With the NHL coming to Las Vegas, some general managers put their chips on the table and took calculated risks Sunday. The Ottawa Senators did just that when they made forward Bobby Ryan available for the expansion draft Wednesday, likely figuring his $7.25 million cap hit would make him a prohibitive pick for Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee.
But other moves on certain teams’ unprotected lists proved particularly perplexing. Here are the ones that stuck out.
Islanders’ forward moves: The only team to protect five defensemen from the Golden Knights’ clutches, the New York Islanders left a bevy of potent forwards available, including Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome and Josh Bailey. Considering the makeup of their protected list, you’ve got to think that general manager Garth Snow has some sort of prearranged deal in place with McPhee to not pick one of those talented forwards.
Flames hold on to Ferland: Micheal Ferland‘s breakout 15-goal season must have really impressed executives with the Calgary Flames, who decided to protect the forward over more established players Troy Brouwer, Alex Chiasson and Matt Stajan. Calgary made a statement with their expansion list, indicating that they plan on keeping around the 6-foot-2 restricted free agent who enjoyed chemistry with stars Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
Blues keep Reaves: The St. Louis Blues‘ ability to draft and develop players, particularly forwards, made them especially vulnerable in an expansion season. They were likely going to lose a talented player for nothing no matter what, but the decision to keep the physical Ryan Reaves and his 17 career goals over more skilled players David Perron, Jori Lehtera and Dmitrij Jaskin was a surprise. Reaves won’t be leaned on for offense, but the Blues clearly value his 224-pound frame.
Panthers’ curious D: Florida has been as unpredictable as any team in the league over the last 12 months, but who expected they’d protect four defensemen from the expansion draft? Even more unexpected was their decision to keep defensemen Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk over veteran Jason Demers, who signed a five-year contract less than a year ago and whose nine goals last season were more than Petrovic and Pysyk combined. The move also made available a number of intriguing forwards, including Reilly Smith, Derek MacKenzie and Jonathan Marchessault, who is coming off his first 30-goal season.
Wild keep three D: With so much depth across their roster, including five talented defensemen signed through next season, it appeared likely that the Minnesota Wild could lose a prominent piece on the back end. As with anything in the expansion draft, the possibility of a deal with McPhee could significantly alter what ultimately happens. But the Wild certainly made an interesting move by leaving defensemen Matt Dumba and Marco Scandella unprotected. General manager Chuck Fletcher either figured he would lose a defenseman regardless or has been on the phone with Vegas ironing out a side deal. That Minnesota protected seven forwards and still had to make Eric Staal and Erik Haula available speaks to their impressive depth.
Jackets stick with Hartnell: With a wealth of talent up front, the Columbus Blue Jackets had a tough decision on their hands. That they stuck with 35-year-old Scott Hartnell, who has two more years and almost $10 million remaining on his current contract, was an intriguing move. Especially considering the presence of younger assets Matt Calvert, William Karlsson and Josh Anderson, who is 12 years younger than Hartnell and scored four more goals last season.
Avalanche expose Soderberg: Just two years into a five-year contract, the Colorado Avalanche clearly feel center Carl Soderberg‘s unproductive 2016-17 season was more of a downward trend than a one-year aberration. Colorado effectively cut bait with the 6-foot-3 Swede, who was expected to become part of the team’s core when he signed in 2015. In doing so, the Avalanche cast their lot in depth players such as Blake Comeau and Matt Nieto. With Mikhail Grigorenko also left unprotected, it appears increasingly likely that the Avalanche could lose a center, making any prospective trade for All-Star Matt Duchene even more intriguing.
Blackhawks take Jurco over Kruger: With Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Artem Anisimov all possessing no-movement clauses, most of the Chicago Blackhawks‘ expansion-draft decisions were already made. But the organization clearly coveted youth in its choice to hold on to forwards Ryan Hartman and Tomas Jurco. Keeping Jurco hardly seemed like an obvious choice, especially considering the 24-year-old Slovakian barely played and rarely produced after being acquired from the Detroit Red Wings in February. Chicago clearly hasn’t given up on the great Jurco experiment, exposing reliable depth veterans Marcus Kruger and Andrew Desjardins in the process.
Ducks go with veteran forwards: Flush with talented, young defensemen, the Anaheim Ducks had some very difficult decisions to make. And, of course, they could still have some sort of deal in place with Vegas. But they made a deep back end particularly vulnerable by deciding to keep intact a group of veteran forwards. In holding on to Jakob Silfverberg, Andrew Cogliano and Antoine Vermette, the Ducks ensure they won’t lose an important piece up front. But that decision almost guaranteed that (again, barring a deal with the Golden Knights) they lose a talented young defenseman in either Josh Manson or Sami Vatanen. Vatanen was the center of much trade speculation just one year after signing a four-year extension last summer and could be a player to follow in the coming days.
Stars hold out hope for Nichushkin: With several talented young defensemen, including a top prospect in Julius Honka, who was not eligible for the expansion draft, the Dallas Stars were inevitably going to leave some talented blueliners unprotected. The decision to make Dan Hamhuis, Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth available along with veteran forwards Cody Eakin and Adam Cracknell seemed especially curious considering Dallas protected forward Valeri Nichushkin, who left the team last year to play for CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League. There has been speculation that the hulking Russian could return to the NHL this coming season, but Nichuskin still has a year remaining on his KHL deal and would represent a major misstep for Dallas were he to remain with CSKA long term.