had a strong season. He scored 16 goals in 78 games despite not getting a ton of ice time. The Stars may have pondered a decision about Roussel, but he had a strong season as well. He was on track for a career year offensively until he was injured late in the season, and he brings a lot of energy and grit to the Dallas lineup. Nichushkin, whose NHL rights are still owned by the Stars, played in Russia last season. Whether he'll return to the NHL this season is up in the air, but the Stars still see him as a potentially valuable piece down the road.
Another question was who would be the third defenseman protected along with John Klingberg and Esa Lindell? It was Stephen Johns. Dan Hamhuis, Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth and Greg Pateryn will be available. Johns had his ups and downs this past season but he also has a lot of upside, and it doesn't hurt that he's a right-shot.
There were no questions at the goaltending position. The Stars protected Ben Bishop, who was acquired this offseason from Los Angeles, signed to a six-year, $29.5 million contract and is now firmly locked in as the team's No. 1 goaltender. Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are available for selection in the expansion draft.
Now, we sit and wait until Wednesday night when the Vegas Golden Knights will announce the 30 players they have selected - one from each of the other NHL teams - in the 2017 expansion draft, which will be conducted during the NHL awards ceremony.
Which Dallas player departs for Vegas? It's anyone's guess. Eakin, who missed the first part of this past season due to a knee injury and never got on track, has a few good years under his belt as well and has a history with Vegas GM George McPhee. McPhee was GM in Washington when the Capitals drafted Eakin. Hamhuis, as I mentioned earlier this month, could intrigue Vegas as a veteran player who would bring leadership to a new team and then, as a player in the final year of his contract, may be a valuable asset at the trade deadline. Or, you never know, Stars GM Jim Nill might find a way to move one of his available goaltenders via the expansion process. Perhaps Vegas takes someone else. There could be a side deal still to be worked out. As the saying goes, there are a lot of moving parts.
Between now and Wednesday there will be a lot of activity behind the scenes as teams try to cut deals with Vegas. There's been plenty of talk between teams and the Golden Knights leading up to Sunday's release of the lists, but McPhee said nothing is set in stone.
"We have lots of things lined up, but until we see everything we don't have anything," McPhee told reporters during a media availability on Sunday. "We are going to make all of our decisions late because we don't know what kind of calls we are going to get today. They may be different. The same manager may have different things to talk about today now that we are in the expansion window than they did the last few weeks."
Teams could look to make a deal with the Golden Knights to stay away from one of their unprotected players or work out something with Vegas for an unprotected player on another team. McPhee said the calls started coming as soon as the lists came out Sunday. And he's ready to make deals with two goals in mind: assemble a good Vegas team for this season, and stockpile draft picks for the future.
"We want to put a good, competitive team on the ice and we thought it was important to get those picks to help us draft our way to a championship," he told reporters.
And McPhee is ready to wheel and deal with all 30 teams in the league to try to meet his goals and theirs, whether it is protecting a player on their roster or possibly grabbing a player from another team.
"People have identified people on other clubs that they would like to have. We have to establish the value for that. Whatever you want to give us has to be better than what we can claim from that club. That's already starting to happen," McPhee told reporters Sunday. "We're going to go to that club and say we have interest in this player, and another club has interest in this player, how do you want to do this? And how can we protect your roster? You can negotiate your way out of this if you wish. Every team in this league has a chance to protect their roster. We will not make a claim with any club before we talk to the club."
McPhee is also talking to free agents - unrestricted and restricted - who are not protected. He has an exclusive negotiating window for now and if he signs a free agent that player would serve as the Golden Knights' selection from that player's team.
As for how everything works out, tune in on Wednesday.
"I can't get into specific names at this point," McPhee said. "We have a show in three or four days that we want to go really well."
What: NHL Awards Show and Expansion Draft
When: Wednesday, June 21, 7 p.m. (Central Time)
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
TV: NBCSN, Sportsnet
Stars Protected/Available List
Here is the complete list of protected and available players for the Dallas Stars. The Stars opted to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender as opposed to eight skaters (any combination of forwards/defensemen) and one goaltender.
Jamie Benn (F)
Radek Faksa (F)
Valeri Nichushkin (F)
Brett Ritchie (F)
Antoine Roussel (F)
Tyler Seguin (F)
Jason Spezza (F)
Stephen Johns (D)
John Klingberg (D)
Esa Lindell (D)
Ben Bishop (G)
Adam Cracknell (F)
Justin Dowling (F)
Cody Eakin (F)
Ales Hemsky (F)
Jiri Hudler (F)
Curtis McKenzie (F)
Mark McNeill (F)
Travis Morin (F)
Patrick Sharp (F)
Gemel Smith (F)
Matej Stransky (F)
Mattias Backman (D)
Andrew Bodnarchuk (D)
Ludwig Bystrom (D)
Nick Ebert (D)
Justin Hache (D)
Dan Hamhuis (D)
Patrik Nemeth (D)
Jamie Oleksiak (D)
Greg Pateryn (D)
Dustin Stevenson (D)
Henri Kiviaho (G)
Maxime Lagace (G)
Kari Lehtonen (G)
Antti Niemi (G)
Justin Peters (G)
Note: Young professionals and unsigned draft picks were exempt from the expansion process. This included players such as Julius Honka, Devin Shore, Mattias Janmark, Remi Elie, Jason Dickinson, Denis Gurianov and others.
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.