Last week, Chris Johnston Tweeted out that Gary Bettman indicated the Seattle expansion team would have the same rules in place that the Vegas Golden Knights had when they entered the league last summer. With another expansion draft looming, the decisions that general managers make in the upcoming off-seasons will need to be made with Seattle 2020 in mind.
If what Bettman suggested is correct, Seattle will have access to a pretty nice crop of talent much like Vegas. The rule last time was teams can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie, or you can protect eight skaters and one goalie.
So let’s walk through what this means for the Oilers.
Who’s here in 2020?
The KeyArena upgrade project is on pace to allow Seattle to be ready to have an NHL team for the 2020-21 season. That means their expansion draft would come in June 2020. Here’s who the Oilers would have under contract at that time:
- Connor McDavid (signed until 2026 at $12.5 million)
- Leon Draisaitl (signed until 2025 at $8.5 million)
- Milan Lucic (signed until 2023 at $6 million with a NMC)
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (signed until 2021 at $6 million)
- Zack Kassian (signed until 2020 at $1.95 million)
- Andrej Sekera (signed until 2021 at $5.5 million with a NMC that becomes an NTC 2019-20)
- Oscar Klefbom (signed until 2023 at $4.167 million)
- Adam Larsson (signed until 2021 at $4.167 million)
- Kris Russell (signed until 2021 at $4 million with NMC that becomes an NTC 2019-20)
The Oilers have four forwards and four defencemen currently under contract beyond 2020, while Kassian is signed until 2020 and would technically be available as an impending UFA (like Deryk Engelland with Vegas) in the expansion draft. Milan Lucic is the only player with a no movement clauses in his contract and, if still around, would need to be prospected unless they agreed to waive them. Kris Russell and Andrej Sekera both have NMCs until the 2019-20 season, then they become NTCs, meaning they can be exposed.
There’s also a handful of other younger players who the Oilers have control over beyond 2020. Darnell Nurse, Matt Benning, and even Brandon Davidson (all of whom need new contracts this summer) could be signed through 2020. Jesse Puljujarvi’s entry-level deal expires in 2019 and I imagine he’ll be back beyond that. On the bright side, Kailer Yamamoto’s entry-level deal expires in 2020 and will be exempt from needing to be protected. Also, whoever the Oilers grab in the first round of this year’s draft will also be exempt, as that player will be on their entry-level deal.
The Oilers had a really easy time at last year’s expansion draft. They had a bunch of players on entry-level deals who were exempt from being exposed to the Golden Knights, so they didn’t have to do any wheeling and dealing to ensure a player wasn’t taken. Ultimately, they lost Griffin Reinhart, who, despite what the team paid to get him from the New York Islanders, isn’t even an asset at this point.
Expansion in 2020 isn’t going to be as simple. Obviously a lot of things are going to happen between now and June 2020, but the Oilers already have four forwards (five if you count Kassian) and four defenders signed past 2020. Then there’s also Darnell Nurse, Matt Benning, Brandon Davidson, Jesse Puljujarvi, and JJ Khaira who could be under contract through then too. And, of course, anybody the team adds via trade or free agency before then will also be added to this list.
I’ll stress again: there are many things that will happened in the two-and-a-half years before Seattle gets to put together their team. There’s a possibility of another lockout that could result in compliance buyouts like in 2013, players can get injured, demand trades, and so on. One thing that comes to mind is the blueline. I previously thought Sekera and Russell’s NTCs in 2019-20 and beyond would mean they weren’t allowed to be exposed, but the league stated that only players with NMCs were automatically protected. Still, the Oilers have Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, and likely Darnell Nurse signed beyond then. Will it be difficult for them to sign a UFA defenceman with that player knowing there’s a pretty good chance they’ll be exposed to an expansion team? Does that make it more likely for Peter Chiarelli to be trigger-happy on a Klefbom trade?
That said, this is still an interesting thought experiment and topic worth discussing as it has an effect on the next two off-seasons. It’s impossible to say what’s going to happen, but the Oilers aren’t in as simple a situation with Seattle as they were with Vegas. It’ll be something interesting to pay attention to the next couple years.
CORRECTION: I was under the impression NTCs were treated the same way as NMCs in the expansion draft. Changes have been made accordingly.