We’re less than five months away from the Seattle Expansion Draft. In late July, the NHL’s 32nd team will be able to scoop up players and begin assembling their first roster. With that in mind, we thought it might be a good time to go back and re-visit our most recent look at what the Kings may be thinking and how they’ve already made a few moves to prepare for that day.
Back in October 2020, we detailed which LA players might be protected and why. Then, near the end of that article, we posed a question to Kraken management – ‘Would you like Quick, Maatta, Luff, Wagner, or MacDermid?’
Four months have passed since that discussion, several players have been added to the organization, nearly 20 NHL games have been played this season, and July will be here before we know it.
Eventually, in the days leading up to the hockey world finding out which players Seattle will be taking, Kings GM Rob Blake will have to make several decisions – starting with opting for a distinct path at the first fork in the road. Do the Kings want to protect (A) seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie or (B) eight skaters total – regardless of position – and one goalie?
Currently, we believe Blake & Co. will opt for Plan B.
While Option A sounds like the better choice on the surface, namely because you get to protect more players in total, the trade off there is that they’d be limited to just three defensemen in an effort to protect additional forwards.
Rather than just wait until the week before the Expansion Draft and simply report which Kings players will be protected, we’re opting to have a little fun — and hopefully create some spirited discussion among the fanbase — by posting a Protection List Power Rankings. For the remainder of the regular season, we’ll occasionally rank who deserves to be protected and who that would leave exposed for the Kraken to possibly select. Obviously, the list would be a moving target, and as the season wears on, some guys may play their way on or off the protection list.
A little background context is likely necessary here, just to make sure everybody understands a few key Expansion Draft rules.
Heading into things, the Kings have a lot of to be thankful for – primarily because almost all of their top prospects are actually not eligible to be included in the process.
Exempt Forwards – Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Quinton Byfield, Aidan Dudas, Sammy Fagemo, Arthur Kaliyev, Rasmus Kupari, Tyler Madden, Kasper Simontaival, Johan Sodergran, Akil Thomas, Alex Turcotte, and Gabe Vilardi
Exempt Defensemen – Mikey Anderson, Tobias Bjornfot, Sean Durzi, Brock Faber, Helge Grans, Cole Hults, Kim Nousiainen, Markus Phillips, and Jordan Spence
Exempt Goaltenders – Jacob Ingham, Lukas Parik, and Matt Villalta
Only one player from last year’s list of LA Kings Top 15 Prospects is potentially available in the Seattle Expansion Draft – Kale Clague.
So, which other Kings players will either need to be protected or made available to Seattle?
Let’s start in goal. This should be the easiest piece to solve, as LA is expected to protect Cal Petersen. This means Jonathan Quick will be left unprotected.
Moving on to the skaters, here’s a quick review of the players Blake will need to make decisions on:
Forwards (17) – Michael Amadio, Lias Andersson, Andreas Athanasiou, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Mikey Eyssimont, Martin Frk, Carl Grundstrom, Alex Iafallo*, Boko Imama, Adrian Kempe, Anze Kopitar, Blake Lizotte, Matt Luff, Trevor Moore, Drake Rymsha, and Austin Wagner
Defensemen (10) – Mark Alt, Daniel Brickley, Kale Clague, Drew Doughty, Kurtis MacDermid, Olli Maatta, Jacob Moverare, Matt Roy, Austin Strand, and Sean Walker
Goaltender (1) – Jonathan Quick
One footnote on Iafallo. He’s currently scheduled to be an Unrestricted Free Agent this summer. While the Kings don’t have to protect him, it gets a little dicey if they don’t. For example, expansion rules would allow the Kraken to sign him as a UFA before they select him. Seattle could also select him, even though he’s a UFA, and he would still be free to sign anywhere he wanted. Thus, it’s a little tricky.
Before we move along any further, it’s also worth mentioning, there are several other technical rules to the Expansion Draft. Although we’ll try not to bore you with most of them, there is one section that’s extremely important.
