Expansion Protection: Why the Capitals Should Protect Orlov Over Alzner in the Expansion Draft – It’s About a “Loophole”

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Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais

opinionThe expansion draft will happen in the summer of 2017 and the Caps will have some very difficult decisions to make. The assumption is that the Caps will protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goalie. The 7 forwards are easy choices; it’s the 3 defensemen that will be the issue. The obvious 3 are Carlson, Niskanen, and Alzner; but Orlov, in my opinion, will prove to be a valuable asset this season.

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Photo: Patrick Smith – Getty Images

Orlov put up 27 even strength points last season on the bottom pairing, and with both the coach and GM saying he will get top 4 minutes this season, he could have a potential 40+ point season. It would be a pretty significant loss if he’s taken in the expansion draft because it’s unlikely Orpik or Schmidt will be 2nd pair worthy. And a team who doesn’t have a strong top 4 tend not to do well. Ask Chicago about that after they lost Oduya.

karl-alzner-washington-capitals-practice-jpgNow, the suggestion isn’t to take Orlov over Alzner because Orlov is better, because he isn’t. Alzner may not put up the points like the young Russian does, but he’s one of the best pure shutdown defensemen in the league. And Caps fans saw what life is like without Alzner when he went down in game 6 against PIT. The decision to protect Orlov over Alzner isn’t talent based, but “loophole” based.
expansion-draft-divisional-realignmentHere’s a timeline of events that are happening with the Expansion Draft according to the official rules: “The 30 NHL Clubs must submit their Protection List by 5:00 P.M. ET on Saturday, June 17, 2017. The Las Vegas team must submit their Expansion Draft Selections by 5:00 P.M. ET on June 20th and the announcement of their selections will be released on June 21st.”

Alzner is a UFA this upcoming summer, which means he belongs to no one after July 1st, 2017 unless:

  1. The Caps resign him, or
  2. Las Vegas drafts AND signs him.

So that means Las Vegas can draft him in the expansion draft but he doesn’t have to sign with them. He can wait until July 1st and sign with the Capitals or whomever he chooses.

But there are rules set up to try to stop this so Las Vegas doesn’t waste a pick in the expansion draft. According to this Washington Post article:

“Once the list of unprotected/draft-eligible players is compiled, Las Vegas would have a two-day window to talk with the pending UFAs in that group and gauge their interest in Sin City before the actual draft.”

So what it sounds like is that two-day window will be June 18th-19th where Vegas can talk to any of those UFAs left unprotected, like Alzner. The issue is: it isn’t clear on whether Las Vegas can sign those unprotected UFA players on the 18th-19th or if they have to wait until July 1st like everyone else. The assumption would be they CAN sign those players as soon as they draft them.

If the Caps decide to protect Orlov over Alzner, Las Vegas will have some time to find out if Alzner will be willing to sign with them, in which case they might use their Capitals pick on him. It could be a double whammy for Las Vegas because they could discover that Alzner would really want to sign with them come July 1st so much that they can draft a different Capitals player AND still get Alzner later.

But the Capitals could do the exact same thing for themselves. They can talk to Alzner anytime all the way up to June 17th and come to a deal with him and not sign him until after the expansion draft on June 21st (if he isn’t selected by Las Vegas), or if Las Vegas selects him and he doesn’t sign with them, the Caps can grab him on July 1st. Sure, a verbal agreement means nothing unless it’s on paper and there’s a certain amount of trust that needs to be taken, but it’s worth trying.

For example, leading up to June 17th, the Capitals could sit down with Alzner and his agent and agree to a 4 year $18M deal ($4.5M AAV) where they will sign him on July 1st and urge him not to sign with Las Vegas on the 18th or 19th. Alzner then meets with Las Vegas on June 18th or 19th and Vegas says they’ll sign him to a 5 year $27M deal ($5.5M AAV). Alzner could sign or wait to see what the Caps will counter offer which I’m sure his agent would love. Then July 1st comes and maybe Alzner and the Caps settle on a new contract like a 5 year $24M deal ($4.8M AAV) or something like that. I made those deals up, they can be anything, but the point is the Caps can convince Alzner to stay even after Las Vegas makes an offer. The hope is Las Vegas is scared by Alzner wanting to wait on the Capitals offer that they don’t even draft him.

And honestly, it’s hard seeing Alzner wanting to leave the Capitals, especially if they are able to win the Cup this season, which is very possible. By next summer Alzner will have spent 9 years with the Capitals, the team that drafted and developed him. Would he take an extra $0.5M-$1M a year to rip up his roots here, (including his wife, Mandy and their 3-year-old daughter and infant son) to move to an expansion team that will probably not be all that good in a not so glamorous city? That’s difficult to see happening.

I think Las Vegas would have to offer something really worthwhile for Alzner to leave a great team in a familiar life. But it wouldn’t be unheard of, since there is a familiarity with George McPhee and that they’ll need defensive help badly for their new team. They could offer him something like a 6 year $36M deal ($6M AAV), which could be too tempting for Alzner to turn down.

The point is that the Caps should be able to discover before June 17th whether or not Alzner wants to stay or not. He’ll either want to stay in D.C. enough that Vegas should be scared away from drafting him or he’ll want out, so why waste a protection slot on him? Is this a sneaky, risky way of protecting as many players as possible? Very much so, but when you have as great a team as the Capitals do, you must try everything possible to keep them together.

If the Caps can pull this off, they will have an Alzner-Carlson, Orlov-Niskanen top 4 for years to come, which is a core that gives you a chance to win every game. Then they have the likes of Bowey, Siegenthaler, and Johansen in the wings. It’s a good setup to make sure the Caps are competitive for the foreseeable future.

By Luke Adomanis

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