Five big NHL protection list surprises

Steven King/Icon Sportswire

Sunday at 10:30 a.m. ET, every NHL team’s protection list for the expansion draft was made public. While a few leaked the night before, we took some time to comb through them all, and pulled out some of the biggest surprises.


The Minnesota Wild expose Matt Dumba

Ok, this isn’t that surprising, as we knew the Wild were in a bad spot with protection. With such a deep team, they had to choose the 7/3/1 protection scheme, meaning they were bound to dangle a quality defenseman for Vegas. That is, of course, unless they could move one before the draft.

Even down to the wire on the trade freeze yesterday, it was rumored that the Wild had takers for Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella. Yet … nothing happened.

Now, GM Chuck Fletcher must leave Dumba ripe for the picking by the Golden Knights, who could negotiate a pick-and-flip with one of those teams itself. Dumba is considered an offensive-minded defenseman, and also plays on the right side, which is harder to find. Exposing Dumba over Brodin is curious on its own, but not making a deal is even stranger.

Instead of cashing in on his valuable trade pieces, Fletcher is giving the Golden Knights a massive gift.

MONTREAL, QC – MARCH 30: Look on Florida Panthers Right Wing Jonathan Marchessault (81) during the Florida Panthers versus the Montreal Canadiens game on March 30, 2017, at Bell Centre in Montreal, QC (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire)

The Florida Panthers go 4/4/1

Much like the Wild, the Panthers are a team chock full of young talent. While they took a step back this season, much of that was attributed to a strange coaching situation and major injuries that had stars sidelined for weeks. Most see a team that had the pieces to make a big splash in 2017-18.

And yet, the Panthers’ choice of protecting four defensemen instead of seven forwards is a head scratcher. One of their big assets last year was forward depth, especially having Jonathan Marchessault step up while others were on IR.

Here are some key names they’re exposing by going this route: Marchessault, Colton Sceviour, Jussi Jokinen, Jaromir Jagr (negotiating rights), Jason Demers and Roberto Luongo.

While there’s little they could do about being forced to pick between goaltenders Luongo and James Reimer, exposing that much forward depth is kind of astounding. Even when trying to justify the 4/4 scheme, exposing Demers over Alex Petrovic also doesn’t make much sense.

Petrovic, 25, best fits the mold of “defensive defenseman” in that he has very little offense to offer. Per Hockey-reference.com, he has never had a positive relative Corsi, and last season was the first time he put up a Corsi For percentage over 50.

Since 2012-13, Demers has never failed to put up at least 20 points. Again, per Hockey-Reference, last season was his first negative relative Corsi in three years, having very positive results in Dallas, and was also his lowest Corsi For percentage of his career. Perhaps the Panthers think that Demers just doesn’t fit their system, but there’s a lot more history suggesting he’s the better of the two players, even if he is four years older.

Don’t be surprised to see Demers and his team-friendly contract end up on another team – either through expansion or as a trade piece at the NHL Draft.

Detroit Red Wings expose Petr Mrazek

In a huge shocker, GM Ken Holland chose to protect veteran netminder Jimmy Howard over the 25-year-old Mrazek, who had just finished his third season with the club. In both 2015-16 and 2016-17, Mrazek started over 44 games, playing in over 50. While this could be called a 1A/1B setup, Mrazek was clearly the goalie more relied upon.

Until last season, Mrazek had never posted a save percentage lower than .918, but 2016-17 was rough on the Czech netminder. He ended up with a .901 save percentage, a 3.04 goals-against average, and a 18-21-9 stat line. While he was considered the savior of the season in 2015-16, this season probably sunk his stock with the Red Wings organization.

Still, it’s bizarre to leave a goalie that young and that cheap (he’s making only $4 million next year), with that kind of history, available to Vegas – or the highest bidder.

