Editor's note: This week, NBC Sports California will look ahead to the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, at which time the Seattle franchise officially will join the league as its 32nd team. Every team in the league will be affected, as players from (nearly) every roster will be made available to Seattle for its inaugural roster. We begin with an explanation of the expansion draft rules.
Over the last two years, the Sharks have developed a budding rivalry with the Vegas Golden Knights, who joined the NHL as an expansion franchise prior to the 2017-18 season.
Two years from now, another expansion franchise -- this one in Seattle, Washington -- officially will join the league, and like Vegas, will slide right into the Pacific Division, with the Arizona Coyotes being displaced to the Central Division.
Before the currently unnamed Seattle franchise begins play in 2021-22, it has to acquire its inaugural roster by way of the expansion draft.
The 2021 NHL Expansion Draft will operate under the same rules for Seattle as it did for the Golden Knights back in the summer of 2017. Seattle will select one player from each of the other teams in the league (excluding Vegas) for a grand total of 30. Specifically, those 30 players must include at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.
Eventually, Seattle will whittle down those 30 players to a minimum of 20 under contract for the 2021-22 regular season, and that inaugural roster must have a cumulative salary that is between 60 and 100 percent of the 2020-21 salary cap's upper limit.
However, it's not as if Seattle can just handpick the best player from each roster. The other 30 teams can protect a limited number of their own players, making them ineligible for selection in the expansion draft.
Those teams have two options for protecting players: Either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or protect eight skaters (forwards or defensemen) and one goalie. Regardless of which option a team chooses, there are certain conditions it must abide by.
For instance, any player with a no-movement clause at the time of the expansion draft -- and who declines to waive that clause -- must be protected and will count toward their team's protected list. Additionally, all first- and second-year players, as well as all unsigned draft choices, are exempt from inclusion in the expansion draft, and won't count toward their team's protected list.
There are two sides to the protected/exempt coin, though. The other 30 teams can't simply scrape the bottom of their respective barrels and expose those remnants to the expansion draft. There are conditions that those teams must meet that ensure Seattle will receive legitimate NHL players, much like the Golden Knights did before making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their debut season.
Each of those 30 teams must expose at least one defensemen and at least two forwards who are a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played in at least 40 NHL games the prior season, or in at least 70 NHL games over the previous two seasons combined.
Furthermore, those teams must also expose at least one goalie who is either under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent immediately prior to 2021-22. If a team elects to expose the latter option to the expansion draft, it must have already given that goalie a qualifying offer prior to submitting its protected list.
Lastly, any players with potential career-ending injuries who have missed more than the previous 60 consecutive games heading into 2021-22, or who have been otherwise confirmed to have a career-threatening injury, cannot be exposed to the expansion draft unless approved by the league.
Traditionally, expansion franchises have taken a long time to find their footing in the NHL, but the Golden Knights bucked that trend and took the sports world by storm. Considering the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft will have the exact same setup as the one that jumpstarted Vegas in 2017, it stands to reason that Seattle could do the same.