Expansion Plan: Projecting the Detroit Red Wings’ protection list for the 2021 expansion draft

Last time, the youth was exempt and the Red Wings were able to keep their veterans in town. When Seattle arrives, though, Detroit will have to protect its young core and hope to shed an aging piece.
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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.)

• • • 

At the time of the 2017 expansion draft in Las Vegas, which came when the wounds of Detroit’s lengthy playoff streak coming to a close were still fresh, the Red Wings were icing one of the most veteran-laden clubs in the NHL. That led many to believe that Detroit would start a reset of sorts leading into Vegas, that they would expose some veteran talent and let the Golden Knights pluck one of those players from the roster. And while expose some veterans the Red Wings did – Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Darren Helm and Drew Miller, for example – they also provided one of the most stunning exposures of the draft in netminder Petr Mrazek. At the time, Mrazek was considered an up-and-comer and the potential heir to the crease, the next in line behind Jimmy Howard even despite a shaky season.

As it turned out, though, Mrazek was skipped over by Vegas, who instead selected Tomas Nosek, a winger who had, at the time, just 17 games NHL experience to his name and has since become a useful bottom-sixer for the NHL’s 31st franchise.

Will there be any stunners the next time around? Given the youth that’s available and how important they are to the future of the franchise, it seems unlikely, but who knows what GM Steve Yzerman will have up his sleeve as he rebuilds the once-perennial post-season contending franchise.



  • Dylan Larkin
  • Anthony Mantha
  • Andreas Athansiou
  • Tyler Bertuzzi
  • Michael Rasmussen
  • Evgeny Svechnikov
  • Dominic Turgeon


  • Dennis Cholowski
  • Filip Hronek
  • Gustav Lindstrom


  • Kaden Fulcher

NOTABLE EXPOSURES: Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Danny DeKeyser

STRATEGY: Out with the old, in with (or hang on to) the new. Yzerman had his work cut out for him when he arrived in Detroit and replaced Ken Holland, the franchise’s longtime architect who has since departed for the Edmonton Oilers. One of Yzerman’s tasks is going to be sparking a full-on youth movement that centers around some of the bright young talent that has been compiled. That means protecting every piece of promising talent and leaving any veteran players who are available up for grabs.

Given that’s the plan, that means any veteran under contract at the time of the draft has been left unprotected. Nielsen? Unprotected. Abdelkader? Unprotected. DeKeyser? Unprotected. Together, those three skaters account for $14.5 million against the cap through the expansion draft and that’s money the Red Wings will want to rid themselves of around the time Seattle is making its way into the league.

THE NO BRAINER: Dylan Larkin isn’t just the offensive leader in Detroit, he’s a future captain and the centerpiece of the franchise. If there is one player on the roster today who can be built around, it’s Larkin, and as such he’s the safest bet for the Red Wings to use a protection slot on. Like a few others who’ve fallen into the no-brainer category throughout the Expansion Plan series, Larkin basically carries a no-movement clause without actually having the tag next to his name. That’s how important he is.

THE TOUGH DECISION: Before he was replaced, Holland had compiled a few intriguing pieces on the blueline, so Yzerman’s most difficult choice will be deciding which of those are to be protected. Hronek and Cholowski seem definite yeses, but who gets the third spot? Hicketts and Bowey, though he’s new in town, haven’t quite proven their worth as NHL defenders, so Gustav Lindstrom and his considerable upside get the protection.

LESSON LEARNED: Don’t make assumptions. Pre-draft projections saw Mrazek as a top Vegas target, but the Golden Knights scooped up Nosek instead. If there’s someone exposed as an enticement to avoid another player, it might not work out in the Red Wings’ favor.

Up Next: Edmonton Oilers

Previous:Anaheim Ducks | Arizona Coyotes |Boston Bruins | Buffalo Sabres | Calgary Flames | Carolina Hurricanes | Chicago Blackhawks | Colorado Avalanche | Columbus Blue Jackets | Dallas Stars

(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)

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