The San Jose Sharks are set up pretty well for next summer’s expansion draft…
Like chess players, general managers always have to be thinking several moves ahead. Doug Wilson has done that with the San Jose Sharks regarding the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.
Las Vegas will take exactly one player from the Pacific Division-rival Sharks and every other team by June 20, 2017. The details of the draft rules are not going to be examined here beyond the basics.
Teams can protect a goalie along with either eight skaters or specifically seven forwards and three defensemen. Draft picks, prospects and players that have not yet been in the AHL or NHL for two years (i.e. as of now rather than at the time of the expansion draft) do not have to be protected.
Finally, teams must protect players with current and continuing no-movement clauses. Beyond that are details that will not be obstacles for San Jose compiling its protected list.
General Fanager shows the Sharks have five forwards, six defensemen and a goalie under contract for the 2017-18 NHL season. Aaron Dell would be approaching a one-way contract and would probably be exposed while Martin Jones is protected.
Nikolay Goldobin and Joonas Donskoi are two other forwards Las Vegas might want, but neither is available because last season was their first professional one in North America. Joe Thornton, Chris Tierney, Patrick Marleau, Melker Karlsson, Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels have expiring contracts and will not be drafted unless they are extended beforehand.
That leaves Joel Ward, Tomas Hertl, Joe Paveski, Logan Couture and Mikkel Boedker as the only scoring forwards left to protect. Even among young depth forwards, Ryan Carpenter and Barclay Goodrow are the only two with even a game of NHL experience that Las Vegas might possibly want and they could be exposed if they are extended.
Obviously, San Jose will protect Pavelski, Couture, Hertl and Boedker. Ward will be 36 with a cap hit over $3 million so there is always a chance he will be exposed, but his presence in the dressing room will be valued enough to protect if he performs anywhere near as well as during the 2015-16 NHL season.
The Sharks could protect two more or even go with four forwards and four defensemen if they leave Ward unprotected. They can thus afford to lose any forward left exposed.
Wilson’s blue-line decisions may not be as easy. Brent Burns is not under contract for the 2017-18 NHL season, but is so valuable that Wilson may want to lock him up despite then having to protect him. Nonetheless, leaving him unsigned might be necessary to avoid exposing a player from the top four of San Jose’s blue-line depth chart.
Either way, Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are going to be kept. That means there is only one spot left if Burns is left unsigned.
Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon, David Schlemko, Dylan DeMelo and Julius Bergman would all be eligible to be drafted by Las Vegas. Thus, Wilson must be very selective about who he protects.
Dan Kelly and Joakim Ryan are the only potential free agents San Jose could sign to extensions and have to protect. Wilson probably would not lose them to free agency if that did not happen nor to the expansion draft if they were extended. Furthermore, losing any of them would have little impact on franchise blue-line depth.
Likewise, Bergman is unlikely to show enough for Las Vegas to want him. He may not even have a single game of NHL experience by next June.
On the flip side, Martin will be 36 years old and is probably not going to be what Las Vegas is looking for. With his play already in a modest decline, exposing him is worth the risk of losing him.
Meanwhile, DeMelo only becomes a desirable target if he plays very well during the 2016-17 NHL season. Otherwise, this comes down to whether Schlemko or Dillon looks better by next spring. The one that does not will get exposed and almost certainly become part of the first-ever Las Vegas blue-line unit.
Neither is likely to ever be more than a fourth or fifth defenseman for the Sharks. That is a loss they can absorb.
Note: This article was updated July 24 to clear up errors regarding players San Jose would not need to protect from the expansion draft.