2021 Expansion Draft Preview: East Division

Which players will be protected? Which will be exposed? Which decisions will give GMs headaches? Our Seattle expansion draft divisional previews continue with the East teams.
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Last week, I previewed the North Division teams for the 2021 expansion draft. You can read the breakdowns here. The mini previews continue with the East Division. Which teams should we expect each franchise to expose and protect? Which players are most likely to attract the Kraken’s tentacles?

First, here’s a quick refresher of some particularly important expansion draft rules:

The 2021 NHL Expansion Draft will be under the same rules for Seattle as the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017. Seattle will select one player from each team excluding the Golden Knights for a total of 30 (min. 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies) not including additional players who may be acquired as the result of violations of the Expansion Draft rules.

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 (games likely pro-rated for a shortened season):

* One defenseman who is a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played in 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 to meet this requirement, 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.

One more tidbit to remember: the Kraken get a three-day early negotiation window for UFAs from July 18 to 20 and are the only team receiving an early window before free agency begins July 28. Any UFA Seattle signs during that period will count as the expansion-draft selection for that player’s previous team. In 2017, the Golden Knights only signed one UFA, but it’s a different landscape now. Multiple prominent player agents have told me within the last month that their clients consider Seattle a legitimately attractive destination.

BOSTON BRUINS

Key UFAs: Taylor Hall (LW), Tuukka Rask (G), David Krejci (C), Mike Reilly (D), Sean Kuraly (C), Jaroslav Halak (G), Kevan Miller (D), Jarred Tinordi (D), Steven Kampfer (D)

Key RFAs: Brandon Carlo (D), Nick Ritchie (LW), Ondrej Kase (RW), Trent Frederic (C)

No-movement clauses: Brad Marchand (LW), Patrice Bergeron (C), Charlie Coyle (C)

Help us, Seattle:
If the Bruins had their choice, they’d probably like to be freed of center Charlie Coyle, who has delivered 24 goals in 142 regular-season games as a Bruin and carries a $5.25-million cap hit for four more seasons. Alas, he controls his own fate with a no-movement clause. The best relief Seattle can give Boston is to pay out a yet-to-be-signed RFA such as left winger Nick Ritchie or to swallow underachieving left winger Jake DeBrusk’s $3.68-million cap hit should Boston decide to expose him.

Toughest decision: The Bruins are a near lock to use a 7-3-1 protection scheme given they have three forwards with NMCs and that right wingers David Pastrnak and Craig Smith are easy choices to protect. What about the last two forwards, though? Pick two of Ritchie, DeBrusk, center Trent Frederic and right winger Ondrej Kase. The good news: because several key Bruins contributors are UFAs, GM Don Sweeney has flexibility to protect most of his most important players. He can make handshake deals to bring back the likes of left winger Taylor Hall, goaltender Tuukka Rask and center David Krejci because all are openly keen on coming back and thus aren’t serious candidates to be poached by Seattle if left unsigned before the expansion draft.

Top candidates to crack the Kraken: There’s a good chance the Kraken nab one of the quality forwards Boston exposes. Kase’s unfortunate concussion history might scare Seattle away, but DeBrusk would be an intriguing buy-low pick who probably has more 25-goal seasons on his stick. Still, for that very reason, the Bruins would be better off protecting him as trade bait, so it’s likely the Kraken’s best options are Ritchie, Kase and defensemen Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon.

