There weren’t any major surprises on the Sharks’ expansion protected list that was unveiled on Sunday morning. The team protected the maximum number of players possible, choosing the option of seven forwards, three defensemen and goalie Martin Jones. Pending unrestricted free agents Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were left unprotected, which was expected.
Vegas will have to take one player - and one player only - from each of the 30 NHL teams. Let’s examine who might be on the move from San Jose.
Why he will go to Vegas: Dillon is a young, improving defenseman under contract for the next three seasons. Although there isn’t much offense to his game, he brings a physical/toughness element, and has become more and more reliable in his own end with each passing season. Last season, it was evident he worked on his speed and skating over the summer. That’s the other thing about Dillon: he’s tireless in his effort to improve.
Why he will not: There were some talented young defensemen left available by other clubs, including Sami Vatanen, Matt Dumba, Marco Scandella, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Jack Johnson, Jason Demers and Nate Schmidt. Dillon may not make the cut among the nine defensemen that Vegas is required to select.
Verdict: Dillon is probably the most likely player that the Sharks will lose. And, make no mistake, the Sharks would hate to lose him.
Why he will go to Vegas: Ward previously played under Vegas GM George McPhee in Washington, so McPhee is surely aware of how respected Ward is around the league. If you’re looking to build a young team, as McPhee surely is, Ward would be the perfect guy to serve as a role model. Heck, he could even get consideration to be the first captain.
Why he will not: At 36 years old, Ward’s best playing days are behind him. He went from 43 points in his first season with the Sharks to 29 last season. Ward has just one year left on his contract, too.
Verdict: Several people I've talked to think Ward will be the guy that goes to Vegas. I'd give him second-best odds behind Dillon.
Why he will go to Vegas: Boedker has already played nine years in the NHL, and had a couple 50-point seasons before joining the Sharks as a free agent and struggling to adjust in his first year in teal. Still, if there’s one player the Sharks would surely hold the exit door open for, it’s Boedker. Perhaps they even try to swing a deal with Vegas to include a pick or a prospect to entice the Golden Knights to select Boedker. If the Golden Knights need help getting to the salary cap floor, which they might, Boedker could make sense.
Why he will not: Boedker managed just 26 points in 81 games last season, and was a healthy scratch in two of the Sharks’ six playoff games against Edmonton, putting an exclamation point on his disappointing campaign. He has three years and $12 million remaining on his contract, which should scare away any suitor, Vegas or otherwise.
Verdict: Unless the Sharks are willing to part with a high-end prospect or high round draft pick - which I think is unlikely - I don't see why Vegas would be interested in Boedker and his contract unless they're desperate.
Why he will go to Vegas: Just like Ward, Martin is a respected veteran that would bring instant credibility to the dressing room of what will surely be a young team. Perhaps, like Ward, he’s even captain material. Martin is also a guy McPhee surely knows well as he spent his entire career in the Eastern Conference before joining the Sharks two seasons ago. And, he can still serve as a reliable, defensive-minded defenseman.
Why he will not: Like we mentioned in regards to Dillon, there are probably better options on the blue line than a 36-year-old in the twilight of his career. And, although he’s remained generally healthy in San Jose, Martin has missed significant time in the past due to injury.
Verdict: Unlikely. That's probably just fine with the Sharks, as Martin remains an ideal partner for Brent Burns.
Why he will go to Vegas: Schlemko is signed at a resonable $2.1 million salary for the next three years, and is a nice third-pairing defenseman who can contribute at both ends of the ice when he's on his game.
Why he will not: At 30 years old, he's not exactly young anymore, and there is no single part of Schlemko's game that stands out. There are better options around the league for the Golden Knights, including two defensemen on the Sharks' roster that are probably more appealing.
Verdict: I'd be surprised if Schlemko is Vegas' choice.
Why he will to go Vegas: Thornton, like teammate Patrick Marleau, is now free to negotiate with the Golden Knights. While adding a soon-to-be 38-year-old might not make sense for Vegas hockey-wise, this is still a small market team that has to sell tickets. Adding a future Hall of Famer to serve as the first real face of the franchise would do wonders from a marketing perspective. You'd have to think they’ll at least call Thornton’s camp to see if he might be interested.
Why he will not: Thornton wants to stay in San Jose, but if that doesn’t work out, he’ll want to go to a contender. The impression here is that at the very least, Thornton will want to see what kind of interest there is around the league when other teams are allowed to start speaking with him on June 25.
Verdict: No chance Thornton ends up in Vegas.
Why he will to go Vegas: Like Thornton, Marleau would be a name that hockey fans in Las Vegas would instantly recognize, and he’d sell some tickets. Unlike Thornton, though, I’m not convinced Marleau wants to stay in San Jose. If he’d like to extend his career close to home, perhaps he’ll at least listen to what Vegas has to offer – if it is interested.
Why he will not: Also like Thornton, Marleau likely wants to play for a team that’s a contender if he doesn’t return to the Sharks. He’ll also want to see what other options might be out there on June 25, so signing with the Golden Knights wouldn’t make much sense – at least not yet.
Verdict: I think there's a slight chance Marleau ends up with the Golden Knights, but if he does, it wouldn't be until July 1 at the earliest.