Minnesota Wild 2021 NHL Expansion Draft Scenarios, Phase I

Minnesota Wild 2021 NHL Expansion Draft Scenarios, Phase I

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Minnesota Wild 2021 NHL Expansion Draft Scenarios, Phase I

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We all know the Wild are an expansion team, and like previous expansion teams, the Wild were forced to take the rest of the league’s flotsam and jetsam and some unknown European players in the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft to try and cobble together a roster. The Wild were terrible for their first six seasons (with the exception of the 02-03 season) until they were able to introduce some solid free agents like forward Brian Rolston and defenseman Kim Johnsson. They had stockpiled enough assets where they were able to trade for scoring forward Pavol Demitra. Finally, and maybe most importantly, draftees Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Marian Gaborik were playing like they were projected to. But until this point, the Wild were forced like every other expansion team in NHL history to gradually improve their franchise through the draft and taking chances on unknown players or older players looking for that one last paycheck.

Fast forward to 2017. The NHL was expanding for the first time in 17 years, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wanted the Vegas franchise to be competitive right out of the gate. So he limited the number of players that current NHL franchises could protect. Well, we all know how disastrous that was for the Wild. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher made a gentleman’s agreement with Vegas GM George McPhee that the Wild would trade highly touted prospect Alex Tuch to Vegas providing Vegas chose center Erik Haula in the expansion draft and not choose up and coming right shot defenseman Matt Dumba. Haula and Tuch exploded onto the scene with Vegas, scoring a combined 92 points (55 and 37 respectively) helping the team make it to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season, while the Wild flamed out once again in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The one consolation was that Dumba turned in a 50 point season, justifying protecting him.

For the 2021-22 season, the NHL is expanding once again, with a new franchise in Seattle. Could this expansion draft be as disastrous for the Wild as the Vegas Expansion Draft was? Let’s take a look.

First, the Seattle Expansion Draft Rules will be the same as the Vegas Expansion Draft Rules (from NHL.com):

Seattle must choose a minimum of 20 players under contract for the 2021-22 regular season and those with an aggregate Expansion Draft value that is between 60-100 percent of the prior season’s upper limit for the salary cap. Seattle cannot buy out players chosen in the Expansion Draft earlier than the summer following its first season.

  • Current NHL teams can protect:
  • Seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or
  • Eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie, under the following conditions.
  • All players with no movement clauses at the time of the draft, and who decline to waive those clauses, must be protected and will be counted toward their team’s applicable protection limits.
  • All first- and second-year NHL players, and all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection and will not be counted toward protection limits.

In addition, all NHL teams must meet the following minimum requirements regarding players exposed for selection in the draft:

  • One defenseman who is
  • a) under contract in 2021-22 and
  • b) played at least 40 NHL games the prior season or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons.
  • Two forwards who are
  • a) under contract in 2021-22 and
  • b) played at least 40 NHL games the prior season or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons.
  • One goalie who is under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent at the end of his current contract immediately prior to 2021-22. If a team elects to make a restricted free agent goalie available, that goalie must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the team’s protected list.
  • Players with potential career-ending injuries who have missed more than the previous 60 consecutive games (or who otherwise have been confirmed to have a career-threatening injury) may not be used to satisfy a team’s player exposure requirements unless approval is received from the NHL. Such players also may be deemed exempt from selection.

Seems pretty straight forward, right? Assuming the Wild go with the 7F-3D-1G protection list, here’s what they may be in for. NOTE: these scenarios will change the closer we get to the expansion draft with trades, extensions, retirements, etc. For the purposes of this exercise, I’m using the current 2019-20 Wild roster.

Let’s start from the back out with goaltending.

  • Devan Dubnyk
  • Alex Stalock

They have to protect Dubnyk because of his NMC. Which leaves Alex Stalock to be exposed since he’s under contract for the 2021-22 season.

Dec 29, 2019; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Wild defenseman Carson Soucy (21) looks on during the first period against the New York Islanders at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

On defense it is a bit more challenging. The Wild are going to have to protect Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon, because of their No Movement Clauses (NMC). That leaves one spot open for:

  • Jonas Brodin
  • Matt Dumba
  • Brad Hunt
  • Greg Pateryn
  • Nate Seeler
  • Carson Soucy

