Over sixteen years have passed since the last time the NHL grew in its numbers. Sixteen years ago brought on the birth of the forest green, Minnesota Wild, and cannon-booming, Columbus Blue Jackets, to the NHL. The 2016-17 NHL season will be the last season played under that 30 team format and will lay the groundwork for the 31st team in Las Vegas. With this, an NHL Expansion Draft. Which oddly enough now feels like a version of The Hunger Games, NHL style. You’re welcome for that bit of marketing help, Bettman. Each team will have one player leave their roster in order to help stock up the new Las Vegas team, and will have the maximum of up to 11 players they can protect. The protection list that I have gone through was made with the scenario that management must choose their protected players as of today and the Las Vegas team would be set to start this upcoming season. Keep in mind that with the contracts expiring from Alex Steen and Kevin Shattenkirk in the upcoming offseason, it is likely that the two players can be adjusted on this list accordingly throughout the season. Should anything happen (or not) two others such as Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin can gain security. General Manager, Doug Armstrong has a nice situation with the fact that not one single player on his roster must be protected via a no-movement clause. Every single one of his choices will be just that, his choice. With that in mind, here are the choices, again as of today, that I would protect.
· Notable exempt:
o Jordan Schmaltz
o Robby Fabbri
o Colton Parayko
o Ville Husso
o Jordan Kyrou
o Ivan Barbashev
o Vince Dunn
7 Forwards – 3 Defense – 1 Goalie Option
The protection of the core forwards is a must. With Fabbri already being protected up front, and Parayko with the defensive group, options have opened up to protect players such as Edmundson, Lehtera, and Berglund. The likes of Tarasenko, Stastny, and Schwartz from this list will be together for at least the next few seasons, pending a surprising trade. With Backes gone, the ice-time will likely open up for Stastny to prove he can (and will need to) be an NHL number 1 Center again. Patrick Berglund has been rumored to be on the trade block for the last few seasons and after Lehtera’s regression last season, he will need to be at his best, should he not want to have his name on the trading block as well. With opting for the 8-3-1, Armstrong can ensure that his valuable players are not lost for nothing.
8 Skaters – 1 Goalie Option
If Blues management would go this route, this would only put them to 9/11 possible protected. Doug Armstrong has options to go with and right now, but going with the 8 Skaters and 1 Goalie option (as of today) would be foolish to not protect some of his younger / depth assets.
Why not Bouw?
The Blues have been handcuffed due to Jay Bouwmeester’s contract and could use a relief. The 32 year old is currently owed $5.6 million in the 2016-17 season, and $5.4 million throughout the remaining 2 years of his contract. Bouwmeester has certainly seen his production fall of as he has only managed 27 points over the last 144 games he has played in St. Louis. Jay’s production has seen a slow decline over the last few years, until his first season in St. Louis where he saw a spike from 22 points that were split between the Blues and Calgary Flames, to 37. This could be a win-win scenario for the Blues to gain the cap space, and Las Vegas to gain a reliable, veteran defenseman that will also help them get to the salary cap floor. Though, Armstrong may not want to lose Jay for nothing, if there were a buyer at a fair price for the veteran defenseman, the trade would likely have been made already. If the Blues manage to rid of Bouwmeester, the options and cap space to keep Shattenkirk get a lot more interesting.
The upcoming 2016-17 season is a bit more important with not only the battles for spots in the nightly lineup, but the Expansion Draft looming over as well. Players who hope to continue or even start their careers in St. Louis but have a bit more to prove. The likes of Jori Lehtera, Dmitrij Jaskin, Patrick Berglund, Ty Rattie, and even Connor Bleackley could all be subject to availability in the upcoming expansion draft and very well could be headed to Las Vegas.
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