The NHL will welcome in a 32nd franchise for the 2021-22 season meaning teams will once again face losing a player in an expansion draft. The draft is set for June 2021. Just as with the Vegas draft, the Capitals are guaranteed to lose a player to the new team.
That may seem like a ways off, but it will actually have an impact on every player move Washington makes from now until then.
Washington currently has seven players on its NHL roster who will still be under contract during the summer of 2021. Three of their biggest names, however, will not. Both Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby’s contracts expire in 2020 and Alex Ovechkin’s current contract is set to expire at the end of the 2020-21 season.
Given how things played out in the Vegas expansion, the most intriguing name is Holtby considering that the Caps could find themselves in a similar situation as the Pittsburgh Penguins did with Vegas leading to Marc-Andre Fleury becoming the franchise player for the Golden Knights.
By the rules of the expansion draft, the Capitals will only be able to protect one goalie from the draft so general manager Brian MacLellan will be forced to choose between Holtby and Ilya Samsonov.
Samsonov is in his first season in Hershey and is widely seen as the team’s future starter. The Caps will only be able to protect one goalie in the draft and, as great as Holtby has been, it would make sense that you would protect your budding starter – who will be 24 at the expansion draft – over the 32-year-old veteran.
But Fleury has provided a cautionary tale for the Caps. Since Matt Murray took over as the undisputed No. 1 on the team after Fleury went to Vegas, he has struggled to stay healthy and has dealt with inconsistent play. Fleury, meanwhile, was dominant in his first year in the desert. He carried his team to a conference championship in its inaugural season, an unprecedented level of success for an expansion team in any sport.
Samsonov has struggled in his first season in Hershey – 3.93 GAA, .862 save percentage – which is understandable and expected considering he is making the move from Russia to North America. If he continues to struggle, however, will the Caps think twice about which goalie to protect because of how well Fleury has continued to play? On the other hand, do you really expose your future starter in order to protect ta 32-year old netminder?
The expansion draft may not be until 2021, but the Caps will be forced into making a decision on their future long before that because of Holtby’s contract.
As the 2020 offseason is still over a year away, we do not know exactly what the team or Holtby will think about his new contract. For most players, however, when they sign a long-term deal with a team, they do it with the intention of staying with that team and in that city. If you’re Holtby, why do you sign a new deal with a team you expect will expose you to Seattle? Perhaps Holtby would be open to being exposed, but it’s not unreasonable to think he would want some sort of assurance that he will be protected from the expansion draft before he signs a new deal and ask for a no movement clause in order to ensure he stays in Washington.
Players who have no movement clauses in their contracts must be protected from the expansion draft. If Holtby gets a no-movement clause, then he will be the lone goalie the team will be able to protect.
Keeping Samsonov at that point would not be impossible, it would just be expensive. If Seattle approaches the draft in the same way Vegas did – and considering the success the Golden Knights had, why wouldn’t you – teams will be able to negotiate and make trades in order to keep Seattle from drafting a certain player that the team cannot protect. If the Caps need to keep Seattle from drafting one of the top goalie prospects in the world, it is going to cost them. Likewise, if they do somehow manage to sign Holtby without a NMC, it will cost to keep Seattle from taking a player who has proven to be one of the best netminders in the NHL and who will be 32 at the time of the 2021-22 season, the same age Fleury was when he went to Vegas.
It’s also important to remember that even if you do end up paying the price it costs to keep both goalies, you’re still going to lose another player to the draft. How much are you willing to trade to protect one player and still end up having to give away another good one?
For those of you hoping for the Ben Bishop option – a proven starter traded by Tampa Bay after prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy proved he was ready to take over as the team’s No. 1 – this seems unlikely. If the Caps believe they need to re-sign Holtby in 2020, it won’t be just so they can trade him away in less than a year before the expansion draft. Plus, why would Holtby re-sign if he thought that was even a possibility?
So while the expansion draft may not be until 2021, it has basically already started for the Caps. They need to think now about the team’s future in net and who exactly is going to be their starter in October 2021.
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