Expansion Plan: Projecting the Chicago Blackhawks’ protection list for the 2021 expansion draft

Eight no-movement clauses left GM Stan Bowman little wiggle room ahead of the 2017 expansion draft. He and the Blackhawks will have more freedom this time, but the NMCs still pose a problem on the blueline.
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Welcome to the Expansion Plan, our summer series projecting the protected lists for the 30 NHL franchises who will participate in the June 2021 Expansion Draft.

Over the next two seasons, every team – save the Vegas Golden Knights, who will be exempt – will be planning for the arrival of the NHL’s 32nd franchise and Seattle GM Ron Francis will begin to consider the options for his inaugural roster. As such, over the course of the next 30 days, we will profile one team, in alphabetical order, and forecast their potential list of protections and exposures, as well as address each team’s expansion strategy, no-brainers, tough decisions and what lessons they learned from the 2017 expansion process.

This exercise requires some important ground rules. The 2021 Expansion Draft will follow the same rules as the 2017 Expansion Draft, but some assumptions are necessary. These are the guidelines followed:

  • No pre-draft trades
  • All no-movement clauses are honored
  • Players who will become restricted free agents in 2020 or 2021 remain with current teams
  • Players who will become unrestricted free agents in 2020 or 2021 either remain with current teams or are left off lists entirely (eg. Nicklas Backstrom protected by the Washington Capitals, Tyson Barrie not protected by Toronto Maple Leafs or any other team.)

• • • 

The Chicago Blackhawks’ situation heading into the 2017 expansion draft was almost inexplicably dire. Due to the rules regarding players with no-movement clauses – those players had to be protected unless they agreed to waive that right – GM Stan Bowman had eight of his 11 protection choices made for him. That included some obvious protections of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Corey Crawford, but it also meant veterans Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov and Brent Seabrook also ate up valuable spots that the Blackhawks would have otherwise loved to utilize.

All things considered, however, the draft worked out all right for the Blackhawks. Trevor van Riemsdyk ended up on the outs, but that only meant a bottom-pairing piece was lost, though that might speak to why the franchise has experienced a steep decline in the two years since.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, though. Chicago again faces a scenario in which four players are protected – Kane, Toews, Keith and Seabrook – and that limits what the Blackhawks can do, albeit less so than four years prior.

PROTECTED (7F, 3D, 1G):

  • Forwards:
  • Jonathan Toews (NMC)
  • Patrick Kane (NMC)
  • Alex DeBrincat
  • Dylan Strome
  • Brendan Perlini
  • Alexander Nylander
  • Aleksi Saarela

Defensemen:

  • Duncan Keith (NMC)
  • Brent Seabrook (NMC)
  • Calvin de Haan

Goaltenders:

  • Robin Lehner

NOTABLE EXPOSURES: Andrew Shaw, David Kampf, Olli Maatta, Connor Murphy

STRATEGY: Beyond Toews, Kane, DeBrincat and Strome, there’s some projecting going on here, primarily that Nylander will turn it around and deliver on the promise he had before he arrived in North America and that Saarela can translate his AHL success to the NHL in the next couple of seasons. That changes the focus from the eight-skater, one-goaltender protection strategy to the seven-three-one route, though it also sees the Blackhawks leaves a veteran such as Shaw exposed.

The other major projection is that Lehner sticks around in Chicago after his one-year pact is up at the end of the 2019-20 season. There’s no knowing how he’ll fare in the Windy City, particularly given the vastly different brand of hockey the Blackhawks play compared to the New York Islanders, but there’s hope he can be the heir to the crease with Corey Crawford’s time in Chicago winding down. If Lehner is what the Blackhawks believe he can be, he’s their best bet in goal moving forward.

THE NO BRAINER: Unlike Toews and Kane, DeBrincat doesn’t have a no-movement clause next to his name, but the sharpshooting winger is as close to a guarantee to remain with the Blackhawks beyond the expansion draft as it gets. He has been outstanding in Chicago, every bit the goal scorer he was in major junior and his future is incredibly bright. Keeping his runningmate Strome makes all the sense in the world, too.

THE TOUGH DECISION: Chicago has three defensemen not named Keith or Seabrook who have contracts stretching beyond the 2020-21 season, and the seven-three-one protection scheme means at least two need to be exposed. Maatta was promising at one point and Murphy was supposed to be a consistent top-four player, but de Haan is arguably the most proven and the surest thing.

LESSON LEARNED: Do not, under any circumstances, hand out another NMC. Don’t do it. Flexibility heading into the expansion draft is going to be important. The young players are variables whose production can alter the protection strategy over the course of one boom or bust season.

Up Next: Colorado Avalanche

Previous: Anaheim Ducks | Arizona Coyotes | Boston Bruins | Buffalo Sabres | Calgary Flames | Carolina Hurricanes

(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)

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