Montreal Canadiens: Expansion Draft Protection List Becoming More Difficult To Predict

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 03: Shea Weber Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 03: Shea Weber Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Montreal Canadiens fans were not too distressed over the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft results.

They lost Alexei Emelin in the process, but his cap hit of $4.1 million was more than he was proving to be worth. The added cap space was a bonus that was supposed to outweigh the loss of Emelin.

Of course, they chose to use that added cap space to sign Karl Alzner which just made the whole situation much worse. However, the expansion draft itself proved not to hit the Habs as hard as other teams that lost players like Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch, William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault.

More from Editorials

That might not be the case for the Canadiens next offseason. The Seattle Kraken are entering the league for the 2021-22 season and will be holding their expansion draft in the upcoming offseason. Things would have been pretty clear cut if the expansion draft was last offseason, but recent play has made it a very difficult decision.

Not that general manager Marc Bergevin should be losing sleep over these decisions right now, but any trades he makes leading up to the trade deadline has to be with one eye on the expansion draft.

The Canadiens will be eligible to protect seven forwards, three defencemen and a goaltender. Due to no movement clauses, Brendan Gallagher, Jeff Petry and Carey Price are automatically protected.

That means the Habs can protect six more forwards. Young players still in their first or second professional season are exempt from the draft and are not eligible to be selected by the Kraken. That means Nick Suzuki, Ryan Poehling, Jesse Ylonen, Alexander Romanov and Cayden Primeau as well as any other first or second year pro do not need to be protected.

Along with Gallagher, I think it is safe to say Jonathan Drouin, Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are locks. That makes five forwards sheltered and two more slots up for grabs. The candidates to fill those gaps would be Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar, except they are both UFAs at season’s end. Is there any need to protect them? Seattle would be taking a big risk selecting a player that could be a free agent a few days later. Joel Armia would fall into this category as well.

If Danault or Tatar re-sign, they are definitely next on the list to be kept. If neither are signed, it would make more sense to keep two of Artturi Lehkonen, Paul Byron or Jake Evans. With Byron already passing through waivers this season, and having the biggest cap hit at $3.4 million, it would make the most sense to keep Lehkonen and Evans.

So, that means the Habs leave Byron as well as Danault, Tatar and Armia unprotected, though all but Byron would be days away from free agency.

On defence, the Habs definitely would have protected Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot if they had to make their decisions at the end of last season. However, that top pairing of Chiarot and Weber has been exposed at times this season for their lack of speed.

Chiarot will have just one year left on his contract at season’s end while Weber will have five more to go.

Joel Edmundson has played terrific defensive hockey for the Habs this season and definitely deserves to be protected over Chiarot at this point. He has been a terrific partner for Petry and both should be held onto through expansion.

There is no question that both Edmundson and Petry should be on the protected list. The big question is, should Shea Weber?

He is the captain of the team and Bergevin’s favourite acquisition. It is almost unfathomable to think that Bergevin wouldn’t keep Weber, but does he need to put him on the protected list? Weber will be 36 years old before the Kraken play a game in the NHL and he has just ten points in 24 games. He is on pace to finish with less than half of a point per game for the first time since he played 28 games as a rookie.

Weber will still have five years left on his contract with a cap hit of just under $8 million. Do the Kraken want a potentially terrible contract on their books for their first five years?

If the Habs don’t protect Weber, they could ensure they keep a younger defender in town like Victor Mete or Cale Fleury. Both would be enticing to Seattle, but with a plethora of left defencemen in the system, I think the Habs would be wise to protect Fleury over Mete.

Of course, if Jake Allen continues to play as well as he has, it won’t matter what defencemen are protected by the Canadiens. An expansion team needs solid, reliable goaltending and Allen would provide that. With Price automatically protected due to his no movement clause, it leaves Allen ripe for the picking.

Next. Losing skid not nearly as bad as it seems. dark

If Bergevin had to make his decision today, I think he would protect Weber, along with Petry and Edmundson on the blue line. This would risk losing a young, tough blue liner like Fleury, but right now it looks like Jake Allen will be the one leaving the Canadiens to play for the Kraken.