(March 23, 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 Buffalo Sabres.

 

FORWARDS:

The pro service time clocks for both Jack Eichel ($3.775 million) and Sam Reinhart ($3.544 million) started this year, and the Sabres will obviously protect both from the Expansion Draft. Ryan O’Reilly ($6.000 million) has led Buffalo in points this season (as of this writing), despite playing in significantly fewer games than second-place Jack Eichel, and is another player who will undoubtedly be protected. Evander Kane ($5.250 million) would also fall into that category, so long as Buffalo doesn’t fall out of love with Kane. Tyler Ennis ($4.600 million) would seem to be a lock for the fifth forward slot.

The other three spots are a little more up for debate. Zemgus Girgensons ($1.369 million) hasn’t had the season Buffalo had hoped for, but would garner protection…assuming he’s re-signed this offseason (he’s set to become a Restricted Free Agent on July 1). Prospect Justin Bailey ($0.894 million) would probably grab another spot, leaving one open.

It would seem highly unlikely that Matt Moulson ($5.000 million) would warrant protection from the Sabres. Moulson will have two seasons left on his contract entering 2017-18, and with the pending Free Agents that Buffalo will have to re-sign in the summer of 2018 (Kane will be an Unrestricted Free Agent and Eichel and Reinhart will be RFAs), his would be a contract Buffalo could benefit from shedding.

The final spot could be taken by whichever young player not listed here makes the most progress in 2016-17, or for a free agent acquisition this offseason.

 

DEFENSEMEN:

With three spots open to protect defensemen, the first is a given: Zach Bogosian ($5.143 million). Young defensemen (though only slightly younger than Bogosian) Rasmus Ristolainen ($1.775 million) and Jake McCabe ($0.925 million) are RFAs this offseason, and Mark Pysyk ($1.125 million) is an RFA next offseason. The Sabres could opt to protect two of them to go along with Bogosian, or they could decide to keep Josh Gorges ($3.900 million), who turns 33 during the summer of 2017, and just one of their younger defensemen.

Cody Franson ($3.325 million) is a UFA after next season, and would likely be exposed to the Expansion Draft unless the Sabres decided to lock him up to a new contract before then.

Chad Ruhwedel ($0.650 million) is an RFA at season’s end, but is unlikely to fall under consideration for protection.

 

GOALTENDERS:

Robin Lehner ($2.225 million) will be an RFA after next season, while backup goalie Chad Johnson ($1.300 million) is a UFA after this season. Linus Ullmark ($0.925 million) will also be an RFA after next season. Unless Ullmark or Andrey Makarov ($0.575 million) have a major breakout year next year, or if things soured between Buffalo and Lehner, expect Lehner to be the one left protected. Makarov is an RFA at the end of this season.

 

THOUGHTS:

Regardless of Buffalo’s strategy in which players to protect, going the 8/1 route would seem unlikely. Doing so would be the only way to keep all four of their young defensemen protected (or three of them along with Gorges), but would leave Ennis and Girgensons unprotected. The Sabres are likely to hope that they can convince an expansion team to give Matt Moulson a change of scenery, but might be close to a lock to lose a defenseman to the Expansion Draft should the NHL expand to 32 teams in the summer of 2017.

 

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