The Capitals’ Outlook For The 2021 NHL Expansion Draft

Photo: NHL.com

With the 2020-21 season in the books, the attention for the Washington Capitals now shifts to the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft for the Seattle Kraken, who begin play in October. Teams will have to submit their player protection lists by July 17 at 5 PM ET with the draft set for July 21. What will the Capitals’ protection list look like? NoVa Caps takes a look at the possibilities.

Rules

Teams have two options to protect players. Option one (the most common) is to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. The second option allows teams to protect eight skaters (any combination of eight forwards and defensemen) and one goaltender. The Capitals went with the 7-3-1 format for the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and are expected to use the same format again this time around, though General Manager Brian MacLellan has yet to confirm.

The Kraken are required to take one player from each team, but a team may trade with Seattle any combination of players and draft picks to protect players. There will be a roster freeze across the league from the time the lists are submitted until the morning after the Kraken announce their picks, unless teams are trading with the Kraken.

Some players are exempt from being taken in the expansion draft. These include players on entry-level contracts, but teams could trade an entry-level player (and/or draft picks) to the Kraken to prevent Seattle from taking an eligible player the team wishes to keep. A player must have played at least two full professional seasons (NHL or AHL) by the end of 2020-21 (at least nine games in a season) to be selected by the Kraken.

A team must expose at least two forwards and one defenseman who have played at least 27 games in 2020-21 or 54 games from 2019-21 and who are under contract for next season. A team must expose a goalie who is under contract for 2021-22 or can become a restricted free agent after this season.

According to CapFriendly, “Players with potential career-ending injuries who have missed the previous 60+ consecutive games due to an injury do not meet the criteria set forth by the league in respect to the minimum exposure requirements for players, and in certain cases, these players may even be deemed as exempt from the Expansion Draft selection process.”

There will be a window for the Kraken to negotiate with pending (un)restricted free agents before every other team, but signing a free agent prior to the expansion draft counts as their pick from the previous team that the player last suited up for. Therefore, it is unlikely the Kraken will use many picks on free agents since they could sign them for less risk just seven days after the expansion draft.

NOTE: Players must be protected (unless they waive) if they have a No Movement Clause (NMC).

Projected Capitals Protection List

Forwards (7)

Nicklas Backstrom (C) – NMC – The 33-year-old led the Capitals in assists (38) and points (53) in 55 games this season and has to be protected. MacLellan called Backstrom one of the two Capitals not up for discussion in trade talks this offseason (captain Alex Ovechkin being the other) and expressed a desire for Backstrom to retire as a Capital. Heading into just year two of a five-year contract, Backstrom will not be requested to waive his no-movement clause.

Anthony Mantha (LW) – The 26-year-old had a hot start with the Capitals, posting four goals and six points in his first six games with the team, but he had just four assists in his last 13, despite playing well and creating scoring chances. Mantha is the Capitals’ youngest forward on the team’s projected top-six group next season and the team just gave up forward Jakub Vrana, a first-round pick, and a second-round pick to acquire him from the Detroit Red Wings. He has three years left on a contract that carries a $5.7 million per season.

Tom Wilson (RW) – Many view the 27-year-old as the franchise’s next captain and he is coming off of another solid season where he scored 13 goals and 33 points in 47 games. Wilson is a player who can change the momentum of games with his scoring ability and physicality and he plays a critical role in protecting his teammates. Despite being known as a villain in 30 other cities, Wilson is a player who every one of those teams would take if he was made available and he is not a player the Capitals will trade until a rebuild.

T.J. Oshie (RW) – The 34-year-old was one of the favorites to head to Seattle but there is no reason for the Capitals to expose him as he has scored at least 22 goals in all but one of his six seasons in Washington, including each of the past three. Oshie is one of the team’s heart-and-soul players and he shows no signs of slowing down heading into the back half of his $5.75 million cap hit. He may be up for discussion in trade talks in the near future but not as long as the team is still competing for a Stanley Cup and his production is still consistent.

Evgeny Kuznetsov (C) – The 28-year-old had another inconsistent season where he tallied just nine goals and 29 points in 41 games, tested positive for COVID-19 twice, and got suspended by the team for being late to a team meeting. Kuznetsov’s name has been mentioned in trade rumors but the Capitals cannot afford to lose a player with his talent for nothing. The best option for the team would be to trade him before the roster freeze. A top-six center will likely be a part of any package coming to Washington, so that player would be protected if Kuznetsov is dealt.

