2017 Vegas Expansion Draft: Who Will The New Jersey Devils Protect?

The Vegas expansion draft is looming and I am still dreading it. I think I’m subconsciously still trying to convince myself that it’s not happening but it is and we just have to deal with it. Thanks, Bettman.

This is the first NHL expansion draft since 2000, when Columbus and Minnesota were added to the league, so it’s kind of a big deal. It’s exciting until you remember that your favorite team is going to lose someone but then you relax because they might be someone you want to lose.

The draft rules are a bit confusing but don’t worry! I have a post explaining the rules and everything related to the expansion draft. There are a few new rules and dates, however. The list of players that teams are protecting have to be submitted today by 5PM EST and the lists will be passed around to every NHL club (and Vegas, obviously) on Sunday. Those lists will be made public tomorrow at about 10AM EST so expect plenty of expansion draft coverage between tomorrow and Wednesday, which is when Vegas’s picks will be made public during the NHL Awards ceremony.

Vegas also has “exclusive free agency picks”, such as getting an extra 24 or 48 hours to negotiate with both unrestricted and restricted free agents to try and convince them to sign with the team, and no one else can sign free agents during this period of time. This will happen at 10AM EST tomorrow after the protection lists have been made public. Additionally, Vegas cannot select a player during the expansion draft from the team that the signed free agent most recently played for; the signed free agent will count towards their selection. After the time period expires, Vegas can no longer sign free agents until July 1, when NHL free agency officially starts.

But this isn’t what you’re here for right now. I’ve spent a good portion of this past season trying to figure out the Vegas expansion draft. I have a long Google Doc with the players I think each team is going to protect, including the Devils. It’s definitely still a work in progress but I think I have a good idea of who’s being protected, who’s being exposed, and who’s possibly being selected by Vegas.

There are two options that teams can choose from when deciding who to protect: either 1) seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender, or 2) eight skaters and one goaltender. The Devils could really go either way, mainly because they have no one with a no-movement clause, and the only one who does (Ryan Clowe) is on long-term injured reserve and is already exempt from being protected. I’ll explore both options for the Devils and tell you which one I think they ultimately end up going with.

Let’s start easy: Cory Schneider is being protected, regardless of the Devils going 7-3-1 or 8-1. There is no way that he’s not. He is arguably the team’s biggest asset and elite goaltenders (even when they have not-so-great seasons) are difficult to come by. Schneider is the only player keeping this team from finishing at the bottom of the league every year. He’s one of the best netminders in the league and has reiterated his desire to stay with the team. He’s not going anywhere.

He’s currently signed to a 7-year, $42 million contract through the end of the 2021-22 season. This means the Devils will expose either Keith Kinkaid or Scott Wedgewood; they probably won’t lose either of them, mainly because Vegas has the option of choosing Marc-André Fleury and whoever else they want from the plethora of options.

Now we have to decide who the Devils are going to protect among skaters; again, they could protect either seven forwards and three defensemen, or just eight skaters. Teams across the league vary (as in, one option isn’t more popular than the other) based on who they have to protect and who they want to protect. Let’s start with the slightly easier one first: eight skaters.

If the Devils decide that they want to go the eight skater-route, it’s because they think they have four defensemen worth protecting. Captain Andy Greene is a no-brainer; he may be on the decline but he’s still one of the top defensemen on this team, he’s a leader, and he’s a veteran. There’s no way the Devils expose him either.

And there’s no way they’ll expose Damon Severson; he still needs a new contract (he’s a RFA) but the Devils will protect him. He’s a really good defenseman and had a decent year this past season; with some more experience and development, he should be on the top pairing (even though he should be playing there now).

The next two spots are a little trickier. Both Steven Santini and Michael Kapla are protected automatically and can’t be exposed. The other available defensemen the Devils can choose from are John Moore, Jon Merrill, Ben Lovejoy, and Dalton Prout. So now you must be thinking, isn’t this one obvious? Yeah, it kinda is.

personally would protect both Moore and Merrill over Lovejoy and Prout. Moore had a great offensive year for a defenseman despite missing a ton of time with a concussion but his defensive game isn’t as strong. Merrill has long been a liability for the Devils but he had a good year. If he’s going to continue to play the way he did the second-half of this past season, he’s someone you want to keep around because he’s young too.

