Expansion Plan: Projecting the Minnesota Wild’s protection list for the 2021 expansion draft

A trio of no-movement clauses will make force Minnesota to make some decisions, but the Wild will have learned a valuable lesson about going out of its way to protect those it can't.
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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.)

• • • 

If it was the Panthers who made the biggest mistake ahead of the 2017 expansion draft, then the Wild were the runners-up. Desperate to protect as many rearguards as they could – which is to say Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella – and trapped with three no-movement clauses up front, the Wild utilized some on-roster talent to push the Golden Knights toward the selection of Erik Haula. That meant sending Alex Tuch Vegas’ way, as well as a conditional third-round pick.

Suffice to say, it didn’t work out. Not only was Scandella moved along shortly after the expansion draft, but Tuch broke out in Vegas with a 15-goal, 37-point season – since followed by a 20-goal, 52-point campaign – and Haula went from a bottom-six speedster to a top-six scorer, posing 29 goals and 55 points in his lone full campaign in Vegas. (He missed most of last season due to injury and has since been traded to the Carolina Hurricanes.)

The Wild will again need to navigate some tricky NMCs when June 2021 rolls around, and there’s a chance that it could mean another player-saving trade needs to be made.

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

  • Zach Parise (NMC)
  • Mats Zuccarello (NMC)
  • Ryan Donato
  • Luke Kunin
  • Jordan Greenway
  • Joel Eriksson Ek
  • Kevin Fiala

Defensemen:

  • Ryan Suter (NMC)
  • Matt Dumba
  • Jared Spurgeon

Goaltenders:

  • Kaapo Kahkonen

NOTABLE EXPOSURES: Jason Zucker, Victor Rask, Alex Stalock

STRATEGY: The Wild are in a state of flux, stuck between contention and the conference basement, and that means some assumptions need to be made. For instance, that Jason Zucker will still be on the roster, that Jared Spurgeon will choose to re-sign and that Joel Eriksson Ek finds a way to flourish and work his way out of the bottom six. But assuming all of that, the Wild will still choose to go all in on refreshing the roster and let Seattle pluck an aging player from the roster instead of a skilled younger player.

The one tricky protection comes in goal. Devan Dubnyk will be a free agent leading into the draft, so that means Minnesota won’t need to protect him, but does he then walk before Kahkonen is ready for the next step?

THE NO BRAINER: Hold onto Greenway, Kunin and Donato with both hands. All three have potential to be future top-six fixtures in Minnesota, and that’s something the Wild are sorely lacking. Yes, Kirill Kaprizov will hopefully arrive the season before the draft, too, but he’ll be exempt, so no need to worry about using a protection slot on the high-potential Russian winger.

THE TOUGH DECISION: Is letting Rask potentially walk really considered a tough decision? It depends on how he recovers from what was an abysmal campaign. In 49 games last season, he scored only three goals and nine points. There was a time when he looked like a future two-way, top-six threat, but his game has fallen off. If he starts to turn it around, though, Minnesota will have to make a choice, and one that might come with the risk of exposing a promising talent.

LESSON LEARNED: We would say don’t hand out anymore NMCs, but the Wild gave one to Mats Zuccarello that eats a protection slot. Minnesota should do everything in its power to avoid another one, though. Additional NMCs will hurt more than they’ll help.

Up Next: Montreal Canadiens

Previous:Anaheim Ducks | Arizona CoyotesBoston Bruins | Buffalo Sabres | Calgary Flames | Carolina Hurricanes | Chicago Blackhawks | Colorado Avalanche | Columbus Blue Jackets | Dallas Stars | Detroit Red Wings | Edmonton Oilers | Florida Panthers | Los Angeles Kings

(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)

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