The addition of an NHL team in Seattle for the 2021-22 season has some upside for the Canucks, adding a geographical rival that should lead to some intense games, particularly if they meet in the playoffs, as each teams’ fans will be able to easily travel to see their team in the other’s arena. It also means, however, that the new team will be taking one of the Canucks’ players in an expansion draft.
We’re nearly three years away from Seattle’s expansion draft, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start thinking about how it could affect the Canucks. In fact, there’s one distinct decision that could be affected: whether Quinn Hughes plays for the Canucks this season and, if he does, how much.
There was always a possibility that Hughes could play a few games for the Canucks towards the end of the season after he returned to the University of Michigan.
If Hughes and the Wolverines are eliminated from the postseason prior to the Frozen Four Tournament, he could sign a contract and play a few games with the Canucks to end the season, similar to what Adam Gaudette and Brock Boeser did before him. Alternatively, if the Canucks somehow manage to make the playoffs, Hughes could make his Canucks debut in the postseason.
While it would be great to see Hughes don a Canucks sweater this season, it would come at a cost. If he plays at least 11 games this season, he would need to be protected in the expansion draft, as he would be considered a three-year pro by the time 2021 rolls around.
If Hughes plays fewer than 11 games or doesn’t play for the Canucks this season, and instead signs with the Canucks during the summer, he’ll be exempt from the expansion draft as a two-year pro. That would provide another precious slot to protect a defenceman.
Assuming Hughes doesn’t play more than 11 games — there's a possibility that Michigan could surprise and still make the Frozen Four while the Canucks miss the playoffs, rendering the entire problem moot — who will the Canucks need to protect?
Since there’s plenty of time before 2021, the Canucks’ situation could change significantly, but let’s look at who will currently need to be protected. Any player that is on the Canucks or Utica Comets’ roster this season will be eligible for the expansion draft, as even rookies will be third-year pros by 2021.
Just like in the Vegas expansion draft, the Canucks will be able to protect seven forwards, three defenceman, and one goaltender.
Let’s start by looking at the players who are already under contract through the 2020-21 season.
The only goaltender currently signed through 2020-21 is Michael DiPietro, who will be exempt from the expansion draft.
It might sound alarming, but it’s likely that the Canucks will protect only three players from this list: Bo Horvat, Elias Pettersson, and Olli Juolevi. Some Canucks fans might hope that Seattle takes Loui Eriksson or Jay Beagle, but prospects like Kole Lind, Petrus Palmu, and Jonah Gadjovich are also very likely to be exposed in the expansion draft.
It could also lead to some interesting contract negotiations for the likes of Brandon Sutter and Sven Baertschi if the Canucks want to re-sign them. It might be more likely that they walk away from them both.
Fortunately, the Canucks don’t have any No Movement Clauses on the books — any player with a No Movement Clause has to be protected in the expansion draft.
Then there are the pending Restricted Free Agents, who will need new contracts before the 2020-21 season.
If you’re wondering what the Canucks will do with all of their cap space, the list of players that will need new contracts within the next couple years should give you pause. Fortunately, the Canucks will have some contracts coming off the books as well.
Here’s where the Canucks’ choices for who to protect in the expansion draft could get interesting. The Canucks protected Markus Granlund in the Vegas expansion draft, but it’s hard to see them doing the same in 2021, assuming he’s still around. Adam Gaudette and Nikolay Goldobin seems like safe bets to get protected, but what about Jonathan Dahlen and Josh Leivo? Which of those two will be the better player in three years’ time?
On defence, Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher will need new contracts in the next two years and are the only two defencemen that really make sense to protect from this list, but the Canucks could still add a defenceman or two in free agency or bring back one or both of Alex Edler or Chris Tanev.
Finally, Demko will obviously get a new contract (which will be an intriguing negotiation, but that’s a topic for another post) and is the only likely option at this point to get protected in the expansion draft. If the Canucks sign a free agent goaltender or trade for one in the next couple years, that could complicate things, however.
Finally, let’s look at the pending Unrestricted Free Agents.
There are no issues at forward or goaltender, but there’s some minor intrigue with Alex Edler and Chris Tanev. Will the Canucks trade either defenceman? Will they try to re-sign them? If so, will they be tempted to protect one or both in the expansion draft?
If they did, that would be a mistake. By the 2021 expansion draft, Edler will be 35. Tanev will be 31, turning 32 in December. Edler might have a couple seasons left in him by that point, while Tanev should have a few more, but they’ll be on the decline, particularly considering the injury woes both have dealt with already in their careers.
Let’s just assume that the Canucks either won’t re-sign either defenceman or won’t protect them in the expansion draft if they do.
Prospective Protected List
Josh Leivo/Jonathan Dahlen
That seems like a reasonable list to me. The most intriguing one will likely be the seventh forward. If Leivo pans out as a top-six winger with Pettersson or Horvat, he’ll be hard to part with, but Dahlen has a high ceiling.
There’s also the possibility of one of Lind, MacEwen, Jasek, Palmu, or Gadjovich breaking through and making it an even harder decision. Perhaps even Goldobin could end up on the outside if that happens.
Since we’re still a ways out from the expansion draft, the Canucks’ situation could change significantly, either via trades or free agency. Keep in mind: if the Canucks add a free agent that they would want or need to protect in the expansion draft, that means one more of the above players would end up exposed.
If you want the Canucks to pursue Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency, that means losing Demko in the expansion draft. If the Canucks address their troubles on defence via trade or free agency, that means exposing Stecher and/or Hutton.
The expansion draft may still be distant on the horizon, but it has to be on the minds of Jim Benning and the Canucks’ front office.