Luke DeCock

Expansion draft already impacting Hurricanes’ planning – DeCock

In the process of confirming Las Vegas as the 31st NHL franchise starting with the 2017-18 season earlier this summer, the NHL also officially announced the rules for the expansion draft, which will take place in June 2017. Given some of the conditions involved, many of which are very favorable to the new Vegas franchise, teams are already planning ahead.

The rules are generally simple, but there are a few wrinkles that really complicate things. Teams can protect either seven forwards and three defensemen or eight skaters total (a heavy price for protecting more than three defensemen) and one goalie. Broadly speaking, players with less than two years of pro experience will be exempt. Players with no-move clauses must be protected, players with no-trade clauses may be left exposed.

Teams will submit their lists on June 17 and the selections will be announced June 21. Each existing team can lose only one player. The Las Vegas Yet-To-Be-Nameds will select 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders. There will also be a period of time before the draft when the Las Vegas team can make side deals with NHL teams.

Simple enough. But teams also have to expose two forwards and one defenseman who appeared in 40 games in 2016-17 or a total of 70 games in 2015-16 and 2016-17 combined and are under contract for 2017-18. That means teams are going to have to leave a few minor contributors exposed.

You can play around with the expansion-draft tool at General Fanager to get a sense of how this all works, although for the moment the rosters include players whose contracts expire after the 2016-17 season and would presumably not be protected.

There are a few major implications for the Hurricanes:

1. The Hurricanes will have 10 forwards that they would ideally want to protect, so there will be some tricky decisions there: Phil Di Giuseppe, Elias Lindholm, Brock McGinn, Andrej Nestrasil, Joakim Nordstrom, Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Lee Stempniak and Teuvo Teravainen. Plus there's the 40/70 factor, although presumably whichever forwards the Hurricanes have to expose will fit that criteria.

Lindholm, Rask, Skinner, Staal, Stempniak and Teravainen figure to be locks, so that essentially leaves one spot for Di Giuseppe, McGinn, Nestrasil and Nordstrom. At the moment, Nordstrom would be the logical pick so the development and performance of Di Giuseppe and McGinn this season will be critical.

Nestrasil would be at risk of being taken if exposed, as would Di Giuseppe and McGinn if either has a good NHL season, but the Hurricanes would likely have other players more attractive to Las Vegas at other positions.

2. While there aren't any big issues protecting players on defense thanks to the Hurricanes' youth at the position (Justin Faulk and Trevor Carrick are obvious keepers) the case of Ryan Murphy is an interesting situation. The two-year contract he recently signed is largely expansion-draft protection, since he needs to play only 35 games to fit the 40/70 criteria by the end of the season and that seems exceedingly likely even if the Hurricanes add a veteran or two for depth. At the moment, the Hurricanes don't have anyone else signed through 2017-18 with that kind of experience, although that could change before training camp.

If Murphy does finally develop into an NHL player – and the odds are increasingly against the 2011 first-round pick – the Hurricanes would be happy enough about that, even though they'd likely have to squander a draft pick to add a 40/70 sacrificial lamb on the blue line to expose or make a side deal with Las Vegas not to pick Murphy. That's a problem Ron Francis would be happy to have.

Either way, Murphy is likely to be exposed and, as a former first-round draft pick with skill, would be a logical pick for an expansion franchise that thinks he would benefit from a fresh start.

3. If the Hurricanes stick with the Cam Ward-Eddie Lack tandem, it'll be easy to expose whichever one has a lesser season. But Lack could still be an attractive prospect for a team that ends up with one veteran and a bunch of exempt goalies. Those expansion considerations may make it easier to move Lack than it would normally be given his contract and performance. If the Hurricanes are able to put together a deal before the season to bring in someone else to compete with Ward, moving Lack may not be an impossibility.

The Hurricanes could also expose the final year of Ward's contract and roll the dice. (He may be surplus to requirements by that point anyway, depending on how things work out.) At 32 with a Stanley Cup under his belt, Ward would theoretically be an attractive proposition to an expansion team and losing him would allow the Hurricanes to keep whatever skaters they are forced to expose.

More likely, the Hurricanes protect Ward and the Las Vegas decision comes down to Murphy or one of the young forwards.

June 2017 is still a long way away, but it's not too early to start thinking about how the expansion draft may play out – and it will certainly influence a lot of the decisions teams make from now until the end of the season.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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