I know. The Stanley Cup is still wet with beer from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s celebration. Unfortunately, the offseason does not wait for beer to dry. We, as Lightning fans, have to prepare ourselves for the hard decisions that Julien BriseBois will have to make. We may like some, we may hate some others. But those are the decisions he has to make and that he gets paid to make for this team with input from his entire front office staff.
The first big one coming up on Saturday is submission of the team’s protection list for the Expansion Draft. The lists are due by 5pm on Saturday, and will be revealed on Sunday after the NHL has confirmed that every list is valid and legal.
Let’s review the rules of protection lists. Team’s may pick one of two options for the number and positions of skaters they may pick. A team may protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. This gives them 11 players on their protection list. Alternatively, a team can instead choose to protect eight skaters and one goaltender for a total of nine players.
First and second year professionals are exempt from the expansion draft and do not need to be protected. Any player that has a No Movement Clause must be protected, unless given permission by the player to expose them. In addition, there are a minimum number of players that must be exposed; Two forwards and one defenseman that are under contract for 2021-22 and that have either played 27 games last season or 54 games over the past two seasons and one goaltender that is either under contract for 2021-22 or is an RFA.
Teams may also make a deal with the Seattle Kraken in exchange for considerations in the expansion draft. This could be an agreement for them to take a certain player or to not take certain players in exchange for players or picks. The Lightning used such a deal with the Vegas Golden Knights giving them a 2nd and 4th round pick and the rights to Nikita Gusev in exchange for Vegas taking defenseman Jason Garrison in the expansion draft.
The Lightning will certainly be exploring such a deal with Seattle. The team has to make some moves during the offseason to get cap compliant for the start of the 2021-22 season. This most likely means moving a couple of forwards that have been here for quite some time, but there are some other scenarios that can’t be ruled out either. For now, I’m going to approach this from the standpoint that BriseBois doesn’t make a deal and the Lightning just have to submit their protection list and live with whatever decision Seattle makes. Any side deal will make all of the following speculation and analysis pretty moot anyways, so I’m not going to waste time on going through different scenarios so that this doesn’t become a 3,000 word article.
Protecting 11 Players
My Projected List: Steven Stamkos (NMC), Nikita Kucherov (NMC), Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde, Alex Killorn, Victor Hedman (NMC), Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak, Andrei Vasilevskiy
Exposed Player Requirements: Tyler Johnson, Pat Maroon, Mathieu Joseph, Ryan McDonagh, Jan Rutta, Spencer Martin
Stamkos, Kucherov, and Hedman must be protected because of their No Movement Clauses, but that’s pretty obvious anyways. Point, Cirelli, Sergachev, and Cernak are also auto-includes because they are young, valuable, and have good contracts. To finish out the forwards, I picked Palat, Gourde, and Killorn. Obviously the Lightning would like to move Tyler Johnson, but we found out how difficult and expensive that was last offseason, but they likely will need to move one of these three too. Protecting them protects their trade value instead of risking letting one of them go for free. And of course, Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Best Goaltender In The World.
The biggest risk in this protection list is leaving Ryan McDonagh exposed. Ultimately, by choosing this protection list, you’re doing so with the belief that Ryan McDonagh’s contract, as well as his analytical outlook through the rest of the contract, would dissuade Seattle from taking him. It’s also being ok with the risk that you lose him for nothing. There’s certainly concerns about how he’ll hold up through the end of his contract with him turning 33 years old today and being under contract for five more seasons.
One thing that gives me pause, is that while public analytics are a bit down on him, and especially his projection into the future, we also know that the data available to NHL teams is more extensive and they have their own opinions for what is important. The Seattle Kraken have put together a very formidable analytics department with some of the best talent available. Jon Cooper spoke highly of McDonagh during the playoff run and I think that’s a reflection of how many NHL teams in general feel about him.
In a lot of scenarios of exposing players, there’s also the risk that even if Seattle is not interested in the player, another team could be, and offer some assets up to acquire the player if Seattle takes them in the draft. Maybe at a discount from what the original team would accept. However, McDonagh has a full No Trade Clause, so that option is not available. If Seattle takes him, it’s because they like him and they want him on their team for the next five seasons.
