(April 3, 2016) – A verdict on the potential expansion of the National Hockey League is due ahead of the 2016 NHL Draft, according to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. While there has been no 100% guaranteed-official format announced, the NHL has discussed a potential format for an Expansion Draft (full details here): Teams will protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender OR eight total skaters and one goaltender with the choice belonging to the team. It is unknown what will happen with players who have a No Movement Clause (NMC) or a No Trade Clause (NTC) in their contract, but the same report states that any player in their first or second year of professional play will be exempt. It also looks like each team would lose one player if there is one expansion team, or two if both Las Vegas and Quebec City are awarded teams.

For this 30-part #TFTPB series, we will be taking a closer look at each current NHL team and what players might be available to a new franchise at the conclusion of the 2016-17 NHL season. For the sake of simplicity, players with a NMC/NTC will not be made automatically exempt. All contract and salary information for this series is courtesy of NHLNumbers.com.

Today, we’re taking a look at the Minnesota Wild.

 

FORWARDS:

The Wild’s two highest-paid forwards – Zach Parise ($7.538 million) and Mikko Koivu ($6.750 million) – are also the team’s highest-scoring forwards this season. While Koivu will turn 34 just before the Expansion Draft (and will become an Unrestricted Free Agent in the summer of 2018), both players should be protected. Mikael Granlund ($3.000 million) and Nino Niederreiter ($2.667 million) both become Restricted Free Agents in 2017, but both will be protected by Minnesota.

Charlie Coyle ($3.200 million) is locked up through 2019-20 and should get the fifth protection slot.

Thomas Vanek ($6.500 million) becomes a UFA on July 1, 2017, and so he’d be unlikely to be protected unless the Wild sign him to a contract extension ahead of the Expansion Draft. So the final two slots come down to Jason Pominville ($5.600 million), Erik Haula ($1.000 million), Jason Zucker ($0.900 million) and Jordan Schroeder ($0.600 million). Haula is signed through next season (when he becomes an RFA) while Zucker and Schroeder are both pending RFAs this summer.

 

DEFENSEMEN:

Minnesota is very young on the blue line. Aside from Ryan Suter ($7.538 million), none of the Wild’s starting six defensemen are currently over 26 years old. Suter, Jonas Brodin ($4.167 million), Marco Scandella ($4.000 million) and Jared Spurgeon ($2.667 million this season, $5.188 million starting next season) are all locked up through at least the 2019-20 campaign. Matthew Dumba ($1.603 million) is an RFA this summer, and Mike Reilly ($0.925 million) is an RFA next summer.

Given the depth (and youth) currently at the NHL level, it’s unlikely that a prospect like Gustav Olofsson ($0.925 million) would get a look for protection, even though he’d be eligible to be selected in an Expansion Draft.

 

GOALTENDERS:

Devan Dubnyk ($4.333 million) had a breakout season a year ago, and has looked very good this year as well. His current backup, Darcy Kuemper ($1.250 million), is set to become an RFA this summer. Kuemper is four years younger than Dubnyk, but Dubnyk isn’t exactly old (Dubnyk will turn 31 around the time of the Expansion Draft). Prospect Steve Michalek ($0.688 million) will be just 24 years old at the start of the 2017-18 NHL season, and made both his ECHL and NHL debuts this season after playing for Harvard University. Michalek would also be eligible to be drafted in an Expansion Draft, but would be much less likely to be taken over whichever out of Dubnyk and Kuemper is left unprotected.

 

THOUGHTS:

Five forwards are locks: Parise, Koivu, Granlund, Niederreiter and Coyle. Despite putting up over 40 points, Vanek has been a healthy scratch at times this season. Considering that a pending UFA with just weeks left on his contract wouldn’t be very enticing for an expansion team, the Wild would have no reason to protect him if he isn’t given a contract extension beforehand.

Jason Pominville has seen his offensive numbers slip every year since 2011-12 (including every season with the Wild) and is currently on pace for a career-low in Points Per Game. If he can stabilize his stats and bounce back even to being a 50-point player next year, he’d lock up the sixth spot. However, right now, the Wild might opt to give that spot to a younger player.

That leaves Haula, Zucker and Schroeder. Haula has bounced back this season after a sluggish sophomore season. Zucker and Schroeder have yet to put up NHL numbers to go with their strong AHL stats. Zucker being the younger of the two (and more productive in the NHL) would have the edge.

Suter will be kept by Minnesota, that much is certain. He’ll be 32 years old in 2017 and locked up for another seven seasons after the Expansion Draft. The defensemen protected along with Suter becomes a bit more of a mystery. Spurgeon’s new contract kicks in this fall, and he’s most likely to lock up the second spot. The remaining spot is likely to go to either Brodin or Dumba, depending on how Dumba’s contract extension goes this summer. This would expose Scandella, Brodin and Reilly.

The Wild’s two NHL goalies – Dubnyk and Kuemper – have put up comparable stats this season, so this summer’s contract negotiations between the Wild and Kuemper, as well as next season’s play, could change things. For now, mark Dubnyk down as the protected goaltender. A 27-year-old Kuemper would be pretty appealing to an expansion team (but a 31-year-old Dubnyk would, too). Exposing Kuemper would make Michalek a possible goalie of the future for Minnesota, though Minnesota wouldn’t exactly need to rush him (or any other prospect) along. Plus, with the defensemen the Wild will have to leave unprotected, they may not lose a goaltender either way, possibly even if there are two expansion teams in 2017.

 

In the next edition of #TFTPB: NHL Expansion, we’ll be looking at the Montreal Canadiens.