(March 28, 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 Columbus Blue Jackets.

 

FORWARDS:

Columbus has a few big-money forwards on the team, most of which have been among the team’s top offensive contributors. That said, David Clarkson ($5.250 million) has 4 points in just 23 games played in an injury-riddled season and would be a player likely exposed to the Expansion Draft.

Brandon Saad ($6.000 million), Brandon Dubinsky ($5.850 million) and leading-scorer (as of this writing) Cam Atkinson ($3.500 million) are locks for protection. So, too, is Boone Jenner ($0.894 million this year, $2.900 million starting next season), who will be just 24 years old next summer.

Scott Hartnell ($4.750 million) has played very well this season, posting 45 points through 73 games, but will be 35 years old when the Expansion Draft rolls around. Young up-and-comers Oliver Bjorkstrand ($0.863 million), Alexander Wennberg ($1.400 million) and Sonny Milano ($1.294 million) will all require protection from the expansion team(s). Also requiring protection will be Nick Foligno ($5.500 million), set to turn 30 years old during the first month of the 2017-18 NHL season.

 

DEFENSEMEN:

The three current highest-paid defensemen for Columbus will all have their contracts expire on July 1, 2018. Fedor Tyutin ($4.500 million) and Jack Johnson ($4.357 million) will become UFAs on that date, while Ryan Murray ($3.494 million this year, $2.285 million starting next season) will be an RFA.

Seth Jones ($3.225 million) and Dalton Prout ($1.075 million) are both set to become RFAs this summer, while Justin Falk ($0.600 million) hits Unrestricted Free Agency. David Savard ($1.300 million this year, $4.250 million starting next season) is already locked up long-term.

The Blue Jackets’ top defensive prospect, Zach Werenski, will not require protection from the Expansion Draft due to his lack of professional service time, which does help the Jackets. Prospects Michael Paliotta ($0.925 million) and Dillon Heatherington ($0.925 million) would require protection, however. Paliotta will be an RFA on July 1, 2017.

 

GOALTENDERS:

Sergei Bobrovsky ($7.425 million) turns 29 late in the summer of 2017, and his contract runs through the 2018-19 NHL season. Barring a dramatic shift in the next 12 months, it would seem highly likely that the Jackets hang on to Bobrovsky. This would mean, however, exposing their two top goaltending prospects in Joonas Korpisalo ($0.925 million) and Anton Forsberg ($0.700 million). Forsberg will be an RFA this coming offseason while Korpisalo becomes an RFA next offseason.

 

THOUGHTS:

Offensively, Saad, Dubinsky, Atkinson, Jenner, Bjorkstrand, Wennberg and Milano make the most sense to make up the seven protected forwards. This would, however, expose Nick Foligno – who posted 73 points in 79 games just last season – and Scott Hartnell –  who is currently tied for second on the team in points.

The Jackets are likely to lose a member of their blue line. Johnson, Murray, Jones and Savard all warrant protection, and that would leave Tyutin on the outside. However, unless Columbus decides to keep just four forwards (which, as was just shown, is unlikely), one of the remaining four will have to be exposed. Smart money would be on Johnson, who is not only the oldest of the bunch, but also will become a UFA just one year after the Expansion Draft.

In net, it would seem unlikely that Columbus would protect anyone other than Bobrovsky. That said, Bobrovsky has suffered groin injuries every season with Columbus except for his first year, missing a total of 62-72 games, according to TSN (the range is due to an unspecified “lower body injury” in December, 2015). Still, would be very surprising to see the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner left unprotected, especially given that they would be unlikely to lose Korpisalo or Forsberg thanks to the other players the Jackets will have to expose.

 

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