How a 2021 expansion draft puts the Rangers in a bad spot
Per Darren Dreger, the league is expected to announce the 32nd –and presumably final– NHL team. With the final team in Seattle, the league will go through an expansion draft, and it is expected that the expansion draft will follow the exact same rules that existed when Vegas entered the league. It makes sense, since those rules produced a Cup Final team. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
While I actually think the expansion draft rules are fair, it does put the Rangers in a bit of a predicament. For you see, the Rangers specifically held back both Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil last year, especially after they announced the rebuild, to ensure their contracts slid a year. With a sliding contract, the years lined up that both 2017 first rounders would be exempt from a 2020 NHL Expansion Draft. It was sound logic, and it almost worked out.
Now with the draft sliding to 2021, both Andersson and Chytil will have finished their third year of service, thus will no longer be exempt. This applies to Brett Howden as well. As the rosters stand today, all three players will need to be protected. The only two players signed through 2021 are Mika Zibanejad and Brady Skjei. Zibanejad will have a NMC, so he will need to be protected (that makes 4 forwards) and let’s assume Skjei will need to be protected (1 defenseman).
Looking at the forwards, it’s a safe assumption that Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich will still be with the team. That’s already six forwards. It leaves one forward, two defensemen, and one goalie left to be protected. Or if the Rangers go eight skaters and one goalie, then just one more skater left to be protected. That will leave difficult decisions on the table for players like Jesper Fast, Jimmy Vesey, Vlad Namesnikov (if he’s still around), and Kevin Hayes (if he’s still around).
The good news it that the Rangers won’t need to protect Marc Staal, Kevin Shattenkirk, or Brendan Smith, as none will be under contract. So that leaves just Skjei, Tony DeAngelo, and Neal Pionk (and potentially Fredrik Claesson). Unless the Rangers acquire a defenseman that would need to be protected, the Rangers will not be at any risk of losing someone significant.
This is way too early to panic about the expansion draft, especially since we will have two full offseasons to prepare. There will be a lot of roster turnover between now and then, but the forwards mentioned will still likely be on the club. There’s still flexbility and some room to move assets around, but now the Rangers will need to protect three forwards they may not have needed to as early as six months ago. The club navigated the 2017 expansion draft just fine, so there’s reason to believe they will be fine for 2021 as well.