Another small factor to take into consideration is that McDonagh is owed $8.4 million in actual salary this season. For an expansion franchise just getting going, that excess in salary beyond his salary cap hit for this season may be a deterrent. I don’t think it’s much of a factor though and if I was Seattle and I liked him enough to take him, I would look to deal with that in other ways.
If Seattle doesn’t take McDonagh with this projected list, then the leading candidates would be Mathieu Joseph and Ross Colton. Both are young players that offer some scoring depth in the bottom six, play with energy, can contribute on the penalty kill, and are cheap. Both also have some potential to play up the line up as wingers, but are best suited as third line players. The other big option would be Cal Foote as a young defenseman that’s yet to really establish himself in the NHL yet.
Nine Player Protection List
My Projected List: Steven Stamkos (NMC), Nikita Kucherov (NMC), Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, Victor Hedman (NMC), Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak, Andrei Vasilevskiy
Exposed Player Requirements: Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Pat Maroon, Mathieu Joseph, Jan Rutta, Spencer Martin
This is the list I think the team would go with if they’re not confident about exposing McDonagh. It opens the team up to losing quite a bit of value if Seattle decided to take Palat, Killorn, or Gourde. At a minimum, I think you can expect any of those three players to bring back a first round pick in a trade.
The Lightning will need to move one of the players anyway, but it’s better if they can trade them and get something back than to lose them for nothing. Going down this line of thinking about McDonagh and exposing him is also where the idea of making a side deal becomes much more attractive. To decide to do this, the team would have to decide that the lost value of Palat, Killorn, or Gourde is less than the lost value of McDonagh leaving.
It is kind of hard to compare this properly, because Gourde and McDonagh both have Full No Trade Clauses currently so they can’t actually be traded. So to make this value determination, you have to look at it from the perspective of “What would they be worth in a trade?” If you feel McDonagh would be worth two first round picks and that none of the other three would be worth the same or more, then you have to be OK with losing that value because you’re gaining more by keeping McDonagh.
If I was in Seattle’s shoes with this protection list, I immediately take Yanni Gourde. In my opinion, he has the most value of the three, and certainly more value than Joseph, Colton, or Foote. While we’ve been referring to Gourde’s line as the “Third Line” since the Bubble last season, the reality has been that Gourde’s line is the second line. They have generally gotten at least as much, if not more, ice time that Cirelli’s line.
Gourde has a lot of value as a player that can play center or wing, though he is much better at center. He kills penalties and plays a two hundred foot game. He can play multiple different roles on the power play. He plays hard and is a high character guy that you love to have in your locker room. He also has underrated finishing skills. According to Evolving-Hockey.com, at 5v5 in his career, Gourde has scored 51 goals against 43.26 individual expected goals, exceeding expectations by 17.9%. Compare this to Anthony Cirelli who has 30 goals against 28.89 individual expected goals, exceeding expectations by 3.8%. As a few points of comparison, Killorn is at 14%, Point 24.9%, Kucherov 50.2%, and Stamkos at 51.2%.
On top of the statistical evaluation of Gourde, he’s also under contract for $5.166 million for another four seasons. He’s being paid like a player that is expected to put up 50+ points a season. While he’s only actually done that once, in 2017-18, he has been close to that mark in 2018-19 and 2020-21 (once you pro-rate for games played). With a bigger role and a more prominent position on the power play, Gourde could easily hit that plateau in any given year. I think if you’re Seattle, and Gourde is available, you don’t really think that hard about taking him.
It’s a tough decision. It all comes down to the analysis on Ryan McDonagh. Can the team risk exposing him or not? Can the team make a side deal with Seattle that is palatable? Will the Lightning make a trade this week before the Protection Lists are submitted? Will that trade and the assets it brings back provide the Lightning with the assets they need to make a deal?
At this point, it’s a waiting game. We don’t know yet. We have to wait and find out which way BriseBois jumps, and ultimately, what Seattle wants.