Ahead of the 2017-18 NHL season, the Las Vegas expansion draft will redistribute the talent wealth of the NHL as the league welcomes the 31st franchise into the fold.
The upcoming event has been a major factor in many moves this offseason. One example being James Reimer‘s four-year deal with the Florida Panthers, carrying with it speculation that Roberto Luongo could be exposed. It is a time where every team must be mindful in their transactions so they don’t lose too valuable of a player for nothing. Expansion draft rules are available here here, but the most important thing to know is this: every squad will be losing at least one player.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at who the Vancouver Canucks could be on the cusp of losing.
Who The Canucks May Lose in the Expansion Draft
To begin, the Canucks have no choice but to protect the Sedin twins and Loui Eriksson, due to their no-movement clauses. This is not a problem for the Canucks; the trio were no-brainers to protect anyways.
Other than these three, Bo Horvat is the only other forward the Canucks absolutely must protect. While Horvat often struggled after being rushed into a top-six role following Brandon Sutter‘s injury, he’s still one of the Canucks most promising young forwards. Horvat is eligible to picked in the expansion draft coming off of a 16-goal, 40-point season as a 21-year-old. Winger Jake Virtanen is exempt, due to the fact that he will only have played two professional seasons when the draft arrives.
Assuming the Canucks choose to protect three more forwards and three defensemen, as opposed to one more forward and four defensemen (explained in the rules), the Canucks final three spots are likely to come down to these five forwards:
Who to Protect
Sutter, 27, is not an high-end scorer, as his career average for points per game sits around 0.38. He’s also entering the first year of a five-year, $21.875 million contract extension. With that being said, he’s proven to be a valuable two-way pivot, capable of fending off the opposing teams’ best players.
While Vancouver could use the draft to try and unload his contract, that would seem highly unlikely considering the hefty price they paid to acquire him that included Pittsburgh Penguins playoff hero Nick Bonino and a 2nd round pick. The Canucks center corps is relatively thin and Sutter, although he played just 20 games, logged nearly 18 minutes a night last season, netting nine points. Rather than relying on Gaunce and Granlund, who’ve played a combined 122 NHL games to carry that responsibility, it would be wise to keep a relatively young Sutter entering the prime of his career with over 500 games under his belt.
Baertschi, 23, signed a two-year contract extension with an annual value of $1.85 million this offseason. At that price along with his performance in his first full season (15 goals), he would be smart to protect on a team starving for double-digit goal scorers (they had only six). If all goes well, playing alongside Sutter, he could fulfill his potential as a 20-goal scorer.
Hansen has been a steady force with the Canucks for the duration of his career. He was a key component to the Canuck roster that came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup, but he’s also 30 years old. He also recently got a vote of confidence from Canucks General Manager Jim Benning.
However, would it be wise for the Canucks to let one of Granlund or Gaunce walk, just to protect Hansen, who’s exiting his prime? If either of the two were surefire future NHL players, it would be crazy to suggest keeping Hansen, but they’re not. On a team with even better young talent coming through the pipes, it would be understandable to keep a veteran like Hansen around.
Who to leave unprotected
Both Granlund, 23, and Gaunce, 22, have impressive pedigrees and good production at the AHL level, but both have struggled to impress in their limited NHL action. If the Canucks were to protect one of them, it’s tough to say who they would choose.
Alexander Edler is as steady and reliable a presence as there is in the NHL, and the Canucks will absolutely protect the 30-year old defenceman under contract for three more seasons. Chris Tanev is signed to a team-friendly deal (four years, $4.5 million AAV), and while he doesn’t provide much of anything offensively, he is an adept shutdown defenseman. This is also true for Erik Gudbranson, who will surely be protected considering the Canucks just acquired him.
The only notable defenseman who will likely be available to Vegas is Luca Sbisa. In the unlikely event that Vegas were to choose him, it would only benefit the Canucks to shed that awful contract.
Jacob Markstrom was just signed to a three-year contract extension and will be the starter for as long as he can hold off budding star Thatcher Demko. With Ryan Miller becoming an unrestricted free agent next season, the Canucks were in an uncomfortable situation where Markstrom was the only goalie in the organization they could expose under the rules. However, the recent extension of AHLer Richard Bachman through 2017-18 solves that problem, meaning the club can protect Markstrom and expose Bachman.
The Bottom Line
While the Canucks are likely to lose a decent young player up front, they are in a better position than most teams heading towards the expansion draft. Then again, this could all change over the course of a year.