Projected protected list (7-3-1):

F – Patrice Bergeron
F – Charlie Coyle
F – Jake DeBrusk
F – Trent Frederic
F – Brad Marchand
F – David Pastrnak
F – Craig Smith
D – Brandon Carlo
D – Matt Grzelcyk
D – Charlie McAvoy
G – Dan Vladar

BUFFALO SABRES

Key UFAs: Linus Ullmark (G), Riley Sheahan (C), Jake McCabe (D), Drake Caggiula (LW), Tobias Rieder (LW), Carter Hutton (G), Matt Irwin (D)

Key RFAs: Sam Reinhart (RW), Rasmus Dahlin (D), Casey Mittelstadt (C), Henrik Jokiharju (D), Will Borgen (D), Rasmus Asplund (C)

No-movement clauses: Jeff Skinner (LW)

Help us, Seattle:
Is Skinner’s contract the least attractive in the NHL at this point? It’s up there, though Skinner is at least only 29. Is there any chance Buffalo could sell Seattle on that point? It’s a moot idea. There’s likely no scenario in which the Kraken claim Skinner and all $9 million of his cap hit in the expansion draft – because Skinner holds the cards with a no-movement clause and has expressed his desire to remain a Sabre. An alternative ask for GM Kevyn Adams could be for help with Kyle Okposo’s contract, which lasts two more years at $6 million per. Rather than claim Okposo as an official pick and swallow his whole AAV, it would be prudent to acquire him in a separate trade, allowing Buffalo to retain up to half his salary to entice the Kraken.

Toughest decision: The Sabres’ projected 7-3-1 protection scheme feels fairly predictable, but it’s not without pain, as they’d rather not lose center Rasmus Asplund or blueliner Will Borgen. As The Athletic’s John Vogl suggests, Adams might be willing to make a side deal to spare either asset. Buffalo's toughest call is when to trade Jack Eichel, presuming that happens. If Buffalo does so before the expansion draft, the trade is likely to be such a franchise-altering blockbuster that it would drastically alter the Sabres’ expansion-draft plan. So why do it before the draft, then? Because other teams might be most interested in pulling the trigger at that point. If, for instance, a team surrendered multiple NHL assets for Eichel, that team would then free up additional protection slots on its own roster. Another consideration for the Sabres would be whether to re-sign UFA Linus Ullmark early, as they currently have no goaltenders they can even protect anyway. Dustin Tokarski must be exposed, as he’s the only player meeting the requirements. The Sabres could get an off-season transaction out of the way by re-signing and protecting Ullmark.

Top candidates to crack the Kraken: Even if Adams wants to save Borgen or Asplund, the Buffalo pickins’ are slim for Francis. There aren’t many appealing options beyond them. He could scoop checker Zemgus Girgensons off the scrap heap or see if blueliner Colin Miller can recapture the expansion magic he found with Vegas in 2017-18.

Projected protected list (7-3-1):

F – Anders Bjork
F – Jack Eichel
F – Casey Mittelstadt
F – Victor Olofsson
F – Sam Reinhart
F – Jeff Skinner
F – Tage Thompson
D – Rasmus Dahlin
D – Henri Jokiharju
D – Rasmus Ristolainen
G – Linus Ullmark

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

Key UFAs: Ryan Murray (D), Scott Wedgewood (G), Aaron Dell (G)

Key RFAs: Yegor Sharangovich (RW), Michael McLeod (C), Janne Kuokkanen (C), Nick Merkley (RW), Jonas Siegenthaler (D)

No-movement clauses: None

Help us, Seattle:
A P.K. Subban trade to the Kraken would make too much sense. On the final season of his contract, he’s not an albatross to acquire and, if Seattle got him via trade rather than claiming him in the expansion draft, New Jersey could eat up to $4.5 million of his $9-million AAV. From Seattle’s perspective, one year of Subban at $4.5 million is pretty appealing. He can eat minutes as one of your blueline veterans, he’s an extremely marketable personality for a new franchise priding itself on diversity, and he’s a flippable rental asset at the 2022 trade deadline.

Toughest decision: The surprising emergences of rookie forwards Nathan Bastian, Michael McLeod and especially Yegor Sharangovich and Janne Kuokkanen put GM Tom Fitzgerald in position to lose at least one of them even in a 7-3-1 protection scenario. So whom do you expose? Sharangovich showed too much to be expendable. Among 24 rookies who played 500 or more minutes at 5-on-5, only two averaged more shots per 60 than he did. McLeod found a comfort zone as a speedy checking center who kills penalties, and Bastian showed bruising ability on the forecheck, but one or both may be left dangling because of Sharangovich’s and Kuokkanen’s mini-breakouts.

