The 2020 NHL offseason has been unlike any offseason before it, with the COVID-19 pandemic throwing the normal summer hockey schedule into complete disarray. The 2021 offseason also projects to be highly eventful, not because of an ongoing pandemic (hopefully...) but due to all of the action around the Seattle Kraken joining the league as the 32nd team.
With the Wild done making moves in free agency, where does the roster currently stand with regards to expansion and who the Wild might protect?
NHL Expansion Rules
First, a quick refresher on the basic rules for anyone needing reminding:
- Teams can choose to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie
- All players with no-movement clauses must be protected
- First and second-year players are exempt
- Seattle must select at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goalies
A full rundown of the expansion rules can be found here.
All of a sudden, the Wild seem to have a group of forwards that will not necessarily need protection. Minnesota has four forwards that will be unrestricted free agents at year’s end, and if the Wild are happy to let them walk away in free agency, they do not need protection. These players are Marcus Johannsson, Nick Bonino, Marcus Foligno, and Nick Bjugstad.
GM Bill Guerin has mentioned the possibility of extending Foligno in the past, so it is possible he will no longer be on this list come expansion time. For the other three are recent acquisitions, it is unclear exactly where they fit into the Wild’s long-term plans.
Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello both have no-movement clauses and will need to be protected unless they agree to waive them, either at the expansion draft or earlier in a trade. Kirill Kaprizov will be exempt as a first year player.
This leaves Victor Rask, Kevin Fiala, Jordan Greenway, Ryan Hartmann, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Nico Sturm as players the Wild will need to either protect or leave exposed during the draft. Any of the unrestricted free agents mentioned above that the Wild want to bring back would also join this list. Fiala is a lock to be protected after leading the team in points last season, but he seems like the only real guarantee. Eriksson Ek and Greenway have long been thought of as part of the future of the team, but they might be left exposed if they do not take steps forward with their development this season. Sturm will likely be left unprotected unless he is given substantial NHL playing time this season and shows his potential. Rask will likely be left unprotected, as the Wild would probably not mind if Seattle took his contract. Hartman has largely been used as a fourth-liner in Minnesota, so he might not be worth protecting.
This means that right now (and granted, a lot will change by the end of next season) it is not clear who the Wild would protect at forward. It also seems possible that the Wild could choose to go with the eight skaters option as opposed to the seven forwards and three defensemen options. This is assuming two things: first, that most of the younger players do not show so much advancement this season that the Wild feel they need to be protected, and second, that Matt Dumba is not traded, and the Wild have more than three defensemen they want to protect.
If the Wild choose to defend seven forwards and three defensemen, then the discussion about which defenders the Wild will protect is pretty simple. The team has three defenders with no-movement clauses that will have to be protected: Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, and Jonas Brodin. This would leave Matt Dumba, Carson Soucy, Greg Pateryn, and Brad Hunt unprotected. Pateryn and Hunt are unrestricted free agents after the season, and the former’s injuries have essentially taken him out of the Wild’s plans.
This upcoming season could determine if the Wild want to protect Dumba or Soucy. If either have bad seasons, their contract prices begin to look rather high, and the Wild might be willing to let Seattle take them and their contracts off the Wild’s hands. Strong seasons from either player, and the Wild may look to see if they can protect another defensemen.
The signing of Cam Talbot leaves the Wild with three goalies that would need protection, Talbot, Alex Stalock, or Kaapo Kahkonen. As discussed in this article analyzing the Talbot signing, as of now, Talbot seems like the logical choice for who to protect. Stalock has been, at best, an average back-up, and Kahkonen has only had a limited opportunity to show what he can do at the NHL level. Assuming that does not change this upcoming season, Talbot is the best choice for who to protect.
Protected List Prediction
Given the current group of forwards, a strong argument can be made that the best option for the Wild is to protect eight skaters rather seven forwards and three defensemen. Barring any extensions, it is unclear who the seven forwards to protect would even be.
Eight Skaters: F Zach Parise (NMC), F Mats Zuccarello (NMC), F Kevin Fiala, F Joel Eriksson Ek, D Ryan Suter (NMC), D Jared Spurgeon (NMC), D Jonas Brodin (NMC), and D Matt Dumba
Goalie: Cam Talbot
The biggest factors that could cause this to change are trades, extensions, and the development of some of the younger players. Regarding trades, if Matt Dumba is moved or if the Zach Parise trade is revisited, either would certainly alter the protected list. Dumba specifically would likely cause the Wild to go the 7/3/1 option rather than the 8/1 option. With respect to extensions, if any of the forwards who are unrestricted free agents after this season receive extensions, they will likely join the protected group. And as for younger players progressing, someone like Jordan Greenway could have an improved season and prove that he warrants protection.
The 2020-21 season will be an important one for Minnesota. As GM Bill Guerin continues to rebuild the roster to his liking, the Wild will have a better sense of what they have in certain players after this year. The progression of certain players will also help Guerin decide who needs to be protected. Right now, it is hard to say who exactly will be protected and who won’t be, but it will be an important issue to watch as the season progresses.