Daniel Sprong (RW) – Among players who skated at least 200 minutes this season, the 24-year-old’s 1.59 goals-per-60 minutes was tied for 13th best and he was the Capitals’ youngest forward this season. MacLellan expressed a desire to get Sprong more ice time in 2021-22 and Sprong has a very team-friendly $725,000 cap hit for next season before becoming a restricted free agent. Those are not the type of value contracts that teams let go for nothing, particularly with rumors that the salary cap my stay flat for longer than expected.

Conor Sheary (LW) – The soon-to-be 29-year-old was one of the Capitals’ best goal-scorers this season with 14 markers and 22 points in 53 games. He just signed a two-year contract worth $1.5 million against the salary cap, hinting that the Capitals have Sheary in their plans for the near future. Sheary is also the type of player that can slot in on any line, which is definitely an asset for the Capitals.

NOTE: For reasons explained here, as an unrestricted free agent, Ovechkin will not need to be protected in the expansion draft unless he signs a new contract with Washington prior to the expansion draft.

Defensemen (3)

John Carlson (RHD) – The 31-year-old has been one of the NHL’s highest-scoring defensemen for each of the past four seasons and was the runner-up for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman last season. He also has a cap hit of $8 million per season. The Capitals use him against the opposition’s top players and Carlson is a critical part of the team’s power-play unit.

Dmitry Orlov (LHD) – The soon-to-be 30-year-old bounced back with a strong 2020-21 season where he recorded eight goals, 22 points, and a team-leading +16 rating. The Capitals look up to Orlov in offensive and defensive situations and excelled under head coach Peter Laviolette’s system.

Justin Schultz (RHD) – The soon-to-be 31-year-old had a strong rebound season with three goals, 27 points, and a +12 rating in 46 games during his first season with the Capitals and averaged 1:39 per game on the power play, second among defensemen behind Carlson. Schultz is a player who fits in well under Laviolette’s system and had a strong enough season to be protected from the Kraken.

Goalie (1)

Ilya Samsonov – The 24-year-old performed well for the majority of this season despite finishing with a .902 save percentage, going 13-4-1 with a 2.69 goals-against average and two shutouts. Samsonov is viewed as the Capitals’ goalie of the future and has shown glimpses of his potential through his first two NHL seasons. Samsonov is the likely No. 1 if he stays healthy.

Exempt

  • Joe Snively (LW)
  • Connor McMichael (C)
  • Hendrix Lapierre (C)
  • Brett Leason (RW)
  • Damien Riat (LW)
  • Kody Clark (RW)
  • Aliaksei Protas (C)
  • Riley Sutter (C)
  • Philippe Maillet (C)
  • Bobby Nardella (LHD)
  • Alexander Alexeyev (LHD)
  • Martin Fehervary (LHD)
  • Tobias Geisser (LHD)

Top Five Most Likely To Be Selected

  1. Vitek Vanecek (G) – The 25-year-old had an admirable rookie campaign, posting a 21-10-4 record, a .908 save percentage, a 2.69 goals-against average, and two shutouts. Vanecek proved he was able to carry a large workload but Samsonov appears to be the Capitals’ goalie for the future as he earned the starts in the biggest regular-season games and performed well in the first-round against the Boston Bruins other than one mishap in double overtime of Game 3. The Capitals could look to make a deal to protect both goalies if the price is right. Vanacek’s injury in the playoffs could pose enough of an unknown for Seattle that they choose someone else.
  2. Brenden Dillon (LHD) – The 30-year-old had an inconsistent season where he was bouncing between the top and second pairing. Dillon fits into the Capitals’ style of physical play very well but he had a down season in the first season of a four-year contract that pays him $3.9 million annually. With the strong season Schultz turned in, Dillon might be the odd defenseman out.
  3. Lars Eller (C) – The 32-year-old had a season plagued by injuries but posted eight goals and 23 points in 44 games. With two strong centers in Connor McMichael and Aliaksei Protas in the prospect pipeline, it may make sense for the Capitals to leave Eller exposed, especially after the seasons Sheary and Sprong put together. Even if the Capitals were to not protect him, he would not likely be the favorite to head out West.
  4. Nick Jensen (RHD) – The 30-year-old had a strong season with two goals, 14 points, and a +5 rating but has proven that he fits the best on the Capitals’ third pairing. With Dillon and Schultz, there is just not enough room to protect Jensen.
  5. Trevor van Riemsdyk (RHD)  – The 29-year-old did not get a lot of opportunity in his first season with the Capitals but proved he was worthy of a two-year contract extension when he became eligible to sign one. Van Riemsdyk finished the season with one goal, three points, and a -1 rating in 20 games. He will likely be the Capitals’ seventh defenseman to begin the 2021-22 season so he will not be protected but he is a top-six one on most teams. The Golden Knights selected van Riemsdyk from the Chicago Blackhawks but traded him to the Carolina Hurricanes a day later.

