With Gary Bettman announcing that he hopes to have a decision on the league’s long-rumored expansion by June, and deputy commissioner Bill Daly commenting on the number of players existing teams could potentially lose in an expansion draft (one player if the league expands by one team, two players if the league expands by two), the NHL’s GMs spent the last day of their Florida meetings discussing the conditions and parameters of a potential expansion draft. The stated intent of the meeting was to make any potential expansion draft one of the deeper ones in league history, so as to make any expansion team competitive from the get-go.
The league’s rules for the expansion draft are as follows: first or second year pros would be exempt, and unsigned or drafted players would be exempt for two years after they were drafted. From there teams would be allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender or simply eight skaters and one goaltender. Additionally, the combined salary for protected players would be required to be at least 25 percent of a team’s total payroll.
One interesting question however is the question of no-trade and no-movement clauses, which may mean big decisions ahead for the Rangers. While it’s still ambiguous as to the way in which NTCs/NMCs would work in any expansion draft, David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period had this to say on Twitter:
On expansion draft protection lists & players with NMC: If NHL respects NMCs, player would count against a team's list, not in addition to.
— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) March 16, 2016
Broadly speaking any expansion draft scenario would represent a critical juncture for the Rangers, given their considerable forward depth and the overarching direction of the team as Jeff Gorton looks towards the future while trying to optimize the present. Further beyond that however, is the issue of the Rangers’ defense, given that Dylan McIlrath would potentially be eligible for the expansion draft (I’m not 100% clear on how the “second year pro” rule works), Dan Girardi’s contract carries a full NMC until 2016 before becoming a modified NTC , and Marc Staal’s contract has a full NMC until 2017 before becoming a modified NTC.
It’s generally understood that expansion drafts are an opportunity for teams to rid themselves of bad contracts, but given the league’s intent to make this a particularly deep expansion draft it wouldn’t be shocking if players with NMCs or NTCs were automatically protected as a part of a teams list. This would hamstring teams like the Rangers, who have multiple NMCs/NTCs on their roster, including those of the two aforementioned veteran defensemen.
If that’s the case then it may be incumbent on the Rangers’ management to look into trading one or both of Staal and Girardi sooner rather than later, in order to rid themselves of those contracts before the expansion draft chains them to the roster. Whether you’re a fan of Girardi and Staal or not, those contracts are massive and it would be a detriment to the team to potentially lose young talent like McIlrath while being stuck with two players plainly in decline. Of course these kinds of events don’t take place in a vacuum, and the looming threat of an expansion draft might make other GMs wary of trading for such large contracts.
Still though, if they’re valued as defensemen elsewhere in the league (and I find it hard to believe that there isn’t some team that would want Girardi and/or Staal) and a trade can be engineered, it may be prudent to move one or both of the veteran d-men in the event of an expansion draft going down. With the limitation on the amount of players a team can protect every spot counts, and with an eye to the future the Rangers may want to get the most out of those protected spots. That may mean some tough, but necessary, decisions.