I would expose Lovejoy and Prout. Prout didn’t impress me at all in the time he played for the Devils and I wouldn’t mind losing him. I understand the Devils’ love of Lovejoy as a veteran presence on the team but the team has those already. Yes, he played for the Penguins organization, which is probably one of the main reasons Shero has kept him around as long as he is but I really wouldn’t mind losing him. He hasn’t brought much to the blue line.

The four forwards are less complicated because I would not hesitate to protect Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac, and Adam Henrique. Justify exposing any one of them, go ahead. Palmieri and Henrique both have really good contracts and don’t take up a ton of cap space. Zajac had a really good year. And I don’t think I need to justify protecting Hall, come on. I can see the argument for exposing either Henrique or Zajac, but it just won’t happen. Yeah, Henrique had a bad year but he wasn’t the only one; we still know what he’s capable of doing and what he brings to the team. Zajac too. Besides, Shero won’t risk losing any one of them for nothing.

The Devils’ first option (8-1): Andy Greene (D), Damon Severson (D), John Moore (D), Jon Merrill (D), Taylor Hall (F), Kyle Palmieri (F), Adam Henrique (F), Travis Zajac (F), Cory Schneider (G)

On to their second option: protecting seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. Again, they’re automatically protecting Schneider. You can’t not protect him.

The seven forwards and three defensemen are obviously trickier. Your first four forwards would be Hall, Henrique, Palmieri, and Zajac. We can take a look at their contracts. Hall is signed to a 7-year, $42 million (from Edmonton) contract until the end of the 2019-20 season; he has plenty of value. Henrique is signed to a 6-year, $24 million contract through the end of the 2018-19 season; he also has plenty of value. Palmieri signed a 5-year, $23.25 million contract through the end of the 2020-21 season; he has a modified no-trade clause beginning 2018-19. I also don’t need to tell you his value. Zajac is signed to an 8-year, $46 million contract through the end of the 2020-21 season; again, value. They’re also all fan favorites; if the fans didn’t know who the team was protecting, upper management could quite literally do whatever they want but since we do know, I don’t think we’d be very happy if they exposed any one of them.

Then starts the hard part. The three remaining skaters depend on who the Devils resign between now and tomorrow. Who else do they protect? Joe Blandisi? Beau Bennett? Jacob Josefson? Devante Smith-Pelly? Mike Cammalleri? The options are endless.

Blandisi should be the fifth forward; he also needs a new contract but I don’t think he’s someone the Devils can afford to lose (for nothing or at all) mainly because he’s a piece of the future puzzle. He adds much-needed depth to the team and if he stays up the whole season in New Jersey, he could have a breakout year.

One of the good things about the draft: all first- and second-year professionals (going into the 2017-18 season) are automatically exempt from being protected so for the Devils, those include Santini, Kapla, Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, John Quenneville among others, and all of their signed and unsigned prospects.

What about the sixth and seventh forwards? I hope the Devils protect Bennett (he also needs a new contract). I like what he brings to the table and the Devils could really use him at left wing going forward. Plus, I enjoy his social media presence so we could really protect him for that alone. I don’t think either Blandisi or Bennett would consider signing with Vegas.

Which brings us to our last forward. This is a tough one. I think it’s easier to tell you who I think will be exposed: Michael Cammalleri and Devante Smith-Pelly. Injury-prone Cammalleri and inconsistent Smith-Pelly both didn’t bring much to the team this year, offensively or otherwise. I also don’t think that they’re pieces of the team going forward. Shero’s all about the future (as am I) and they don’t fit into the equation. So the Devils can protect whoever they want with that last forward slot, provided that it’s not either one of these two.

Then we have the three defensemen. Greene and Severson will almost certainly be protected; Greene is signed to a 5-year, $25 million contract through the end of the 2019-20 season while Severson does need a new contract (and it’ll be a good one). Their third protected blueliner will likely be Moore; his 3-year, $5 million contract expires at the end of this upcoming season. I don’t think there’s anyone who New Jersey would protect over him.

So if the Devils decide to go 7-3-1: Hall (F), Henrique (F), Palmieri (F), Zajac (F), Blandisi (F), Bennett (F), a seventh forward, Greene (D), Severson (D), Moore (D), Schneider (G).

And there you have it. This may or may not be what the Devils actually decide to do but we won’t find out until tomorrow at 10AM. Hopefully, Shero won’t be getting any angry emails and phone calls.

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