This week the Seattle Kraken officially became the 32nd NHL franchise. With that news, Expansion Draft talk is already kicking into high gear. The rules for the draft are similar to the Vegas one in 2017. Teams will have the option to protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goalie, or 8 skaters and 1 goalie. Players with two years or less of service time are exempt, so players like John Marino and P.O. Joseph are protected automatically. The Penguins elected the 7-3-1 model in 2017 and I expect them to do the same this time around. With that format in mind, here is my projected expansion draft protection list.
Forwards- Houston, we have a problem
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Teddy Blueger, Kasperi Kapanen, Jared McCann
Figuring out what forwards to protect is the biggest challenge for management this off-season. The Penguins have nine forwards they’d love to protect, but only seven spots to fill. The notable exceptions from this list are Brandon Tanev, Zach Aston-Reese, and Jason Zucker. I wrestled with picking between Brandon Tanev and Jared McCann for the last spot, ultimately choosing the ladder. Teddy Blueger may seem like a surprise pick, but I feel like he has come into his own this season and cemented himself as their best defensive player. Whatever forwards the Penguins expose are the most valuable asset available for Seattle to choose. I left Tanev and Zucker exposed despite their importance to this team for one reason: contracts. Tanev is a crucial player for the Penguins, but his contract runs for three more seasons at $3.5 million per year. Zucker is signed through next season for a $5.5 million cap hit. The salary cap situation is precarious every off-season for the Penguins, and cap relief will likely have to be the consolation prize for losing a contributing top 9 forward.
Defenseman- The Easy Part
Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Cody Ceci
Without the need to protect John Marino, management has an easy decision here. Letang and Dumoulin are no-brainers, and Cody Ceci has been their third best defenseman for most of the season. I expect management to leave Matheson and Pettersson exposed due to their large contracts as well, but their value is low for the same reason. It’s a low-risk move to expose those two, if management values them. If they want to protect another forward, they may look to package a draft pick or young asset with Matheson or Pettersson to convince Seattle to select them.
Goaltenders- No wait, this is the easy part
Casey DeSmith is left exposed in my first projection, and it wasn’t a difficult choice. The Penguins management will protect their #1 goalie over DeSmith, despite his value and consistency as a back-up. There will be several more valuable goalies in play from other teams for Seattle, but If Seattle is interested in another quality goalie, they’d be wise to take DeSmith. Meanwhile, Jarry’s performance this season has solidified his positioning within the organizational depth chart, so there’s no need to overthink this one.
This team’s postseason performance is ultimately the determining factor, so this list is subject to change. As it stands, I believe this is a good place to start. The Penguins are in a different yet eerily similar position for this expansion draft. They risk losing an important player for nothing. In a perfect world, Seattle would take one of our defensemen with a bloated contract, but that is unlikely. Penguins management will try to make magic happen, and I’m anxiously awaiting their strategy. And as we approach the expansion draft though, it’s becoming apparent that the Penguins will lose a player they value highly.