Top candidates to crack the Kraken: New Jersey could yield a nice expansion haul for Seattle. On top of a potential Subban trade, the Kraken can choose between cheap upside options like McLeod and Bastian or more established middle-six veterans such as Miles Wood and Andreas Johnsson since only two of those four players are likely to be protected. No matter what happens, the Kraken will walk away with a pretty good player here, even if Fitzgerald tries to save someone with a side deal.

Projected protected list (7-3-1):

F – Jesper Bratt
F – Nico Hischier
F – Janne Kuokkanen
F – Michael McLeod
F – Yegor Sharangovich
F – Miles Wood
F – Pavel Zacha
D – Will Butcher
D – Damon Severson
D – Jonas Siegenthaler
G – Mackenzie Blackwood 

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

Key UFAs: Kyle Palmieri (RW), Casey Cizikas (C), Travis Zajac (C), Andy Greene (D), Braydon Coburn (D), Cory Schneider (G)

Key RFAs: Ilya Sorokin (G), Adam Pelech (D), Anthony Beauvillier (LW), Kieffer Bellows (LW)

No-movement clauses: None

Help us, Seattle:
Johnny Boychuk's career-ending eye injury earned him exemption from being claimed, but Left winger Andrew Ladd has two years left on his contract at a $5.5-million AAV and could qualify as a future LTIR stash similar to what David Clarkson was for Vegas in 2017. Taking on Clarkson netted the Golden Knights a 2017 first-round pick and 2019 first-round pick. Could the Kraken demand something similar from the Isles and GM Lou Lamoriello? Right winger Jordan Eberle carries a $5.5-million cap hit for three more seasons. He could walk the line between “legitimately useful short-term piece for Seattle and salary relief for New York,” though he’s still been a decent enough cog to justify keeping around.

Toughest decision: It has to be on defense. The elite shutdown pair of Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech are no-brainers to protect, but what about Nick Leddy versus Scott Mayfield for that last spot in a 7-3-1 scheme? Leddy eats more minutes than Mayfield, and losing Leddy would rip open a hole on the left side of the Isles’ blueline, but Mayfield is a couple years younger and has been a more effective all-around defender during the playoffs. It might make sense to walk away from Leddy if the Isles have plans to pursue a higher-end replacement at left defense.

Top candidates to crack the Kraken: Between Leddy and Mayfield, whoever is available would be a viable veteran edition for Seattle’s starting lineup. But if the Kraken are devoting bigger chunks of change on picks from other teams, they could buy low on an underachieving prospect such as Kieffer Bellows.

Projected protected list (7-3-1):

F – Josh Bailey
F – Mathew Barzal
F – Anthony Beauvillier
F – Jordan Eberle
F – Anders Lee
F – Brock Nelson
F – Jean-Gabriel Pageau
D – Scott Mayfield
D – Adam Pelech
D – Ryan Pulock
G – Semyon Varlamov

NEW YORK RANGERS

Key UFAs: Brendan Smith (D), Phil Di Giuseppe (LW)

Key RFAs: Igor Shesterkin (G), Pavel Buchnevich (RW), Filip Chytil (C), Brett Howden (C), Libor Hajek (D), Julien Gauthier (RW)

No-movement clauses: Artemi Panarin (LW), Mika Zibanejad (C), Chris Kreider (LW), Jacob Trouba (D)

Help us, Seattle:
The Rangers aren’t bogged down by any real albatross contracts at the moment, even if Chris Kreider’s deal could take on water a few years down the road. They’ve buried Tony DeAngelo’s contract and are likely to buy him out before the expansion draft. It’s difficult to imagine the Kraken being interested in him at all despite his talent as a puck-mover. The new franchise cares a lot about diversity in its hiring practices, so it would be quite the contradictory move to add a volatile player with a history of using racist language. No chance.