17 APR 2016: New York Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock (6) during Game 3 of the 2016 NHL Playoffs between the New York Islanders and the Florida Panthers played at the Braclays Center in Brooklyn,NY. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

17 APR 2016: New York Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock (6) during Game 3 of the 2016 NHL Playoffs between the New York Islanders and the Florida Panthers played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn,NY. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

The Islanders buck the trend and protect 5D and 3F

While this move makes a decent amount of sense, it’s a huge departure from expectations. While the eight-skater scheme did allow for any combination of eight players (and one goalie) to be protected, everyone thought it would be four forwards and four defenseman all the way down.

Not so in Brooklyn.

Again, the Isles were a team that could’ve easily made a deal to move an exposed player for picks or prospects, but stood pat as the trade freeze approached. By choosing to protect their biggest assets on the blue line, New York has all but guaranteed that they lose a valuable forward in the expansion draft.

The “but” in that sentence is a big one. Even with five defenders protected, the Isles left Calvin de Haan up for grabs. A serviceable second-pairing defenseman, 26-year-old de Haan could be enticing for Vegas — or another team looking for defense. He’s played over 19 minutes per night the last three years, putting up positive relative Corsi numbers (per hockey-reference) his entire career.

Justin Schultz forces Penguins to go 4/4/1

For a back-to-back Stanley Cup Championship team that won on the strength of forward depth, the Penguins choosing to go with the 4/4/1 scheme was entirely unexpected. Now instead of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury being the obvious choice, Vegas will also have their pick of some excellent forwards, including Carl Hagelin and Bryan Rust, or pending free agent Nick Bonino – all of whom are known for their playoff heroics.

There was one major factor that likely swung the pendulum this way – the massively improved and vitally important play of Schultz, a pending restricted free agent.

We speculated that the Penguins may not have been able to keep him on the roster, because he clearly earned a raise with the way he stepped up on the blue line this season. He was one of the big breakout players in the NHL, and would have a ton of suitors should he leave Pittsburgh.

However, with the Penguins making the choice to protect him alongside Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta and Kris Letang, it’s obvious that they value his services and are likely pushing hard to get him inked to a new deal.

Several big name free agents up for grabs

Technically, unrestricted free agents (UFAs) aren’t free agents until July 1. This allows their teams to negotiate extensions free of competition. Often, if they aren’t expecting to reach an agreement, the team will trade those rights to another team for low-level picks. We saw this frequently last year, with the Dallas Stars sending Alex Goligoski’s rights to Arizona, and the New York Rangers trading Keith Yandle’s rights to Florida.

This year, the expansion draft has put a wrinkle in the usual trades. Vegas has an early negotiating window with UFAs and RFAs, and should they agree to terms, that player would then count as the pick in the expansion draft. Vegas can only choose 10 players who do not have a contract already in place for next season.

That said, the Golden Knights have some really big names – face-of-the-franchise type names – to potentially pick from, based on protection lists.

T.J. Oshie, who was such a massive part of the Washington Capitals’ success this season, has been left exposed in favor of either Tom Wilson or Lars Eller. It’s possible the Caps aren’t expecting to sign him, given their salary cap situation, and if Vegas picks him up, that protects exposed defender Nate Schmidt and goaltender Philipp Grubauer. Other notable Capitals UFAs: Kevin Shattenkirk and Justin Williams.

From the San Jose Sharks, the Golden Knights could negotiate with aging, but still productive, players Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Thornton, in particular, would be a huge coup for a team that is not expected to do much scoring. While not all free agents, the Sharks have left a ton of talent on the board, including Joel Ward (F), Paul Martin (D), and Aaron Dell (G).

Other notable RFAs and UFAs: Nick Bonino (PIT – F), Jordan Weal (PHI – F), Steve Mason (PHI – G), Oscar Lindberg (NYR – F), Jesper Fast (NYR – F), Mike Fisher (NSH – F), Alexander Radulov (MTL – F), Andrei Markov (MTL – D), Erik Haula (MIN – F), Martin Hanzal (MIN – F), Jaromir Jagr (FLA – F), Brian Elliott (CGY – G), Dimtry Kulikov (BUF – D), Radim Vrbata (ARI – F), Patrick Eaves (ANA – F), Jonathan Bernier (ANA – G)


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