In June 2021, the Seattle Grinders (or whatever they’re called) will join the National Hockey League. Just like in 2017, we’re having another expansion draft. With about 18 months to go until the Grinders draft, let’s take a brief look at how the Calgary Flames may be approaching the draft.

Exposure requirements

Since the NHL is using the Vegas rules for the draft, here are the rules (via the NHL) from that draft, with the dates updated:

All Clubs must meet the following minimum requirements regarding players exposed for selection in the Expansion Draft:

i) One defenseman who is a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.

ii) Two forwards who are a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.

iii) One goaltender who is under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent at the expiration of his current contract immediately prior to 2021-22. If the club elects to make a restricted free agent goaltender available in order to meet this requirement, that goaltender must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the club’s protected list.

Eligible players

Here are the Flames players that will be eligible for the expansion draft (e.g., will have completed two pro seasons) and will be under team control for 2021-22 (via contract or restricted free agency):

  • F Matthew Tkachuk
  • F Johnny Gaudreau
  • F Sean Monahan
  • F Mikael Backlund
  • F Elias Lindholm
  • F Milan Lucic
  • F Sam Bennett
  • F Dillon Dube
  • F Luke Philp
  • F Eetu Tuulola
  • F Adam Ruzicka
  • F Martin Pospisil
  • F Glenn Gawdin
  • F Matthew Phillips
  • D Mark Giordano
  • D Noah Hanifin
  • D Rasmus Andersson
  • D Oliver Kylington
  • D Juuso Valimaki
  • D Alexander Yelesin
  • G Artyom Zagidulin
  • G Nick Schneider
  • G Tyler Parsons
  • G Jon Gillies

Protection options

Teams have two options for protecting players:

  • 7 forwards, 3 defensemen and a goalie (7/3/1)
  • 8 skaters and a goalie (8/1)

Some thoughts

Let’s get something out of the way right now: the Flames will almost definitely re-sign David Rittich to a contract extension at some point before the expansion draft, and he’ll be the goalie they protect. So who will they expose?

The Flames signed AHL journeyman Tom McCollum and Matt Bartkowski to meet their exposure requirements. Right now, Jon Gillies seems like the odd man out in Stockton; he is what he is at this point and it seems prudent to give Artyom Zagidulin and/or Tyler Parsons some additional AHL reps. But the Flames don’t need to sign him for expansion draft reasons, as there are already enough goalies who meet the exposure requirements.

The blueline is where things start to get interesting. Travis Hamonic and TJ Brodie are pending unrestricted free agents. If they’re not retained, and the Flames don’t replace them with anybody that requires protecting, then the Flames have to decide between Mark Giordano, Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, Juuso Valimaki and Oliver Kylington. (Is it possible that they’ll expose Giordano with the hope that his age and cap hit will scare Seattle away?) Depending what happens with Valimaki’s recovery, Kylington might be the best player to hold onto even just to meet the exposure requirements.

Up front, the protection options really depend on what happens with the defenders. It seems inevitable that Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm get protected. Milan Lucic has to be protected (due to his no move clause) unless he decides to waive. That’s five forwards right there, which seems to nudge the Flames in the direction of going 7/3/1.

Right now, the question seems to be whether the Flames are willing to risk losing Valimaki or Andersson (if they go 7/3/1) or potentially one of their core four forwards if they can’t figure out how to get Lucic to waive his NMC. If they don’t think they can do that, the simplest way forward may be to buy out Lucic this summer to avoid the complication.

There’s a lot of hockey left to be played before the expansion draft, but there are a lot of balls still in the air and complications that need to be figured out before too long.