In case you missed it, I joined Lowetide this morning on TSN 1260 to talk all things Oilers, including the SWEEP of the Flames, the upcoming California trip and options at the trade deadline (LT has a great list of potential targets). Clip starts around the 17:25 mark.
We also discussed the expansion draft and who the Oilers should be protecting. The Vegas Golden Knights will be joining the Pacific division and announcing their roster on June 21, 2017. Vegas will be drafting 30 players, one from each NHL team, and will follow a set of rules as outlined over at NHL.com.
* Clubs will have two options for players they wish to protect in the Expansion Draft:
a) Seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender
b) Eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goaltender
* All players who have currently effective and continuing “No Movement” clauses at the time of the Expansion Draft (and who to decline to waive such clauses) must be protected (and will be counted toward their club’s applicable protection limits).
* All first- and second-year professionals, as well as all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward their club’s applicable protection limits).
If I’m the Oilers:
- I protect the following players: Talbot, Sekera, Klefbom, Larsson, Davidson, RNH, Eberle, Draisaitl, Lucic.
- Excluded from the expansion draft: McDavid, Nurse, Benning, Caggiula, Slepyshev and Puljujaarvi.
- I leave the following players unprotected: Pouliot, Maroon, Letestu, Lander, Kassian, Khaira, Fayne, Reinhart, etc.
- Source: Cap Friendly
Now before I go on, I need to make one thing clear: the whole discussion around the upcoming expansion draft, and which players are worth protecting and which players are worth letting go is all dependent on a lot of ifs and maybes. We can make our lists today, in January, but it can easily be turned upside down if the Oilers start moving out assets and addressing their current (and future) needs. You can protect 7-3-1, but if the Oilers find a decent right-shot defenceman this week, then maybe you protect four defencemen and only four forwards instead of seven. You can protect four defencemen, but if one is moved to shore up the center depth, then you’re moving to the 7-3-1 list. My point is, we can speculate all we want, but there’s no use getting too attached, especially with a potential playoff-berth.
The NHL really is just a competition to see which clubs can put together the best roster, under a set salary cap, to win the Stanley Cup. The expansion draft is obviously for a new team to enter the league, but its also a disruption to the long-term goals of the existing teams. Recognizing this, the NHL is really going easy on the 30 teams, setting rules that more or less cushion the blow.
But to make Vegas somewhat competitive, the NHL is trying to make as many defencemen available to them as possible. We know how hard it is to draft, develop and/or acquire talent for the backend. There are plenty of forwards in hockey that you can plug in and out of your line up, within different combinations and allocate ice time to. Defencemen on the other hand are at a premium in today’s NHL. They aren’t so easily shuffled around a lineup, and have to be ready to play regular minutes against various levels of competition.
There’s a clear incentive for teams to protect only three defencemen. Doing so, you get to protect seven forwards, which is kind of excessive when you think about it as a lot of teams have young players in their top six that are exempt anyways. But hey, you get to protect more of your precious assets. If you want to protect more than three defencemen, now you’re cutting into the total number of assets you can protect.
With that in mind, I’m leaning towards protecting four defencemen, and yes, leaving guys like Maroon and Pouliot, both of which I value highly, unprotected.
I’ve written plenty on Pouliot, who I view as a very good top six NHL forward that can contribute on offence and has meshed well with an array of forwards.
- Pouliot is a Third Line Winger, eh? – The Copper & Blue (2016, January 28)
- Looking into Milan Lucic….Again. – The Copper & Blue (2016, March 4)
- Couple Thoughts on Benoit Pouliot – The SuperFan (2017, January 12)
There’s a stronger case, however, to be made in protecting Maroon from the expansion draft.
- He’s currently playing with McDavid and Draisaitl on the top line. In 164 minutes this season, the trio has outscored the opposition 10-4 at 5v5 (71.43% goal-share) and has a Corsi For% of 55.31%. (Source: Corsica Hockey)
- He’s been a positive influence on any center he’s played with when it comes to their share of shot attempts. Here’s what I wrote on Maroon’s ability to drive offence back in November 2016 – The Driver (The Copper & Blue)
- He’s on a value contract this season and next season, getting paid $1.5 million per season.
As much as I like this player, I see two issues. First, his shooting percentage is at a career high 19.28% this season. It’s not likely that he can sustain this, but I guess anything is possible if he continues to play with McDavid.
The other issue is that when Maroon’s contract expires at the end of next season, he’ll be 30 years old and likely looking for dollars and term to carry him into retirement. There is evidence that players who play a physical game tend to taper off as they age past 30 (Source: Hockey Graphs), so there’s a very real chance that what we’re seeing from Maroon today is his prime. It might be a smart move to protect Maroon today, but it might not be the right decision for the Oilers long term goal of winning a championship. With McDavid, Nurse and Draisaitl expected to get heavy, long-term contracts in the near future, it may not make sense to allocate dollars to a 30 year old, complementary winger, likely on his downswing.
Maroon’s value has never been higher, and likely won’t be higher in the future. The Oilers could potentially trade him in the summer to address their needs on defence, but it’s unlikely considering his current status on the roster.
In my opinion, the Oilers would be better off protecting defenceman Brandon Davidson, who played very well for the Oilers as a bottom four type player last season. Assessing the team’s possession numbers from last season, we knew that the team did better with him on the ice than without him, which is expected from someone playing in a depth role. But we also saw him gradually take on tougher competition, with his contributions being missed when he was injured. Couple pieces I wrote last season:
- Brandon Davidson’s Impact on the Oilers Possession Numbers – The Copper & Blue (2016, April 20)
- Evaluating the Oilers Using WoodMoney – The Copper & Blue (2016, August 4)
Davidson is only 25 years old, and is signed for this season and next at a very reasonable $1.425 million per season. The NHL cap system favors and rewards the owners, as young players who are drafted and developed by a team remain under team control, right through their prime years. Davidson is on a value contract today, and could very well be a long-term value contract as well. Defencemen are harder to find than forwards, with the supply never quite meeting the demand, especially around the trade deadline when teams prepare for the playoffs.
The end goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and to do that the team needs to establish an extended window, at least a five year term, where they can be legitimate, championship contenders. Investing in young players, especially defencemen, who can be on team-friendly, value contracts is going to be key for the Oilers. The decisions they make at the deadline and for the expansion draft have to be geared towards winning the Cup.