Toughest decision: Most pundits forecasting the Rangers expansion drafts have listed center Brett Howden versus right winger Colin Blackwell as the toughest decision for new Rangers GM Chris Drury, and I agree. The Rangers are strong up the middle with Mika Zibanejad, Ryan Strome and Filip Chytil, so Howden is relatively expendable in my mind, whereas they don’t know what they have yet in Blackwell, who broke out for 12 goals in 47 games in his second full NHL season. Then again, he’s 27 and checking-line center Howden is only 22, so the decision won’t be easy.

Top candidates to crack the Kraken: If Howden is exposed, he’d be a logical claim as a young fourth-liner to bring energy. Hulking right winger Julien Gauthier is another name to watch.

Projected protected list (7-3-1):

F – Colin Blackwell
F – Pavel Buchnevich
F – Filip Chytil
F – Chris Kreider
F – Artemi Panarin
F – Ryan Strome
F – Mika Zibanejad
D – Libor Hajek
D – Ryan Lindgren
D – Jacob Trouba
G – Alexandar Georgiev

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Key UFAs: Brian Elliott, G

Key RFAs: Carter Hart (G), Travis Sanheim (D), Nolan Patrick (C),

No-movement clauses: Claude Giroux (LW), Kevin Hayes (C)

Help us, Seattle:
The Flyers have two bank-breakers in their top six in left winger James van Riemsdyk at $7 million and right winger Jakub Voracek at $8.25 million. That’s a lot of money, but ‘JVR’ just completed a resurgent season and only has two years left on his deal, and Voracek is somewhat palatable, too, with three years left. By expansion-team standards, both would qualify as easy top-six forwards. ‘JVR’ would be more likely to get chosen with an official selection since he’s cheaper and has fewer years left. Taking on Voracek might require a trade in which Philadelphia eats some salary.

Toughest decision: No agonizing choice seems to jump out, unless the Flyers are committed to keeping the veterans together including Voracek, as that would force a decision on center and 2017 No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick, whose migraine woes have derailed a promising career. At 22, however, he still has enough upside left that it would hurt to lose him for nothing, so I’d bet on Philly protecting him.

Top candidates to crack the Kraken: Even if the Kraken hunt for bargains with many of their picks, they still have to spend to at least 60 percent of the cap, so they’ll select a few chunky contracts. As far as players available in the expensive tier league-wide, you could do a lot worse than ‘JVR’ and Voracek, who are by no means dead weight and don’t have prohibitive amounts of term left on their deals. Other options include puck-moving blueliner Shayne Gostisbehere, who could use a change of scenery, agitating right winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel or, if the Kraken want guys on expiring contracts to flip at the 2022 deadline, defensemen Robert Hagg and Justin Braun.

Projected protected list (7-3-1):

F – Sean Couturier
F – Claude Giroux
F – Kevin Hayes
F – Travis Konecny
F – Scott Laughton
F – Oskar Lindblom
F – Nolan Patrick
D – Philippe Myers
D – Ivan Provorov
D – Travis Sanheim
G – Carter Hart

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Key UFAs: Cody Ceci (D), Evan Rodrigues (RW), Colton Sceviour (RW), Frederick Gaudreau (C)

Key RFAs: Teddy Blueger (C), Zach Aston-Reese (LW), Mark Jankowski (C)

No-movement clauses: Sidney Crosby (C), Evgeni Malkin (C), Kris Letang (D)

Help us, Seattle:
In Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, John Marino, Michael Matheson and Marcus Pettersson, the Penguins have five D-men with AAVs north of $4-million who eat up almost $25 million combined. The first three names listed aren’t going anywhere, and Marino is exempt, but it wouldn’t be the worst news for Pittsburgh if Seattle snatched one of Matheson and Pettersson. The Athletic's Josh Yohe tabled the idea of Pittsburgh protecting Mark Friedman instead of Matheson and Pettersson, and the logic checks out to me since they can only lose one of the two to Seattle.

