A report from the New York Post suggests that Wayne Gretzky may be looking to bring hockey to Seattle, and that expansion to the Pacific Northwest could be on the horizon for the National Hockey League. With 16 teams in the Eastern Conference, and 14 teams out west, it would only make sense that the NHL is considering putting an expansion team out west somewhere, and Seattle makes as much sense as any other city.
Commissioner Gary Bettman visited the city back in May, to speak with the mayor and discuss the timeline of a new arena that is proposed to be built in the city, which could host an NHL team.
It could be coming soon, and it may be a long into the future, but expansion to the west seems almost inevitable, as Seattle and Las Vegas continue to be brought up as potential landing spots for a new franchise.
This got me thinking, if there was an expansion next summer, and of course an expansion draft for the new team to fill out their roster, who would the Montreal Canadiens lose for nothing to the new team?
The rules for the past several expansion drafts, the most recent being in 2000 when the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators joined the league, were each existing team could protect either 1 goaltender, 5 defensemen and 9 forwards, or two goaltenders, 3 defensemen and 7 forwards. Protecting a second goalie may seem like a good idea for many teams, but it would cost you a pair of defenders and two forwards as well. Basically, you are trading away four roster players for a backup goaltender, so almost every team protected just one goalie.
In that case, the Habs would protect Carey Price as their only goaltender to keep, meaning they could hang on to 5 blue liners and 9 forwards. There are a few other rules that were always used to help existing teams hang on to their top young talent. Any player who played only two or less professional seasons, was not allowed to be selected by the expansion team. So if an expansion team had been added this summer, the Habs would not have needed to protect Brendan Gallagher or Alex Galchenyuk, as they have only played two pro seasons and can not be selected.
However, to make sure that the new team is getting players who are actually NHL material, each team had to leave at least one defenseman and two forwards available who played 40 games in the NHL last season.
With many key young players in just their second pro season, the Habs would have been in good shape if an expansion draft were to be held this summer. Galchenyuk, Gallagher, Michael Bournival, Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi would be exempt from the draft, and the Habs could protect 15 others in addition to their young players. They could also have left aging free agents who were leaving anyway, but who also reached the 40 game threshold unprotected. Players such as Douglas Murray or Francis Bouillon, Daniel Briere, Ryan White and even Brian Gionta would have fulfilled their games played requirements. Also, yes, you are allowed to leave a soon to be free agent as your available player who suited up for 40 games, as the expansion draft usually takes place just before the actual NHL entry draft.
However, if Seattle is gifted a team next summer, the Canadiens will have some tough decisions to make. I will make my best guess as to the 15 players they would protect, and then see who will be potentially lost for nothing in an expansion draft.
Goaltender (1): Carey Price
To reach the requirement of leaving two forwards and one defender who played 40 games last season exposed, the Habs would leave Rene Bourque and Brandon Prust up front, and Alexei Emelin and Tom Gilbert would not be protected on the blue line. This is assuming at least two of those forwards and one of the defenders is healthy enough to play 40 games this season.
There is usually a stipulation that any given team can only lose one defenseman in the draft, so the Habs could leave both Emelin and Gilbert unprotected, and would only lose one of the pair.
Up front, I think it is pretty obvious the Canadiens would leave Bourque up for grabs. His inconsistent play will only continue next season and the Habs will be happy to get rid of his 3.33 million dollar cap hit. It was a toss up to protect either Prust or Weise, but once again the salary cap was the deciding factor. They are both similar players, but Prust earns almost 1.5 million more on his contract, so he would be the odd man out up front.
With the salary cap in mind, an argument could be made to protect Gilbert and allow Markov to be plucked for nothing. I could only see this scenario taking place if Markov struggles this upcoming season and his contract becomes an albatross for the Habs.
This also leaves recently signed European free agent Jiri Sekac ripe for the picking. It is impossible to predict what type of season he is about to have with the Canadiens, but if he becomes a regular contributor on the top three lines, you would expect the Habs to keep him over Weise. If Sekac struggles, he would be given another chance with an expansion team a year from now.
In net, either Peter Budaj or Dustin Tokarski, or both in the unlikely event they are both still on the team next summer, would be up for grabs. Losing a goaltender for nothing would be tough, but it is not worth it to protect one of them, and leave an additional two forwards and two defenseman unprotected.
This is all hypothetical right now of course, but the potential for expansion looms large in the NHL, and could happen as early as next summer. If it does, the Montreal Canadiens will have some difficult decisions to make, especially on their blue line and could lose a very valuable defender for nothing.
Let us know in the comments section who you think the Habs would decide to keep if the NHL expands next season!