Over the next few weeks, we will be breaking down each team’s situation as it pertains to the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Which players are eligible, who will likely warrant protection, and which ones may be on the block to avoid the risk of losing them for nothing? Each team is required to submit their protection lists by 4:00 PM CDT on July 17th. The full eligibility rules can be found here, while CapFriendly has an expansion tool to make your own lists.
In 2017, the Minnesota Wild protected three defensemen in the Expansion Draft: Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, and Ryan Suter. This left young standout defenseman Matt Dumba exposed (along with a number of other significant players). Yet, Dumba did not go to the Vegas Golden Knights. Why? Because Minnesota paid the price to keep him safe. Alongside selection Erik Haula, Minnesota also sent impressive young forward Alex Tuch to Vegas. The side deal kept their other players protected, but the Wild have watched as Tuch has blossomed into the power forward they foresaw when selecting him in the first round in 2014. It was a heavy price to pay.
This time around, Brodin, Spurgeon, and Suter will again need to be protected. They are each still top-four defensemen for Minnesota and now they all hold a No-Movement Clause as well, meaning that unless they waive that clause they are required to be protected. Again, this could potentially leave Dumba exposed, a scenario that has put the Wild back in the expansion spotlight more than any other team, seemingly since Seattle was introduced as the future 32nd NHL team. In reality, the Wild cannot and will not give the dynamic defender away for free, so they must find out how to protect Dumba within the confines of their current protection possibilities or else he will be traded.
The goal for the team this year is to find a way within the constructs of the expansion draft rules to mitigate the impact of their expansion loss, rather than forfeit another top prospect or pick in a side deal. With the Dumba situation driving their decisions, a deep forward corps to consider, and a tough question in net, GM Bill Guerin has his work cut out for him. However, the help of one or two veterans could be huge for the Wild in managing to escape this round of expansion without getting too badly hurt.
Eligible Players (Non-UFA)
Notable Unrestricted Free Agents
The first and most important question for the Wild is “can anything be done to change the status quo?” If unchanged, Minnesota faces a very difficult task of escaping expansion unharmed. However, if Guerin can convince any of his players with No-Movement Clauses to waive or can trade one of his otherwise-exposed players for picks and exempt prospects, that would change the calculus of the situation.
If you assume that the team must move ahead as constituted, it locks the Wild into an eight-skater scheme. As noted, Dumba is not going to Seattle for free so if he is not traded or another defenseman does not waive his NMC, then Dumba will be protected as the team’s fourth defender. This makes for a very difficult decision at forward. With just two spots available next to Parise and Zuccarello, Minnesota must pick two of three 24-year-old forwards who all finished in the top five in team scoring this season: Fiala, Greenway, and Eriksson Ek. Fiala, 24, is the most proven young scorer on the team, recording three 20-goal seasons and essentially four 40-point seasons in just five NHL seasons. His RFA status and his slow start in the postseason are unlikely to make a difference; Fiala will be protected. There would really be just one spot open at forward.
As for Eriksson Ek versus Greenway, the decision is much tighter. Eriksson Ek is the team’s top center and a great two-way, physical player who made great strides this season. Greenway has been the better, more consistent scorer so far in his young career and has made steady improvement each year. He too is a strong two-way player with elite power forward upside. It is impossible to know which player the team might prefer, but this much is certain: Seattle will not hesitate to scoop up whichever of the pair they must expose.
Assume now that a trade or NMC waiver allows Minnesota to employ a 7-3 protection scheme. In this scenario, decisions remain at forward but carry far less weight. Fiala, Eriksson Ek, and Greenway are all safe alongside Parise and Zuccarello. This leaves two spots left and number of candidates. Following the best per-game scoring season of his career, not to mention his contributions to the checking game and penalty kill, Foligno would likely be a lock. The remaining spot could go to Hartman, who increased his value with his transition to center this season, an area where the Wild lack depth. Hartman already earned an affordable, multi-year extension, as both sides seem happy with the fit. Rask outscored Hartman by one point this season and is a natural center, but his contract value and upcoming expiration both hurt his case. Sturm is developing into a good bottom-six forward, but the collegiate product is the same age as Hartman with a fraction of the pro experience.
Regardless of the protection scheme, there are two constants for the Wild: Soucy will be exposed and only one goalie can be protected. Neither is an easy pill to swallow. Minnesota paid up to keep Soucy when he almost left as a Group 6 free agent and the 26-year-old proved them right by continuing to improve this season. However, with a solid top four that they already have enough problems balancing in expansion, it is hard to imagine a way in which Soucy is protected. It is actually more likely that he could be traded before the draft. In goal, the team must choose between experience and stability or youth and upside. Talbot was brought in as a free agent this season to start for the Wild and he performed very well, especially in the playoffs where he started every game. However, it ended up being much more of a timeshare in the regular season, as young Kahkonen pushed for starts. The 2019-20 AHL Goaltender of the Year had some issues in his first NHL season, but has the makings of a future starter. After such a strong season, would the team mortgage the future in order to keep Talbot in place as their reliable starter? Or is Kahkonen’s potential too hard to ignore?
Projected Protection List
Skater Exposure Requirement Checklist
When Vegas had their expansion draft, a minimum of two forwards and one defenseman had to be exposed that were under contract and played either 40 games in the most recent season or 70 over the past two combined. Due to the pandemic, those thresholds have been changed to 27 games played in 2020-21 or 54 in 2019/20 and 2020-21 combined. In creating our expansion list for each team in this series, we will ensure that these criteria are met.
Taking some creative liberties here, the projected protections and exposures are based on the idea that Parise and Suter will take one for the team and waive their No-Movement Clauses for the Expansion Draft. The 36-year-olds (Parise will be 37 next month) are in decline, are paid $7.5MM+, and are under contract through the 2024-25 season, during which they will be 40 years old. There is no chance that the Kraken select Parise and little to no chance they take Suter. Starting a franchise with expensive players in their late thirties is not a feasible plan and Seattle GM Ron Francis is not one to take foolish chances. There is no risk to the team nor the players for Parise and Suter to waive their NMC’s. They’ll do it for the same reason they signed long-term deals with the Wild in the first place: to give their hometown team its best chance to win a Stanley Cup. After a season in which the club reinvented itself into a legitimate contender, the team is closer than ever to that goal and Parise and Suter are unlikely to stand in the way and cost the themselves a valuable teammate.
If this does indeed occur – and reason (plus some rumors) suggest that it will – the Wild are in much better shape with the Expansion Draft than previously thought. Minnesota could still go with an eight-skater scheme to protect Soucy rather than the likes of Foligno, Hartman, and Sturm, but it seems highly unlikely. The big defenseman has upside, but will never be more than a bottom-pair player in Minnesota. He will be an attractive option for Seattle, though. So too will veteran goaltender Talbot. A sturdy netminder who played well in his first season in Minnesota, Talbot would be a tough loss for the Wild but there are potential replacements on the free agent market. It would be far more difficult to replace the youth and upside of Kahkonen. For the Kraken, Talbot could both challenge for a starting role or could be flipped to another team with needs in net. Up front, the 7-3 scheme leaves little to offer Seattle. Rask’s cap hit is not worth his production, plus he’s on an expiring deal. If the Kraken are not enamored with Soucy or Talbot, young prospects Shaw or Bitten could be appealing, but would have to be considered worthy of a roster spot or else would be risked on waivers. They could also opt to negotiate with an impending free agent, with several notable names to choose from. However, Minnesota’s expansion exposure is not quite the guaranteed win for Seattle that it initially seemed.