This week, theScore's unveiling a five-part series in which we predict who will be protected and picked when the new Seattle franchise selects one player from every other NHL team except Vegas in 2021. Today, we project the Metropolitan Division.
Before diving into our Metropolitan Division projections, here's a refresher on the expansion draft process:
All players with no-movement clauses must be protected
All first- and second-year players, as well as unsigned draft picks, are exempt and can't be picked
Any player with a career-ending injury is also exempt
And some notes about our process:
We made judgment calls on 2019 and '20 unrestricted free agents, projecting some will stay with their current team and others will leave
We didn't factor in any trades or buyouts between now and June 2021
In the tables below, * indicates the player is a projected free-agent signing before 2021, while bold text indicates the player has a no-movement clause
We project the Hurricanes to sign Holtby and Hoffman, who would both land on the protected list. And while it would be tough to watch 2016 first-rounder Bean get plucked for nothing, the club has a surplus of defensemen. Carolina could also potentially lose one of its young goalies - Nedeljkovic or Booth - since the other could be the heir apparent to Holtby, but we predict Seattle opting for Bean due to his upside. Meanwhile, Necas would be exempt if he suits up for fewer than three more NHL games this season, but we expect the talented forward to play an important role down the stretch.
The Blue Jackets could have a difficult decision to make in 2021. Do they go with the 7-3-1 format and risk losing a promising blue-liner in Murray or Nutivaara? Or do they protect eight total skaters and risk losing Silfverberg, who we project lands in Columbus after the team loses Artemi Panarin in free agency? We believe the Jackets would prioritize the young top-four defenseman, leaving Seattle with a reliable two-way winger in Silfverberg.
We see the Devils landing some veteran forwards in free agency - namely Brassard and Zuccarello - to improve their forward depth and replace the likes of Marcus Johansson and Brian Boyle. However, those new pieces wouldn't be worth protecting come June 2021, as they'll already have a ton of mileage on their bodies. Seattle could go with a goalie here, but we're thinking the expansion franchise selects Wood - a speedy north-south winger who already has a 19-goal season under his belt.
We're projecting the Islanders to land Toffoli as a free agent in 2020 after watching Jordan Eberle jet in 2019. However, Toffoli's track record as a consistent 20-goal scorer likely won't save him from expansion, and he could provide Seattle with a legitimate top-nine forward. It's also possible the Isles' relationship with Ho-Sang goes south over the next 30 months, but for now, the 2014 first-rounder has too much potential to leave off the protected list.
Already our choice to snag Panarin in free agency this summer, the Rangers appear to benefit most from Seattle's start date moving from 2020 to 2021. The switch allows New York to avoid having to protect Staal, Shattenkirk, and Lundqvist whose contracts all include a no-movement clause and run out in '20-21. (We also predict Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, and Chris Kreider will find new teams in free agency.) The Rangers could then use three protection spots for youngsters Chytil, Andersson and Howden, leaving Seattle with its pick of a few established forwards. We predict Namestnikov due to his ability to play both center and wing.
Seattle could scoop up a known commodity in Van Riemsdyk, but we don't see the contract he signed this past summer ($35 million over five years) aging well. Instead, it makes more sense for the expansion team to swing for the fences on Myers, a mobile 6-foot-5, 21-year-old blue-liner who somehow went undrafted. We project Philly will sign Varlamov in 2019 - bridging the gap until Hart is ready - and the decision on which goalie to protect should be much easier by 2021.
The toughest decision for the Penguins could come in goal. Murray's been awful for a season and a half, but it's too early to write off the two-time Stanley Cup champion. Protecting Murray would leave Seattle with DeSmith, who's posted a stellar .924 save percentage through 34 NHL games. Rust is the only other real contender, though his ceiling doesn't appear to be particularly high.
Oshie will be 34 to start the 2021-22 season with four years left on his contract. The Washington state native would give Seattle a marketable player with a winning pedigree who could potentially wear a letter. Meanwhile, we project the Capitals will protect Burakovsky - who's just 23 and still has room to grow - along with Kempny rather than 2021 free agent Niskanen and a trio of up-and-coming defensemen.