Just like with Vegas, the Seattle expansion draft is fascinating. There are so many different factors to consider when thinking about who teams will want to protect and who Seattle could be interested in. I can’t get enough. So of course when The Hockey News publishes a projection of the Caps’ 2021 protection list, I’m all over it.
As a refresher, the Seattle expansion draft will have the same rules as in 2017. Seattle will select one player from each team, except Vegas which is exempt. Teams will have the option of protecting either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight total skaters and one goalie.
Making a protected list for 2021 requires a few projections to be made just with the Caps’ roster itself. For the purpose of this exercise, Steven Ellis, who wrote the projection, assumes all restricted free agents will remain with the team. Unrestricted free agents are either left off the list or kept with their current team. Nicklas Backstrom, for example, is considered a Capital based on the likely scenario that he is re-signed.
Ellis makes the correct assumption that the Caps will protect seven forwards and three defensemen over eight skaters. Protecting eight skaters only makes sense if you have a handful of star defensemen who must be protected. The vast majority of teams will elect the option of protecting 10 skaters instead of eight and the Caps should be no exception.
Keeping all that in mind, let's breakdown Ellis' list by position.
Knowing that Father Time is undefeated and that the team’s top prospect is a goalie, Samsonov seems the likely choice here. The one quibble I have is the notion that Holtby is still with Washington and left exposed. Ellis acknowledges in his reasoning that keeping Holtby would be difficult, but he seems to assume that they will and keep him as the main starter before exposing him in 2021.
That is not going to happen.
Washington’s salary cap situation is going to make it nearly impossible to re-sign Holtby, but if he does re-sign it will be at the expense of Samsonov and not in tandem with him. You do not give the type of contract Holtby will command to a player you intend to replace in another year. If you are Holtby, you do not accept that contract without some sort of guarantee the team is committed to you long-term. For most teams that would result in a no-movement clause, but Holtby will not get one because MacLellan simply does not give them out. There is no player currently on the Capitals roster who has one and there were no players who had one in the 2017 expansion draft.
Also, if the Caps do somehow manage to convince Holtby to sign at a number the team can afford and without a no-movement clause, you do not simply leave him exposed and let him get taken for nothing. If he walks after this season as a free agent, fine, but there is no way he re-signs just to be exposed later. It makes no sense for the team or the player.
As per the rules, we are assuming Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos are still with the team and Radko Gudas is not. Also, per my understanding, Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary should be exempt as second-year players.
Let's get two things out of the way. First, Carlson will and should be protected. He would have to decline to a precipitous degree for this even to be worth discussing and if he does, he won’t be taken anyway. He will be protected, end of story.
Second, let's relax with the Orlov hate.
I am not an Orlov hater. I know a lot of people reading this projection will say Orlov is not worth protecting and this will be a good way to get out from the last two years of his contract and his $5.1 million cap hit. Orlov absolutely has top-four skill and if you don’t believe that, there’s nothing more I can do to convince you. The sample size is large enough at this point that you either believe it or you don’t.
Given his cap hit, this is another player whose future will be decided before 2021. By that point, Orlov will either have shown that he is worth protecting or he will have been moved already. With how tight the team is against the cap, I do not think MacLellan will wait until the expansion draft and keep his fingers crossed Orlov gets taken. When I see Orlov still on the team in 2021, I have to agree with Ellis and protect him.
That leaves one more spot. I am taking Djoos out of it as he is under-sized and looks more and more like a third-pair NHL defenseman. Jensen has value as not only a top-four player but a right-shot one to boot. Given how he struggled last season after getting acquired by Washington, I think it is reasonable at this point to assume that Kempny or Siegenthaler may be more valuable to the team by 2021.
I am very high on Siegenthaler’s potential and he will only be 24 by the time of the expansion draft. Kempny will turn 31 before the start of the 2021-22 season. Add in the fact that he will be entering the final year of his contract, I would lean more towards protecting Seigenthaler over him.
It should first be noted that this projection was done before the unfortunate news of Kuznetsov’s IIHF suspension after testing positive for cocaine. There certainly is growing scrutiny around him, but I do not think it changes much. I have the same opinion of Kuznetsov as I do about Orlov. If the team wants to move on from him, they will have decided to do so long before 2021. If he remains with the Caps by the time of the expansion draft it will be because he has rebounded and put his troubles behind him. Since we are assuming he is still a Capital for this exercise, I am still protecting him.
Like Ellis, I believe MacLellan will be able to re-sign both Ovechkin and Backstrom and if he does, both will be protected. Even if both players are starting to show signs of decline, they will be big enough names to garner interest from Seattle and you have to protect them because of what they mean to the franchise.
I only have one quibble with Ellis’ forward list and that is Hagelin. Hagelin will be 33 by the start of the 2021-22 season. Protecting a bottom-six winger who is 33 is a tough sell for me, especially given that his greatest attribute is his speed. When he starts to decline, it is going to happen fast. Richard Panik may be entering his first season as a Cap, but he is three years younger than Hagelin so he would be my pick.
That means Oshie is left unprotected. Oshie will be 34 by that point, he'll still have a whopping four more years left on his contract at $5.75 million and, given the way he plays, he is going to have a heck of a lot of tread on those tires. He is not going to be top-six Oshie at that point in his career and unfortunately probably will not be living up to his cap hit either. You leave him exposed because he probably won't be taken and even if he is, it may save you from what will probably be some rough years at the end of that contract.
So there you have it. Overall, a pretty good job by Ellis and I would only add only some minor tweaks, namely replace Hagelin with Panik, Kempny with Siegenthaler and do not assume Holtby will be exposed because he will be gone by that point and the era of Samsonov will have already begun.
No doubt this projection is going to change multiple times before 2021, but that’s what makes the expansion draft so fun.
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