(April 12, 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 San Jose Sharks.

 

FORWARDS:

The team’s top prospect, Timo Meier ($1.625 million), won’t need to be protected since he spent 2015-16 playing junior hockey. Logan Couture ($6.000 million), team captain Joe Pavelski ($6.000 million) and Tomas Hertl ($1.350 million) are three locks for protection. Hertl will become a Restricted Free Agent this summer, so he’ll need to be re-signed, whereas both Couture and Pavelski are signed through 2018-19.

Joe Thornton ($6.750 million) led the Sharks in points in 2015-16, but will become an Unrestricted Free Agent in 2017. Patrick Marleau ($6.667 million) will also be a UFA after next season. Both Thornton and Marleau will turn 38 ahead of the 2017-18 season, which means that neither would be likely to be protected by San Jose without a contract extension in place.

Joonas Donskoi ($1.137 million) could make for an interesting selection, though he’ll be an RFA in 2017. Joel Ward ($3.275 million) could be a candidate for protection given his production this season with the Sharks, though he’ll be 36 years old. Tommy Wingels ($2.475 million) took a step backwards statistically this season and will be a UFA in 2017. Matt Nieto ($0.925 million) is still just 23 years old, but has yet to hit 30 points in a single professional season (AHL and NHL numbers combined). He’ll also be an RFA this summer. Chris Tierney ($0.894 million) becomes an RFA in 2017, while Nick Spaling ($2.200 million), Dainius Zubrus ($0.600 million) and Micheal Haley ($0.600 million) are UFAs after this season.

The second-best forward prospect (behind Meier) on the Sharks (according to HockeysFuture.com) is Nikolay Goldobin ($1.107 million), and he’d have to be protected.

 

DEFENSEMEN:

The Sharks have quite a few players they’ll be looking to protect on the blue line. Brent Burns ($5.760 million) is a UFA in 2017, but should be protected if San Jose can lock him up ahead of the Expansion Draft. Prospect Mirco Mueller ($1.319 million) will have to be protected, though he’ll be an RFA in 2017.

Paul Martin ($4.850 million) has played on the top pairing this season, but will turn 36 ahead of the Expansion Draft.  Marc-Edouard Vlasic ($4.250 million) could be considered as well, though his contract expires after the 2017-18 season. Twenty-nine-year-old Justin Braun ($3.800 million) and 25-year-old Brenden Dillon ($3.270 million) are both signed until 2020. Braun ranks fourth on the Sharks in average ice time this season, seconds behind Paul Martin. Dylan DeMelo ($0.725 million) will become an RFA this summer.

 

GOALTENDERS:

James Reimer ($2.300 million) has played very well with the Sharks since coming over in a deadline trade, but he’ll be a UFA on July 1. Martin Jones ($3.000 million) is signed through 2017-18. Unless the Sharks bring Reimer back next season, expect Jones to be the protected goalie.

 

THOUGHTS:

San Jose will definitely protect Couture, Pavelski and Hertl offensively and Mueller defensively, and Burns is a pretty safe bet, as well. The question becomes whether San Jose opts to go the 8/1 route to protect an extra defenseman (or two) or sticks with the 7/3/1 method to make sure they keep more players safe.

On defense, Martin would be a veteran candidate for protection, while Vlasic, Braun and Dillon would be younger options. Braun’s contract, coupled with his minutes might give him an edge. Vlasic and Dillon wouldn’t be far behind.

Offensively, Thornton might be a possibility if he gets a contract extension prior to the Expansion Draft. Goldobin, Ward, Donskoi, Nieto and Tierney are all options. To get to seven players, San Jose would have to keep four of those five (or replace one with Thornton).

Meanwhile, the Sharks could keep four forwards and lock in Mueller, Burns, Braun and Vlasic on defense if they chose the 8/1 option. In that case, Donskoi could be that fourth forward.

If they choose to go 7/3/1, look for the Sharks to protect Couture, Pavelski, Hertl, Donskoi, Nieto, Ward and Goldobin (Thornton, Tierney or a free agent could also be possibilities for the final spot) on offense along with Mueller, Burns and either Braun or Vlasic on defense.

Either way, Jones is the most likely option in net, barring the Sharks opting to re-sign Reimer this summer and, even then, Reimer would have to beat out Jones for the starting gig.

 

In the next edition of #TFTPB: NHL Expansion, we’ll be looking at the St. Louis Blues.