While it might sound bias, the New York Islanders are in the worst situation for the upcoming Expansion Draft. The Expansion Draft will take place on June 21st alongside the NHL Awards at T-Moblie Arena in Las Vegas. Next season T-Moblie Arena will be the home of the Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL’s newest franchise and the team the Expansion Draft is for.
Vegas has already filled many of their front office positions with General Manager George McPhee and owner Bill Foley calling the shots. They have apportioned former Florida Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant to be their first head coach in franchise history and they have three players under contract. However, they’ll need more than three players to compete in the NHL and so they’ll get some help from their fellow NHL teams via the Expansion Draft.
The Golden Knights will be able to select one player from each of the current 30 NHL teams during the Expansion Draft. Current NHL teams can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen, one goaltender, or eight skaters and a goalie from being available to Vegas. As previously mentioned, neither of these formats really work out for the Isles so they’ll have some tough decisions to make before June 18th, the deadline for team’s protected lists. I’ll being taking a look at candidates the Isles should at least consider protecting and then give what I think the final list should be. Before we get started, it should be noted that the following players are exempt from expansion…
Isles’ Exemptions from Expansion:
Forwards: Mikhail Grabovski, Anthony Beauvillier, Mathew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang, Carter Verhaeghe, Kyle Schempp, John Stevens, Ross Johnston, Tanner Fritz, Connor Jones
Defensemen: Devon Toews, Jake Bischoff, Parker Wotherspoon, Mitch Vande Sompel, Kyle Burroughs
Goaltenders: Eamon McAdam, Linus Söderström, Stephon Williams
No matter which format the Islanders choose, they can only protect one goaltender. The Islanders have four goaltenders available for Vegas and those goalies are Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss, Christopher Gibson, and J-F Berube. Gibson will be a restricted free agent (RFA) this summer while Berube will become an unrestricted free agent (UFA). Given the three-goalie experiment and how Berube was used while with the Isles, it is unlikely that him returning would be beneficial to either party. Gibson won all six starts with the Sound Tigers this season before a season-ending injury and while the 24 year old could be an attractive option for Vegas, there are better goalies to choose from in the Expansion Draft and better players to choose from the Isles. Halak is entering the final year of his four-year contract signed in May 2014 and after an up-and-down year, Halak proved he could still be effective at the NHL level; winning his six starts after being recalled from Bridgeport. Despite this, Halak doesn’t seem like a good fit for Vegas and a recent Ben Bishop quote helps confirm that. When on Hockey Central at Noon after signing a six-year deal with the Dallas Stars, Bishop had this to say regarding Vegas, their goaltending and overall direction, “From what I heard, they were thinking younger and a different direction. They’re going to be a competitive team”. If they want to go young and a 30 year old Ben Bishop isn’t considered young then I doubt a 32 year old Halak is. So Thomas Greiss is the best, and quite frankly only option for the Isles. Greiss signed with the Isles in the free agency during the summer of 2015 and after being a career backup, he stole the starting role in Brooklyn. In January, Greiss signed a three-year contract extension and his 49-29-9 record over two seasons with the Isles is quite impressive. He was also the Isles guy in net as they defeated the Florida Panthers to win their first playoff series in 23 years.
Now that we got the goaltending position out of the way, let’s take a look at five defensemen worthy of protection.
Ever since Nick Leddy got to New York from Chicago, he was been nothing short of unbelievable. As Leddy enters year three of his seven-year deal, the Islanders must protect him. Leddy brings offense, speed, and skill to an impressionable blue-line and it is all but guaranteed that he would be taken if left unprotected. I could get into stats but there is no need, he must be predicted regardless of which format the Islanders choose.
Despite being traded to New York minutes apart from each other and both singing seven-year deals, Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk are two different players. While Leddy brings offense, Boychuk brings shutdown defense as well as a rocket of a slap shot. Boychuk has a no-movment clause and any player with that or a no-trade clause is required to be protected from Vegas so unless he waives the clause for some reason, Boychuk will be protected. However, this isn’t a bad thing. Boychuk has been excellent since coming to the team and when he’s out of the lineup with an injury, you can easily notice his absence. When the Isles get a rare 5 on 3 power play, the whole thing revolves around setting him up for a one-timer. Boychuk is also a physical player and penalty killer so protecting him definitely isn’t the end of the world.
This season wasn’t Hamonic’s best. His three goals and 11 assists through 72 games weren’t that impressive but he’s not known for his offense anyways. +/- is an overrated stat but Hamonic was still a -21, tied for the 21st worst rating in the league. I’m not trying to insult Hamonic, I think he’s a great player who just had a down-year. Hamonic is a physical player who hits, blocks shots, and fights. He kill penalties, defends leads late in the game, has a cannon of a shot, and is a great guy. I can’t see the Islanders handing in their protection list without his name checked off (or however it works).
Ryan Pulock played three minutes and 57 seconds in the NHL this season. In the season prior, Pulock was a late-season call-up and lived up to the hype Isles fans gave him. Pulock was a key contributor during the Isles’ first round matchup against the Florida Panthers with a momentum changing goal in game three and two assists. After not making the opening night roster, Pulock got the call just five games in and lasted five shifts before breaking his foot. That 3:57 of ice time would be all the NHL ice time Pulock would see but he absolutely dominated in the AHL. Pulock played 55 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers scoring 15 goals and 31 assists over that span. Five of those 15 goals came on the power play, a part of the game Pulock is said to and has proven he specializes in. His shot has been clocked at over 100 mph on multiple occasions and he isn’t afraid to let it go. Pulock hasn’t proven much at the NHL level but if his limited time in the NHL, his extended time in the AHL, and his junior days prove anything, he’s going to be a pretty solid player. I’m sure the Golden Knights’ General Manager George McPhee –who served as Isles GM Garth Snow’s Special Advisor, Vice President, and Alternate Governor during the 2015-2016 season – knows all about Pulock’s potential.
