The day has finally come for anxious hockey fans around North America: the day the expansion draft lists are released. There are no surprises on the Blues’ list, and it looks like they will be able to avoid losing any major assets when the inaugural roster for the Vegas Golden Knights is announced on Wednesday at the NHL Awards.
First, let’s refresh ourselves on the rules of the draft. The Knights will pull one player from every roster. Each team has two options in front of them: they may protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie, or they can protect eight skaters and one goalie. The first option gives the most coverage; alternatively, the second gives teams the most flexibility, but at the expense of two more vulnerable players. A team might take the second option if they have many defenders who they want to protect, and weak forward depth. Moreover, teams must protect any player that has a “No Movement Clause” in their contract, unless that player elects to waive it. Finally, any player with less than two years of professional experience is exempt from the draft.
This last clause was a lifesaver for the Blues, as it meant that two of their biggest young stars, Robby Fabbri and Colton Parayko, were exempt from the draft. They did not need to be protected, and so the team could use their ten spots on other players. Without further ado, here is the list of players the Blues protected:
Paul Stastny. Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Ryan Reaves
Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Joel Edmundson
Nothing on this list is particularly surprising. The Blues were well set up to protect the players that are most valuable to their future. Some may be surprised by the inclusion of a fourth liner like Ryan Reaves on this list, but Blues insiders like Jeremy Rutherford of the Post Dispatch have been forecasting this for weeks. The reality is that while Reaves is a fourth line player, he has a very unique skillset, one for which the Blues have no ready replacement. While a player like David Perron may show up more significantly on the stat sheet, his skills are less unique and more replaceable.
The Blues are much better off than some other teams. The Pittsburgh Penguins, for instance, will likely be losing a franchise legend in Marc-Andre Fleury for nothing. MAF has waved his NMC in order to allow the Penguins to keep Matt Murray, their young superstar goaltender, which was a selfless move by the three-time Stanley Cup winner. But losing a player like that to Vegas with no return will still sting the Penguins.
Other teams are currently making deals with the Knights to protect certain players that their lists couldn’t protect, or to incentivize the Knights to take bad contracts or underperforming players. It is rumored that the Islanders may offer a first round pick to Vegas GM George McPhee to keep them from drafting one of their unprotected forwards, and it is believed that the Columbus Blue Jackets have already offered their own first rounder for the Knights to take a bad contract off their books (probably that of David Clarkson, who has a $5.25 million cap hit through 2020, even though he is not playing due to injury).
This last option must be appealing to the Blues, who have one especially bad contract with center Jori Lehtera. Lehtera was awarded a three-year contract extension after his rookie season, at an AAV of $4.7 million. The contract runs for two more seasons, through 2019. With two first round picks this year, the Blues have more draft flexibility than in years past, and may be able to convince Vegas to take Lehtera’s deal. Though hopefully, with the relative brevity of Lehtera’s contract and his health, it might not take a first round pick for the Blues to move him.
Even if the Blues can’t move on from a contract like Lehtera’s, they are in good standing. Rutherford lists the notable exposed players as: David Perron, the aforementioned Lehtera, Dmitri Jaskin, Kyle Brodziak, Carl Gunnarsson, Robert Bortuzzo, and backup goalie Carter Hutton. While none of those players would go unnoticed if taken by Vegas, none of them would leave the team severely wanting, either. My instinct tells me that if no deal is arranged to move Lehtera’s contract, the Knights would be most attracted to David Perron, an established veteran scorer who would make their roster much better. The Blues have a surplus of young forwards and would have no trouble replacing Perron’s body and minutes, though his goal scoring skill might not be immediately available on the roster. Jaskin is another interesting possibility, as he is a young forward with some potential who has never quite blossomed into what was hoped for in St. Louis. Perhaps McPhee might believe that a change of scenery and consistent playing time would do Jaskin wonders, and take a chance on youth.
Whatever the case, the Blues stand to survive the expansion draft without much damage. They were lucky to not need to protect Fabbri or Parayko, and with minimal NMC’s on their roster, they had a lot of flexibility, a blessing that other teams did not have. The Blues’ work isn’t done, however. Some have predicted (especially Pierre LeBrun) that with the expansion draft, the period between now and July 2nd might be one of the busiest periods in NHL history. After Wednesday, the NHL Entry Draft begins on Friday, with the Blues having two first round picks. Then July 1st is the beginning of the free agent period. Though there is a brief trade freeze before the expansion draft, teams will no doubt still be bargaining the whole time. The Blues have a chance to be aggressive and try to make their team better this summer, maybe a better chance than anytime recently, but recent history indicates that GM Doug Armstrong will play it conservative. No matter what Armstrong does in that period, he can begin his work with the knowledge that his roster will be safe, even with the impending Expansion Draft.