The Capitals could opt to protect Eller or Dillon over another forward and defenseman in the projection above.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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9 Responses to The Capitals’ Outlook For The 2021 NHL Expansion Draft

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think Eller or Dillon would be first selected off of this list. Vanecek is decent, but there are other goaltenders that will likely be exposed.

    • Eric Lord says:

      Yes, there are other goaltenders that will be exposed, but a lot of them are older or on bad contracts (ie Jonathan Quick). Vanecek is a quality goalie with still room to grow. He also is on a very friendly contract. That would give the Kraken the chance to use cap space to strengthen other areas.

  2. GR in 430 says:

    Swap Eller for Kuznetsov on your protected list. Look at total contribution to the team, likelihood that a new franchise would want the player in their locker room, and cap hit, and it’s pretty clear that Eller shouldto be protected instead of Kuznetsov. The off-ice issues with Kuznetsov might be overlooked by Seattle if he had scored 30 goals multiple times… was a career point-per-game player… or at least played 2-way hockey regularly.. or was even close to 50% on FOs. But he is none of those things. He is a huge talent that isn’t motivated to be a top player.

    In fact, I’d pay the Kraken to take him if I was GMBM, just to clear the cap space and get the problem child out of the locker room. Give them a mid-level prospect and the Caps still come out ahead via addition by subtraction..

  3. Captain Phil Martin says:

    Perhaps the most accurate and well thought out and reasoned listing of players which will be protected from the expansion draft. Oshie is in some ways the heart and soul of this team. That’s not to say that this is not still Ovies team, it always will be but a team needs that inspiring player who brings something others simple do not. Oshie is one of the top shootout forwards in the NHL. Additionally he knows how to play every forward position at a top level. Oshie is clearly a two way top 6 scoring forward – that can play physical or use his uncanny agility and stick speed to win against the wall. Your protected list reflects the importance of the teams core which should allow them to be competitive for 3 or more years and the importance of both right side defenders and keeping the goalie with the most upside potential and trading value. But this GM has stressed over and over the importance of having strength up the middle and there is no way the Capitals will expose Eller. Yes it may be time to give some of our quality center depth at Hershey the chance to play on a 3rd line but i think Eller moves up to the top 6 and I expect that Kuzy may have played himself off the team. I hope it is in the form of a trade for an established goalie that is a proven playoff winner like Marc-André Fleury. Kuzy has value – the ability to be a difference maker and he is still a young quality center when motivated. Fleury is getting older but so is this Capitals team. Such a trade is a win for both teams and it looks like the perfect marriage. I just hope the player we loose to the Seattle Kraken is Defenseman Dillion who despite being a top 4 physical defender is replaceable given that the Capitals have two quality left shoot defenders in Hershey that need to have a chance NexT year. Again thank you for what in my estimation is a very well thought out and mostly accurate list of likely Capitals to be protected from the expansion draft. I hope Oshie is reading. .

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Thanks Phil! I agree with your logic regarding Eller as well. Center is key, and something both GMBM and Laviolette have repeatedly mentioned. Also, GMBM has stated his hesitation to through McMichael into the mix right away. He might be able to change the Capitals minds in training camp, but that’s after the expansion draft. No way they can assume McMichael can replace Eller right away. They will likely need Eller for another year. I think, however, Seattle would take Vanecek before Eller. 🤞Maybe not. We will see.

    • Craig says:

      As great as that would be there’s literally no way Vegas trades Fleury. He’s their equivalent to Ovi as far as intangible values to the team itself.

      • Captain Phil says:

        Craig – I agree. But if Fleury does not continue to shine in the playoffs, his contract is something I think they would like to move. And Kuzy is a favorite of the Vegas GM. Still I think there are goalies out there who have the experience to push the team through the playoffs. I think Sammy has a future in goal but the Caps window is like 2 or 3 years and they need a playoff ready goalie now who has experience and can give that clutch moment to turn a game around because they have the scoring – depth lines – defense and specials teams to win another cup for Ovie and the city of Washington DC, if they had steady playoff ready goaltending. Yes over half the teams need such a goalie but there are some available. By the way – appreciate Jon Sorensen’s comments –
        This GM is very concerned about keeping his right shot defenders- we simply do not have any in our system and we do have some very good young left shot defenders who are NHL ready. So while I love the hard hitting Dillon’s game, I see them keeping the puck moving Shultz. Stay safe everyone- Captain Phil

  4. Robert C Bingham Jr. says:

    Shultz being protected is a mistake. Dillon is the third defenseman to hold onto this offseason. If we can get Seattle to bite on Shultz and his ridiculous contract, we have succeeded.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Protect Eller and Dillon instead of Kuzi and Shultz.

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