(April 18, 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 Winnipeg Jets.

 

FORWARDS:

Only four players who finished the year with the NHL club are under contract beyond 2017: Blake Wheeler ($5.600 million) is signed through 2019, while Bryan Little ($4.700 million), Nikolaj Ehlers ($1.594 million) and Nic Petan ($0.863 million) are signed through 2018. Of that group, Wheeler, Little and Ehlers are safe bets to be protected. Petan, as one of the team’s higher-ranked prospects, would also seem to be a safe bet at least for consideration.

Mark Scheifele ($1.563 million) finished the year second on Winnipeg in points (61 points in 71 games), but becomes a Restricted Free Agent this summer. Assuming he’s re-signed, he’ll be protected. Mathieu Perreault ($3.000 million) will be an Unrestricted Free Agent after next season, but would warrant protection if re-signed ahead of the Expansion Draft. The same would go for fellow 2017 UFA Drew Stafford ($4.350 million).

As for up-and-coming young players, Marko Dano ($0.925 million), Scott Kosmachuk ($0.894 million) and Joel Armia ($1.244 million) would all have to be protected or risk exposure. Armia will be an RFA this offseason, with Dano and Kosmachuk becoming RFAs next year. Prospects Kyle Connor (who recently signed his entry-level contract for $1.775 million per season) and Brendan Lemieux ($1.070 million) will be exempt from selection and won’t need to be protected.

Other current NHL’ers who would need to be protected or risk being taken include 2016 free agents Adam Lowry ($0.925 million), Matt Hailschuk ($0.750 million) and J.C. Lipon ($0.700 million) along with 2017 free agents Alexander Burmistrov ($1.550 million), Chris Thorburn ($1.200 million), Andrew Copp ($0.925 million) and Anthony Peluso ($0.563 million).

 

DEFENSEMEN:

Dustin Byfuglien ($5.200 million this season, $7.600 million starting next season) led the Jets in average ice time this season, topping 25 minutes per game. He also ranked third on the team in points with 53 (19 goals, 34 assists). As such, the 31-year-old should lock up the team’s first protected spot for defensemen. Tyler Myers ($5.500 million) finished second on the team in average ice time and second amongst defensemen in points (27 points in 73 games). He’s locked up through 2018-19.

The only other current NHL defensemen signed beyond 2017 for Winnipeg are Tobias Enstrom ($5.750 million) and Mark Stuart ($2.625 million), who are each set to become UFAs in 2018. Grant Clitsome ($2.067 million) becomes a UFA this summer, while Jacob Trouba ($1.827 million), Julian Melchiori ($0.600 million) and Brenden Kichton ($0.620 million) are RFAs. Next summer, Ben Chiarot ($0.850 million) will be an RFA and Paul Postma ($0.887 million) will be a UFA.

Top prospect and 2013 first round pick Josh Morrissey ($1.363 million) played in a single game for the Jets in 2015-16, managing 15:54 of ice time and one shot on goal. He also managed 22 points in 57 AHL games in his first full season out of Juniors. Prospect Jan Kostalek ($0.850 million) made his AHL debut this season, as well, managing 9 points in 52 games. Both become RFAs in 2018.

 

GOALTENDERS:

Three goalies made starts for the Jets in 2015-16: Ondrej Pavelec ($3.900 million), Michael Hutchinson ($0.575 million) and Connor Hellebuyck ($0.925 million). Pavelec becomes a UFA in 2017, Hutchinson is an RFA this summer and Hellebuyck is an RFA next summer. Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie ($0.863 million) are rated as the team’s top goaltending prospects by HockeysFuture.com. Comrie doesn’t become an RFA until 2018.

 

THOUGHTS:

What the Jets do this offseason and next when it comes to re-signing players could make a big difference, particularly when it comes to someone like Drew Stafford. Going off of the current roster, Wheeler, Little, Stafford, Perreault, Scheifele, Ehlers and Burmistrov would be the candidates who have established themselves for Winnipeg. However, prospects like Dano, Petan and Kosmachuk would also warrant consideration.

When trying to whittle those 10 players down to seven, Wheeler, Scheifele, Little and Ehlers are the four locks. That leaves three open spots for six players (Stafford, Perreault, Burmistrov, Petan, Dano, Komaschuk).

Burmistrov might end up on the outside. His NHL numbers (over 275 games) have yet to live up to his OHL or KHL performances, with his best season coming in 2011-12 when he managed 28 points in 76 contests. His best professional season came in 2013-14 when he posted 37 points in 54 KHL games for Kazan Ak-Bars.

Perreault has been very consistent in recent years and should be a good bet for the fifth spot, leaving two spots open for Stafford, Dano and Kosmachuk. Dano and Petan were comparable this season, with Dano holding the slight edge. Kosmachuk had a fine year, but would be beaten out for a spot by either Dano or Petan. For those reasons, look for Dano and Stafford to grab the final two spots, with Petan on the doorstep if the Jets cannot (or opt not to) re-sign Stafford.

In addition to Byfuglien, it would make the most sense right now for Winnipeg to protect Tyler Myers. The former Rookie of the Year (2009-10) will only be 27 years old at the time of the Expansion Draft and he was a big part of the trade that sent Evander Kane to Buffalo last February. Look for the Jets to protect Josh Morrissey in the third spot. While he only has one NHL game under his belt, his pedigree and AHL numbers are promising.

None of Winnipeg’s four goaltenders discussed above will have hit 30 years old when the Expansion Draft rolls around (Pavelec turns 30 in August, 2017). Pavelec (31 starts), Hutchinson (25 starts) and Hellebuyck (26 starts) nearly split NHL starts evenly in 2015-16, with Pavelec getting the slight edge. Hellebuyck posted the best GAA and save percentage of the trio, and tied with Pavelec for the team lead in wins, and in five fewer starts. Hellebuyck also managed strong numbers in the AHL, with a 2.49 GAA and .922 save percentage in 30 games for the Manitoba Moose this season. Those numbers are stronger than Comrie’s stats in 46 games for the Moose (3.12 GAA and a .907 save percentage).

While Comrie is a little younger and rates slightly higher by Hockey’s Future, Hellebuyck should be the protected player in net.