The Stanley Cup has been awarded and the season is officially over, but there’s no time to rest. All NHL teams must give their list of protected players for the Vegas expansion draft to the NHL by 5 p.m. ET on Saturday. That means general manager Brian MacLellan has some work to do.
The Caps have the option of protecting either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie. General manager Brian MacLellan told the media in his final availability of the season that he intends to use the first option.
Assuming that is still the case, here is a projection of who the Caps will protect and who they will leave exposed:
Protected forwards (7): Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Tom Wilson, Brett Connolly
Exposed: Lars Eller, Jay Beagle, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, T.J. Oshie
If you are clinging to the idea of exposing Ovechkin, you need to let it go. The Caps are not going to risk losing their best player for nothing just to free up cap space. Even if the team wants to keep Oshie and can find the money, they also are not going to protect any unrestricted free agents. If he wants to stay in Washington, he’ll tell that to Vegas during the negotiation window in which Golden Knights general manager George McPhee can talk to exposed free agents.
Why would the Caps protect Connolly while exposing Eller and Beagle? According to the expansion draft rules, each team must expose two forwards who are under contract for 2017-18 and have played in at least 40 games the past season or at least 70 over the past two seasons. Connolly may seem like an obvious candidate to leave exposed, but he does not fulfill the criteria. Of the players that do, I narrowed it down to Johansson, Wilson, Eller and Beagle. Johansson just had a career year and Wilson showed great potential in the playoffs so I went with Eller and Beagle. If there was value to exposing Connolly, the Caps would, but as it is I was left with one more player to protect so Connolly got the nod.
Protected defensemen (3): John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov
Exposed: Brooks Orpik, Taylor Chorney, Nate Schmidt, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner
There are a lot of interesting candidates exposed on the Caps’ blue line. Shattenkirk is considered one of, if not the best free agent on the market and Vegas will get to talk to him before anyone else. The best case scenario for Washington would be if Vegas signs Shattenkirk because he would count as the team’s one player. Of course the guy most Caps fans will be concerned for is Schmidt, but Carlson Niskanen and Orlov all represent a level of value Washington cannot afford to expose and lose for nothing.
Protected goalie (1): Braden Holtby
Exposed: Philipp Grubauer
No, it does not make sense to expose Holtby. If you want to get rid of Holtby, you trade him which you could easily because he already has a Vezina to his name and is a finalist again this year. The Caps are not going to do that because it would be stupid to declare Holtby as a bad playoff goalie after one, one bad postseason. He went into the playoffs with the best save percentage in NHL playoff history. You literally cannot get better than that. He has been great in the postseason every single year before this year, so no, the Caps are not going to expose him.
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