(April 8, 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 York Rangers.

 

FORWARDS:

The Rangers’ top three point-getters this season will all be protected. Mats Zuccarello ($4.500 million), Derick Brassard ($5.000 million) and Derek Stepan ($6.500 million) are all signed through at least 2019, as well. J.T. Miller ($0.874 million) and Chris Kreider ($2.475 million) should be locked up, as well, though both will become Restricted Free Agents at the end of this season.

With two spots left, the Rangers have a few options. Kevin Hayes ($3.750 million) is an RFA this offseason. Rick Nash ($7.800 million) is the second-highest-paid player on the team (and the highest-paid non-goalie), but will be entering the final year of his contract in 2017. Jesper Fast ($0.950 million) and Oscar Lindberg ($0.650 million) both have upside, and both also become RFAs in 2017. Eric Staal ($4.125 million cap hit for the Rangers, ($8.250 million cap hit overall) becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent after this season, though his numbers with the Rangers so far haven’t exactly been overwhelming.

 

DEFENSEMEN:

Ryan McDonagh ($4.700 million) will be the first defenseman protected by the Rangers. Four defensemen will be competing for the two remaining spots. Marc Staal ($5.700 million) and Dan Girardi ($5.500 million) are signed long-term. Keith Yandle ($2.625 million cap hit for the Rangers, $5.250 million total cap hit) becomes a UFA this summer. Yandle is currently in the Top 5 on the team in points. All three of those players will be at least 30 years old at the time of an Expansion Draft. Meanwhile, top defensive prospect Brady Skjei ($0.925 million) will need to be protected or possibly risk being selected. Dylan McIlrath ($0.600 million), a pending RFA in 2016, would also be eligible for selection if left unprotected.

 

GOALTENDERS:

With Cam Talbot traded away last offseason, Henrik Lundqvist ($8.500 million) is the easy choice for protection in net, even though he’ll be 35 years old at the time of the Expansion Draft. Top prospect Igor Shestyorkin is playing in Europe and won’t have to be protected. Magnus Hellberg ($0.625 million) would need to be protected, but will be an RFA after next season. Antti Raanta ($0.750 million) has had a good season as the King’s backup, but will be a UFA on July 1, 2016. If brought back, Raanta is still likely to be exposed, despite the tremendous age gap between him and Lundqvist (seven years apart).

 

THOUGHTS:

Even if re-signed, I wouldn’t think Eric Staal would currently be in a protected spot for New York (a big 2016-17 season could change that, of course). Nash has put up numbers this season at a pace of about 50 points over 82 games, down from last year’s 69-point performance (in 79 games). Still, it would seem like Nash would be kept unless the Rangers decided to go into a full-blown rebuild. Hayes would seem to be the guy for the other spot if the Rangers come to terms with him on anything more than a one-year extension this summer.

That would give the Rangers a protected offensive crop of: Zuccarello, Brassard, Stepan, Miller, Kreider, Nash, Hayes.

Defensively, the decision on what players to protect will come down to how this summer goes. McDonagh will be protected, but whether or not Keith Yandle is brought back could impact the way the other two spots are filled. The simplest choice would be to keep Staal and Girardi, but Yandle has posted big offensive numbers this season. That also would mean that the team’s top defensive prospect, Brady Skjei, would be left open for the taking.

Yandle has been a top-pairing defenseman this season, and he should be kept if brought back. So, if Yandle does return to the Rangers, that leaves one spot open for either Skjei, Staal or Girardi. Staal and Girardi have contracts that are nearly identical, their stats are nearly identical (aside from plus/minus) but Staal is slightly younger, so give him the slight edge. That said, Skjei may win out on the last spot regardless, especially if there is only one expansion team drafting. They would essentially plan to lose either Staal or Girardi, taking a $5.5-million contract off the books.

Lundqvist is the protected goalie for the Rangers. Magnus Hellberg is unlikely to be selected if unprotected. Antti Raanta could be an interesting choice for an expansion team, though it remains to be seen where he’ll be spending the 2016-17 NHL season before that discussion happens.

 

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