Essentially, each NHL team is going to expose a pool of players — a group of 28 guys for the Kings, as listed above — and within that group there needs be a minimum of four experienced players, defined as follows:
– A team must expose at least two forwards and one defenseman who are (a) under contract for the 2021-22 season and (b) have played in 27 or more NHL games in 2020-21 OR played at least 54 NHL games in 2019-20 and 2020-21 combined
– A team must also expose one goalie who is under contract for the 2021-22 season OR is an RFA going into the 2021-22 season
Two brief notes regarding this section of the Expansion Draft rules:
– Quick meets the criteria for netminders. In fact, he’s the only goaltender in their system who qualifies (after they protect Petersen). Thus — just to play out a hypothetical here — in the event Quick is traded for any reason prior to the Expansion Draft, the Kings would either need to get a goalie back in return or they’d likely have to extend the contract of Troy Grosenick by one year (as he doesn’t currently meet the contract status required for an experienced goalie). Somehow, the Kings would need to come up with a goalie to meet the criteria.
– As of last summer, LA was actually a little thin on the defensive side because after Doughty, Roy, and Walker, they didn’t have any other experienced defensemen under contract. It’s one of the many reasons a trade for Maatta worked. He checked all the boxes needed as an experienced defenseman they could expose in the Draft. It’s also why we don’t expect the Kings to put him on waivers or trade him. MacDermid has now played in 55 combined games between this season and last season, giving the Kings two defensemen who meet the experienced player criteria. Some have asked, ‘Why don’t the Kings put MacDermid on waivers (to send him to the AHL), and allow Clague to come up?’ Go back to the plan. This is part of the reason why the Kings plan on rotating Clague/Bjornfot in the NHL this season. They simply don’t have room for both at the same time if everybody’s healthy. If they put MacDermid on waivers to make room and he’s claimed by another team, and then Maatta has a serious injury later in the year, things really get complicated. Barring a major change, expect Maatta and MacDermid to stick around, if for no other reason, than for Expansion Draft reasons.
Now, with all of the lawyer-esque details behind us, let’s get to the fun part – debating who stays!
As stated above, we believe Blake will ultimately prefer to go with Option B, allowing the Kings to protect eight skaters total and one goalie.
If they went with Option A, they could only protect three defensemen (Doughty, Roy, Walker) and that would leave Clague unprotected. For what purpose? To protect which extra forwards? We just don’t see it.
For the Power Rankings, we’ll present the eight skaters we believe will be protected in the Expansion Draft. Who knows, maybe somebody plays well enough over the balance of the season to bump another player out of the top-8 or maybe somebody gets traded to clear room for a player on the bubble. There are a whole host of scenarios that could impact our weekly rankings prior to the Expansion Draft in July. In the end, Seattle will only get to select a single player from each of the NHL teams — sans Vegas, they’re the only team excluded from the entire process — so the Kings only stand to lose one guy from the entire pool of players they leave exposed.
PROTECTION LIST POWER RANKINGS – February 23
Cal Petersen – locked
Drew Doughty – locked, has a No Movement Clause
Matt Roy – a Steady Eddie, as McLellan calls him
Sean Walker – 3 more years at $2.65m AAV, very affordable
Kale Clague – needs to get dirty to stay here, can’t be perimeter player
Anze Kopitar – locked, team captain and face of the franchise
Alex Iafallo – quietly supplies secondary offense, contract status lingering
Adrian Kempe – still just 24 years old, maturing into support player, perhaps has more offense
Lias Andersson – he’s here now, by a thread, will need to show more in coming months
READY, WILLING, AND AVAILABLE
Five bubble players itching to grab protection on the list…
Jonathan Quick – two shutouts in his past three games, former Conn Smythe winner reminding people who he is
Austin Strand – played great in small sample size, he’s a third-pair D, Clague is top-4
* Should he be available, there’s also a great tie-in to Seattle area, played junior hockey there
Matt Luff – it’s hard to move your way up the power rankings sitting idle, needs to play… and soon
Dustin Brown – 10 goals, leads the team, there’s no way they’d protect him… right?
Carl Grundstrom – quietly blossoming into a very effective third-line player, may unseat somebody
Also available in the Expansion Draft:
Forwards – Amadio, Athanasiou, Carter, Eyssimont, Frk, Imama, Lizotte, Moore, Rymsha, Wagner, plus Alt, Brickley, MacDermid, Maata, and Moverare
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