Based on Condition 4, right now Dumba has to be exposed. He’s the only defenseman under contract in 2021-22. Unless the Wild extend Carson Soucy, Brad Hunt, Greg Pateryn, Nick Seeler or Jonas Brodin beyond 2021. It won’t be a detriment to the Wild to lose Hunt, Seeler or Pateryn. But I really don’t see the Seattle picking any of them either. Not when they could walk away with Dumba or Brodin, or even Soucy. So the Wild are going to have to choose, once again, to protect Dumba or Brodin. Do they protect Brodin again and hope Dumba’s $6M Annual Average Value, colloquially known as the “cap hit” (AAV) scares off Seattle? The logic behind the trade protecting Dumba was that Dumba was a right shot defenseman who could score. He was big and young and still developing. He’s also been very inconsistent, scoring 55 points the season he was protected by the trade, and now two years later about to turn in a 30 point season unless something changes in a hurry. So do the Wild give the consistent Brodin a big extension ($6M+ AAV), expose him, and hope his AAV scares off Seattle and protect Dumba this time hoping he turns it around? Brodin is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) on July 1, 2021. He’s turned into a very good shutdown defenseman, often leading the Wild’s breakout from their own zone. This could all be moot if the Wild also give Brodin a NMC. Then they HAVE to protect him and all three slots will be taken up by Suter, Spurgeon and Brodin. They could potentially lose Carson Soucy as well. He’s turned into a fine young defenseman, pairing well with Jonas Brodin. And he’s cheap, clocking in at $750K/season. However, he will be a restricted free agent July 1, 2020, so he will probably be due for a significant raise due to his play, probably in the $2M-$3M/season range. The Wild have assembled a very good defensive core, and it would be a shame to lose one of those pieces in the Seattle expansion draft. Or finally, do they make a deal with the devil again and trade prospects to protect these three and hope the prospects don’t erupt like Tuch did?

Now for the most involved, the forward position. Right now the Wild have to protect Zach Parise, Jason Zucker, and Mats Zuccarello. I did not include Mikko Koivu, since he is a UFA on July 1, 2020. I can see the Wild giving him a one-year deal for the 2020-21 season just to play in the Winter Classic and then let him ride off into the sunset. Staal is going to be a UFA July 1, 2021. He’s also going to be 37. Do the Wild bring him back again? Maybe for an extreme discount and no NMC. So for this exercise, no Koivu or Staal. Which leaves four spots open for:

  • Ryan Donato
  • Joel Eriksson-Ek
  • Kevin Fiala
  • Marcus Foligno
  • Jordan Greenway
  • Ryan Hartman
  • Luke Kunin
  • Victor Rask

Right now, the only Wild forward who satisfies Condition 5 is the much-maligned Victor Rask. He was a very strong candidate to be bought out in the summer of 2020. But he has turned his season around, so maybe he isn’t going to get bought out. But for what he brings to the table, $4M/season is a lot of cash for a center on pace for 18 points. For this exercise, let’s say the Wild keep Rask. Which means he is the only Wild forward that satisfies Condition 5. This will change depending on what kind of extensions are handed out. As of right now, the Wild can only protect four of their young crop of forwards. Off the top of my head, the only one that I’d guaranteed to be protected is Joel Eriksson-Ek. He’s turned into a very solid center, drawing penalties and centering the (so far) very effective GEEK Squad line with wings Luke Kunin and Jordan Greenway. Kunin and Greenway may have done enough to get protected as well, both on pace for 30+ points and earning the trust of Bruce Boudreau in high pressure situations. Especially Kunin, who seems to be the only right shot among the forward corps and can play center or wing (Charlie Coyle, anyone?). Greenway is also finally learning how to use his size to cause problems for opposing teams. Which leaves one spot open for Ryan Donato or Kevin Fiala. Early on I think it was fair to say that Donato was the odd man out, and he still may be. He has turned it around, but is the least effective of the Wild’s young forwards, on pace this season for 28 points. And if he is that ineffective, there is probably a decent chance Seattle passes on him. Fiala is on pace this season for 52 points, so he is the most productive of the Wild’s young forwards. Not exactly what I’d call a game breaker (still turns the puck over WAY too much), but he is certainly the most apt to score out Donato, Eriksson-Ek, Fiala, Greenway, and Kunin.

One thing that may allow Donato to be protected is the arrival of the much anticipated Kirill Kaprizov. Kaprizov is going to need a top six spot. And the most movable player on the top lines is Zucker. He has the least restrictive NMC (10-team no trade list). So if Guerin can find a trade partner, Zucker may be gone. Which will clear a top six spot for Kaprizov, who will be ineligible for the expansion draft, and thus opens a spot to protect Donato. But Zucker’s recent broken leg may have thrown a monkey wrench into any trades for him this season.

None of the Wild’s young forwards are all that impressive, all looking to be on pace for around 30 points this season. That could change in another year, but with only Kevin Fiala getting top line minutes, I really don’t see this changing much. The rest of the forwards (Ryan Hartman, Marcus Foligno) will possibly be extended, which would satisfy Condition 5. But in reality they are third and fourth liners and I doubt Seattle would use one of their picks taking one of them. So as of this writing, it looks like the Wild are probably going to lose one of either Dumba, Brodin, or Soucy.

We’ll try to revisit these scenarios this summer after any trades or extensions happen, or if any of the young players show improved development.

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