Calvin de Haan:
Calvin de Haan continues to improve. Coming off his best NHL season, many are predicting de Haan to be Vegas’ selection from the Isles. Calvin de Haan had 139 hits this season along with 190 shot blocks, 4th most in the league. de Haan had a +/- rating of +15 and had a solid season alongside Dennis Seidenberg who the Isles just extended another year.
With five defensemen the Isles should really protect, they already aren’t in good position but now it gets worse as we take a look at the forward position.
When the Islanders won the Draft Lottery in 2009 and selected John Tavares first overall, they got a franchise player and generational talent. It’s now 2017 and the Islanders are built around John Tavares. He is their captain and even though he does have a no-movment clause making him an automatic for protection, there was no chance he’d be left unprotected.
Last summer the Islanders signed one of the top free agents available, Andrew Ladd, to a seven-year deal. The contract, worth $38.5 million, includes a no-movment clause so he has to be protected. At 31 years old, Ladd probably wouldn’t have been on the Golden Knight’s radar anyways but he is still a prolific goal scorer with the ability to pick corners on goaltenders thanks to his very accurate wrist shot. Ladd’s 23 goals this season is pretty remarkable considering he reportedly played through most of it with a nagging injury and only had eight in the 36 games before the coaching change. After the coaching change, Ladd had 15 goals in 37 games.
Anders Lee had just one goal in his first 18 games of the season. Then, Lee scored two goals against the Los Angeles Kings on November 23rd and he never looked back. Starting with that game, Lee would score 33 goals in 63 games, and finished tied for 10th in the league’s goal scoring race. Lee is known for his power play presence as he goes to what Butch Goring refers to as the “dirty areas” aka the front of the net. Lee has mastered the art of deflections and re-directions and he had nine of the team’s 35 power play goals while assisting on five others.
Some critizce his two-way play, but Brock Nelson can score goals. Nelson quietly put up a career high in points with 45 through 81 games this season. Four of his 20 goals were game-winning/go-ahead goals but I think Nelson is capable of becoming a consistent 30 goal scorer. Nelson has a very accurate wrist shot with an unreal release. Inconsistency is a word that seems to follow Nelson around but if the 25 year old is able to find that, look out NHL. If Nelson is left unprotected, I could see Vegas selecting him.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Ryan Strome when the Isles selected him 5th overall during the 2011 NHL Draft. The hype seemed like it would become reality after Strome put up 50 points in his first full season (2014-2015). However, the 2015-2016 campaign was a rocky one for him as eight goals and 20 assists through 71 games also saw a demotion to Bridgeport in the middle of it. The consensus was that Strome would respond with a bounce-back 2016-2017 campaign. His goal totals took a significant jump from eight to 13 but he had 17 assists compared to his 20 the year prior. So in total, Strome only improved by two points (in two fewer games). If left unprotected, would Vegas take a chance on the 23 year old?
Entering the final year of his current contract, Josh Bailey is coming off his best NHL season. Prior to this season, Bailey’s previous career-high in points was 41. This season, Bailey broke that number in assists alone with 43 to go along with his 13 goals. Bailey played the majority of the season on the top line alongside John Tavares and Anders Lee and while some will argue that his numbers came from playing alongside Tavares, Bailey was often the one making Tavares look better. At 27 years old, Bailey could be a nice fit in Vegas but he is also a player the Isles would consider protecting at the very least.
Honorable Mentions: Casey Cizikas and Shane Prince
So as you can see, the Isles have a dilemma. Given all of the names I listed, I still think they go with the the eight skaters and a goalie format.
Goalie: Thomas Greiss
Eight Skaters: John Tavares, Andrew Ladd, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Ryan Pulock
Reasoning: Well as mentioned, John Tavares, Andrew Ladd, and Johnny Boychuk all have no-movment clauses so they have to be protected. Anders Lee is coming off a 34 goal campaign and the Isles would have to be insane to leave him unprotected. The same goes for Nick Leddy who is consistently the Isles’ best defenseman. Travis Hamonic was often-injured this year and after steady growth leading up to this season, it seems way too early to give up on him. Ryan Pulock has shown so much potential and promise and it would really suck to see him go before he did any real damage in the blue and orange. Josh Bailey is coming off a monster campaign and with Nelson’s inconsistency well documented and Strome’s struggles well-known, they’d both be gambles a team based out of Vegas wouldn’t be too smart to roll the dice on. Given this, it has also been reported that Vegas is interested in taking chances on players with these kind of résumés. With this format, Calvin de Haan would likely be the one to go but there’s away to prevent that via trade.
In the last expansion draft that took place in 2000, the San Jose Sharks made trades with both teams involved (the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets), with the deal revolving around a promise to not select Evgeni Nabokov. Both trades saw the Sharks give up a prospect and low draft pick and in the end, they were able to keep Nabokov while choosing to protect Steve Shields as their goaltender. Perhaps the Islanders could complete a similar transaction to keep de Haan or Strome/Nelson with the team. Of course, the Isles could also make a trade to figure all of this out with any NHL team, not just Vegas.
This is just my opinion but on June 18th we’ll know what the Isles decided to do officially. On the 18th the protected lists are due and they will reportedly be released to the public on that day at 10:00 pm ET.