Don’t get caught napping when the Stanley Cup final ends, be it Sunday or Wednesday. We’re about to see an unprecedented flurry of NHL roster activity. The expansion draft arrives June 21. Teams must finalize their protected lists by 5:00 p.m. June 17. That gives teams a little more than a week to figure out their rosters. We should see a burst of trades as GMs work to ship out exposed players to ensure they get a return rather than losing them to Vegas for nothing.
We’ll see plenty of trades at the 2017 draft June 23 – keep an eye on Matt Duchene, for instance – but which players are prime candidates to move in the next 10 days? Consider these five names, each a probable victim of the numbers game. If these guys don’t go, their teams will lose someone valuable to the Golden Knights.
1. Sami Vatanen, D, Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks are dealing a defenseman. Bet the house on it. If all four of Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen remain on the roster by June 17, they are all so good that GM Bob Murray will have to protect each. Mobile young blueliners are precious commodities. That would force Anaheim to protect eight skaters – four forwards, four defensemen – rather than seven forwards and three defensemen. And a 4-4-1 setup would leave Jakob Silfverberg exposed. Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry have no-movement clauses, making them automatic protects, and the fourth forward would clearly be Rickard Rakell.
Rather than lose Silfverberg to the Golden Knights, Murray will deal a defenseman. The Ducks need Manson’s grittiness and have emerging puck-movers in Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour who can immediately fill Vatanen’s role, so he’s the odd man out. The only problem, of course, is that his shoulder injury will sideline him for half a calendar year, inviting lowball offers. Look for Anaheim to deal Vatanen for a scoring forward.
2. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pittsburgh Penguins
Fleury is another virtual slam-dunk to get dealt. His NMC forces Pittsburgh to protect him, which would mean exposing Matt Murray. Fat chance. The dream scenario would be finding a trade partner before the expansion draft. The Calgary Flames, who missed out on Ben Bishop, are the obvious fit.
Keep in mind a deal won’t necessarily be easy. First off, Fleury still has to agree to waive his no-move. He likely will if given a chance to start, but Calgary would be quite the geographical change for a guy who’s spent his entire career in Pittsburgh. Secondly, the Pens wouldn’t be able to ask for much, as there aren’t many teams left pursuing a No. 1 goalie now that Dallas and Carolina have landed Bishop and Scott Darling. It’s a buyer’s market. Another potential scenario would be Fleury waiving his NMC to be claimed by Vegas as their new starting goalie and face of the franchise. One other possible outcome: Fleury waives his NMC, the Penguins cut a side deal with Vegas GM George McPhee to not claim Fleury, and the saga in Pittsburgh just continues as is throughout the summer. Maybe Fleury ends up remaining a backup there. And maybe the Golden Knights decide to go younger anyway rather than adding two years of Fleury, 32, at $5.75 million.
Still, Fleury has the more control over his fate than any teams do, and we know he wants to play. That makes him highly likely to make himself available for trade or claim.
3. Calvin de Haan OR Travis Hamonic, D, New York Islanders
No team gets burned by the expansion draft format worse than the New York Islanders, who are just too deep for their own good and won’t be able to avoid losing some useful players.
The Islanders have some important pieces on ‘D’ in Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan and prospect Ryan Pulock. The Golden Knights would be wise to snatch up Pulock, who has a monster point shot and hasn’t gotten a chance to spread his wings. Expect Isles GM Garth Snow, then, to protect Leddy, Boychuk and Pulock in a 4-4-1 arrangement, leaving only one spot for Hamonic or de Haan.
Each guy should attract a lot of interest on the trade market, though an injury-plagued season really shrunk Hamonic’s value. He would’ve been an automatic protect even a year ago. Now de Haan might fetch more in a deal. He’s a year younger and played all 82 games this year. He’s also a restricted free agent, though, and could end up earning a greater cap hit than Hamonic’s $3.86 million, so it’s not a guarantee teams will value de Haan higher. Regardless, expect one of these two to get traded.
4. Nino Niederreiter, LW, Minnesota Wild
There’s no reason why Minnesota should want to lose Niederreiter. He’s an effective, physical winger, fresh off a breakout 25-goal, 57-point season. He’s only 24. He posts consistently excellent possession numbers.
But someone has to go in Minnesota. First off, the Wild’s current projected cap space is $11.44 million, and they have to re-sign RFA Mikael Granlund, who should command something in the range of the Filip Forsberg contract, meaning a cap hit around $6 million. Even if the league-wide salary cap increases, that won’t leave a lot of room to sign Niederreiter, who is also an RFA and might command a $5-million AAV.
Worse yet for Minnesota, unless Jason Pominville waives his NMC or gets bought out, it appears Niederreiter or Jason Zucker must be exposed in the expansion draft. Under a 7-3-1 plan, NMCs would force the Wild to protect Pominville, Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise. Granlund is a no-brainer protect, leaving three more spots for Zucker, Niederreiter, Eric Staal and Charlie Coyle. Each is far too good to lose for nothing. It would be a massive failure for GM Chuck Fletcher. He thus has to hit the trade market if Pominville doesn’t do him a solid.
5. Philipp Grubauer, G, Washington Capitals
Grubauer is just such a perfect catch for the Golden Knights. He’s 25, he has a good minor-league track record, and he has a 2.25 goals-against average and .923 save percentage across 66 NHL appearances. Braden Holtby is cemented as Washington’s No. 1 goalie and will be protected. Grubauer makes too much sense for the Golden Knights, so much so that it would almost be a surprise if Vegas didn’t grab him.
Should Capitals GM Brian MacLellan, then, find a taker for Grubauer within the next two weeks? He could get interest from the Flames or Philadelphia Flyers. The other possibility would be offering the Golden Knights draft picks in exchange for not snatching Grubauer.
Other trade candidates to watch: Jason Demers, Carl Gunnarsson, Jack Johnson
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