Wash the champagne out of your skin, Pittsburgh. Pick the confetti out of your car trunk and sandals. Because believe it or not, the time for celebrating is almost over (just don’t tell Jake Guentzel and Olli Maatta). The team had exit interviews on Thursday and this Sunday, June 18th, is the date for submitting of protected lists ahead of the NHL expansion draft. So, I thought I’d break down a bit of what we know, what we don’t and what we might be able to assume (which I will then promptly be proved wrong by the team on) going into that.
How protection works:
Each team can choose one of two make-ups of protecting their players for the expansion draft. These are the 7-3-1 and the 8-1 methods. The first refers to a method of keeping seven forwards, three defenders, and one goalie protected for a total of 11 protected skaters. The second refers to a method of keeping eight total skaters, forward or defenseman, protected and one goalie for a total of nine. The general consensus seems to be the Penguins will take the 7-3-1 road and in a recent interview, General Manager Jim Rutherford said this was the most likely option but the 8-1 option is also possible but more on that later.
Who doesn’t need to be protected:
Simply put this is most of who we call “the kids” like rookie Jake Guentzel and sophomore Conor Sheary. This also includes names like Carter Rowney, Daniel Sprong, and Tristan Jarry. These guys are completely safe from Vegas. Which, especially in the case of Guentzel and Sheary, is quite fantastic for the Penguins.
Who definitely gets protected:
This part of the list is populated mostly by the players with no movement clauses. Of course, it does not include Marc-Andre Fleury who has publicly stated he’s waiving his no-movement clause for the expansion draft. Who it does include: Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin.
The final name I think anyone would add to this list with two brain cells to rub together is Justin Schultz. Schultz has more than proved himself to the team over the past two seasons and as an RFA isn’t under contract yet, but should still be a priority to protect so we can put him in the yes column.
Everyone else – Forwards:
The rest of this list includes guys who have played NHL, AHL, a combination and in one memorable case (Sundqvist, Oskar) in Europe as well. I think the one we can almost count on is Stanley Cup winning goal scorer, Patric Hornqvist. He’s such an integral part of the team on and off of the ice. Next in importance would be a young guy like Bryan Rust who seems to play his best when the lights are brightest. Bryan Rust also makes less than 1 million dollars next season (though it will go up after).
Some people will have Sundqvist on the protected list, his extra year of pro in Europe means he’s eligible for choosing, as he’s still one of the best centers on a team likely to lose it’s bottom 6 centers. However, he technically hasn’t made the entire minimum requirement for exposure and Carter Rowney has really impressed without needing to be protected. Archibald is in the same boat. While I am sure Vegas has done their homework I’d rather devote protected spots to current NHLers.
So who gets the last two spots, if we go the 7-3-1 route? Carl Hagelin and Scott Wilson. Hagelin performed slightly lower than usual this spring in the playoff run but his admission that he played with a bone in his foot that never really healed explained a lot. Wilson is another young, cheap, forward. He isn’t the flashiest but he is reliable and can be marked down for on average, a goal a month.
The Last Defenseman:
With two of three spots locked up to the teams best righties on the blue line in Letang and Schultz parsing out the third is a little more difficult. There are three regular players who could be exposed or protected and it’s really a two-horse race for the final spot. Before the playoffs, this spot was easily Brian Dumoulin’s. The defender has been strong and steady for the Penguins over the past two seasons. However, Olli Maatta made a strong case this summer to be the other guy protected. He, unlike Dumoulin or Schultz, is under contract and is still only 22 and was at times the team’s best defender this past spring. I do not envy having to choose between them, however, there’s an option that doesn’t make them.
Should the team choose to go the 8-1 route they could easily protect Letang, Schultz, Dumoulin, Maatta, Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and Hornqvist.
What they decide to do, will ultimately come down to what they think needs to be assured of most heading into the expansion draft. And if Vegas takes Fleury this could all be a lot of hand-wringing for nothing…but you don’t want to leave Justin Schultz unprotected after the year he had. That would be a decision that haunts a GM for the rest of their career.