Toughest decision: Can we just say “the whole forward corps”? Few franchises are in tougher spots than the Pens, who are virtually guaranteed to lose an impact player to Seattle. They’ll be using a 7-3-1 protection scheme but will end up victims of their own depth. We know center Sidney Crosby, center Evgeni Malkin, left winger Jake Guentzel and right winger Bryan Rust will be protected, but the Pens have just three remaining slots for right winger Kasperi Kapanen, left winger Jared McCann, center Jeff Carter, left winger Jason Zucker, right winger Brandon Tanev, center Teddy Blueger and left winger Zach Aston-Reese. Honestly? It would be a surprise if the Pens don't protect Carter at this point. He was a nice fit as a trade-deadline addition, bringing versatility and goal-scoring touch to the third line. Tanev offers physicality the Pens actually need more of, but his skill set is arguably more replaceable than those of Kapanen and McCann, so Tanev could end up on the outs. Another difficult choice for GM Ron Hextall: whether to protect goaltender Tristan Jarry after his spectacular playoff meltdown. The “good” news is that it may make Jarry and his $3.5-million AAV unattractive to Seattle anyway.

Top candidates to crack the Kraken: Take your pick of the quality unprotected forwards. We could easily see Tanev, Zucker or Blueger in a Kraken uniform.

Projected protected list (7-3-1):

F – Sidney Crosby
F – Jeff Carter
F – Jake Guentzel
F – Kasperi Kapanen
F – Evgeni Malkin
F – Jared McCann
F – Bryan Rust
D – Brian Dumoulin
D – Mark Friedman
D – Kris Letang
G – Casey DeSmith

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Key UFAs: Alex Ovechkin (LW), Zdeno Chara (D), Henrik Lundqvist (G), Craig Anderson (G),

Key RFAs: None

No-movement clauses: Nicklas Backstrom (C)

Help us, Seattle:
Sometimes speculation is just speculation. It made sense on paper for right winger T.J. Oshie to return to his hometown roots, become the face of the Kraken and liberate the Caps of four more seasons at a $5.75-million AAV, right? Except the Capitals remain very much a win-now operation, they’ve expressed their desire to keep him around, and Oshie has stated he wants to be a Capital. So it appears the air has left that balloon.

Toughest decision: Since captain Alex Ovechkin is a UFA and not a flight risk at all, it makes zero sense to sign and protect him before the July-17 deadline, so that will open a spot to protect an extra forward. Daniel Sprong or Conor Sheary? Left winger Sprong showed some surprising efficiency as a goal-scorer when boosted in the lineup while the Capitals were riddled with injuries and COVID-19 layoffs this season, but GM Brian MacLellan just signed plucky left winger Sheary to a two-year contract extension, so it appears he’ll get the last forward spot. Another difficult call comes on defense: protecting right-shot puck-mover Justin Schultz or rugged Brenden Dillon, who has Pacific Northwest roots.

Top candidates to crack the Kraken: Schultz, Dillon and Trevor van Riemsdyk would make fine choices for Seattle’s D-corps. What about goaltender Vitek Vanecek, who delivered some hot streaks as a rookie and pushed mega-prospect Ilya Samsonov into a 50-50 timeshare for much of the season? Washington has no choice but to expose one high-upside goaltender and may have to explore a side deal to save Vanecek should Seattle want him.

Projected protected list (7-3-1):

F – Nicklas Backstrom
F – Lars Eller
F – Evgeny Kuznetsov
F – Anthony Mantha
F – T.J. Oshie
F – Conor Sheary
F – Tom Wilson
D – John Carlson
D – Dmitry Orlov
D – Justin Schultz
G – Ilya Samsonov

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