(April 6, 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 New Jersey Devils.

 

FORWARDS:

New Jersey’s biggest offensive prospect, Pavel Zacha, won’t need to be protected from the Expansion Draft because his service time won’t hit the minimum threshold, so that’s a help to the Devils right off the bat. Kyle Palmieri ($1.467 million), Adam Henrique ($4.000 million) and Michael Cammalleri ($5.000 million) will all warrant protection. Palmieri will be a Restricted Free Agent this summer, so the Devils will need to re-sign him first.

Prospect Reid Boucher ($0.925 million) will also become an RFA this offseason. Boucher ranks fifth amongst New Jersey forwards in points this season despite playing in just 38 NHL games. In the AHL, Boucher posted 29 points in 32 games. Similarly, prospect Joseph Blandisi ($0.788 million) ranks sixth despite playing in only 40 games. Blandisi, too, averaged nearly a point a game in the AHL, with 21 points in 24 games. Blandisi won’t become an RFA until 2017.

Devante Smith-Pelly becomes an RFA this summer and has been outstanding with the Devils so far. After posting just 12 points in 46 games with Montreal before being traded, Smith-Pelly has managed 12 points in 16 games with New Jersey. If the Devils bring him back this offseason, he’ll likely lock up a protected spot for the Expansion Draft.

Travis Zajac ($5.750 million) ranks third on the team in points this season but, with four years left on his contract beyond the Expansion Draft, the former first round pick may be left unprotected. Zajac’s numbers have bounced back considerably this season from last (42 points through 72 games played, compared to 25 points in 74 games last season), but he has not returned to his 60-plus-point production since hitting the plateau in back-to-back seasons in 2008-09 and 2009-10 (he hasn’t topped 48 points since). Zajac will also be 32 years old by the time the Expansion Draft rolls around.

If not with Zajac, filling out the final forward spot becomes a little more of a toss-up. No Devil forward has even 17 points this season outside of those players listed above. It could go to a player brought in this summer by New Jersey, or it could go to a younger player the Devils are keen on like Blake Pietila ($0.750 million) or even Jacob Josefson ($0.800 million), both of which will become RFAs this summer. Pending Unrestricted Free Agents like Tuomo Ruutu ($3.800 million), Stephen Gionta ($0.850 million) and Tyler Kennedy ($0.600 million) would seem like long shots if re-signed.

 

DEFENSEMEN:

The Devils will have three pending free agent defensemen this summer: RFAs Jon Merrill ($0.900 million) and David Warsofsky ($0.600 million) as well as UFA David Schlemko ($0.625 million). The team’s top defenseman, Andy Greene ($5.000 million), is signed through 2019-20. Damon Severson ($0.888 million), perhaps the team’s top young defenseman, will become an RFA next offseason. Adam Larsson ($4.167 million) could also contend for that title; he’s locked up through 2020-21.

Beyond those players, John Moore ($1.667 million) will be a UFA in 2018 and Vojtech Mozik ($0.925 million) becomes an RFA in 2017. Given the aforementioned talent, only Moore is likely to be considered for protection.

 

GOALTENDERS:

Cory Schneider ($6.000 million) is signed through 2021-22 – longer than any other New Jersey player – and he’s the obvious choice for protection. The team’s top goaltending prospect, Mackenzie Blackwood ($0.709 million), won’t be eligible to be selected by an expansion team because of a lack of service time. Backup goalie Keith Kinkaid ($0.725 million) is a UFA in 2017. Young goalie Scott Wedgewood ($0.588 million) is an RFA in 2017.

 

THOUGHTS:

The New Jersey Devils are one team where the 8/1 route might actually make sense. The Devils have only four forwards with even 25 points this season, and they’re unlikely to protect one of those four (Zajac). Meanwhile, they’ve got a crop of young defensemen to protect, as well as a veteran blueliner (Greene). If they do decide to do this, I would project that they’d protect: Palmieri, Henrique, Larsson, Merrill, Severson, Greene, and two of Moore, Cammalleri and Boucher (Cammalleri will turn 35 in 2017).

If they go the 7/3/1 route, mark down Palmieri, Henrique, Cammalleri, Boucher, Blandisi, Smith-Pelly and Pietila (or a free agent) for the forwards, along with Adam Larsson, Damon Severson and either Andy Greene or Jon Merrill.

If the Devils do try and rid themselves of Travis Zajac’s contract during the Expansion Draft, going with the 8/1 format might make him more appealing. Right now, the most-enticing players from New Jersey are their defensemen. By protecting four or five of them, an expansion team might have to turn to the forwards, and Zajac could be the pick.

Regardless of whether the Devils opt for the 8/1 or 7/3/1 format, Cory Schneider should be the goalie protected.

 

In the next edition of #TFTPB: NHL Expansion, we’ll be looking at the New York Islanders.