Why Caps must protect Backstrom, but not Ovechkin from Seattle

Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin

Amidst all the intrigue and questions that come with the upcoming Seattle Kraken / NHL Expansion Draft, one thing is certain for the Capitals: Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin are not going anywhere.

But just because neither player will be Kraken bound does not mean the team will handle them the same way. When the protection lists are finalized on July 17, you should not be surprised or worried if Backstrom's name is on it and Ovechkin's name is not. In fact, it would be the smart move.

This is not to say that the Caps should move on from Ovechkin. That would be foolish. Rather, there is no need to protect Ovechkin from the expansion draft because he will not be taken.

Let's start with the basics. Each team has two options for their protected list. They can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie. It is a common mistake to believe that any player with a no-trade clause must be protected, but this is incorrect. Rather, any player with a no-movement clause (NMC) must be protected, but players with a no-trade clause can be left exposed.

General manager Brian MacLellan does not give out NMCs very often and that proved helpful in 2017 in the last NHL Expansion Draft for the Vegas Golden Knights. That year, the team had no players it was obligated to protect. This year, there are five players with modified no-trade clauses, but only one with a NMC: Backstrom. He is the only player whom the Capitals must protect.


That, of course, is no problem. He would be someone the team would want to protect anyway. The bigger question is why should the team leave Ovechkin exposed?

Ovechkin is not currently under contract for the 2021 season as he just played out the last year of his 13-year deal. This does not leave him exempt from being selected in the expansion draft. In fact, Seattle will be granted an exclusive interview period in which it can speak to a team's pending free agents starting on July 18, three days before the July 21 draft.

But selecting pending free agents in the expansion draft makes zero sense given that free agency opens on July 28.

If a player is interested in signing with Seattle, then it makes sense for the Kraken to wait, select a different player from that team and then sign the original player as a free agent, thus getting two players instead of one. If a player is not interested in signing, then Seattle would be wasting its expansion draft pick by selecting a player who can walk away as a free agent a week later.

In Ovechkin's case, he has made clear he wants to stay in Washington. If taken, the Kraken could then expect Ovechkin to leave as a free agent and simply sign with Washington.

If he has no intention of signing with Seattle, why take him and waste the pick?

That equation changes, however, if Ovechkin re-signs. If Ovechkin were to re-sign with the Caps as of today, then suddenly the team would need to protect him or Seattle will inherit his new contract.

Because of this, it is believed many teams and pending free agents have handshake agreements on deals that they will sign once the expansion draft is over. That way the team does not have to protect the player and the player does not have to worry about getting stolen away from a team they want to play for.

It is widely believed Ovechkin is going to sign a new deal as soon as the expansion draft is over for this very reason. Considering he wants to be back and the Caps want him back, Seattle is holding up any new deal.