Welcome back to the 2nd part of the Habs Expansion Draft mini-series. In part one, we took a look at all the general information about the expansion draft, including the rules, key dates, which Habs players need to be protected, and the deal with free agents. You can read the first part here.
In this segment, we will be taking a look at which players Montreal should protect for the expansion draft. Keep in mind that this is solely opinion based, and chances are my list and the Habs list will have some differences. Also, I will not be protecting any UFAs such as Alex Radulov and Andrei Markov due to the fact that Vegas will most likely pass on UFAs. Lastly, if you are uninterested in the decision process, and would just like to see who I protect, there will be a heading at the end of the article with the answer. With that being said, let’s get into part 2 of this 3 part mini series.
Which Option To Choose
As we saw in part 1, each NHL team can choose between two different options in regards to the players they protect. Teams can either protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goalie, or 4 forwards, 4 defensemen, and 1 goalie. While most team usually go the first route, teams with an abundance of quality defensemen such as the Nashville Predators, Anaheim Ducks, and the Minnesota Wild are more likely to choose the 2nd option. While the Habs do have several decent defensemen that need to be protected in Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Nathan Beaulieu, and Jordie Benn, I believe the Habs would be much better off going with the 1st option. If Montreal were to go the 2nd option, several good players will be left unprotected with some potential names being Andrew Shaw, Phillip Danault, Charles Hudon, or Paul Byron. Losing one of these players would be a much bigger loss than losing a bottom pairing or depth defender. Due to this, the 7-3-1 option is the obvious choice.
Must Be Protected
As we also saw in part 1, there are two players with No Movement Clauses that Montreal needs to protect. These players are Carey Price and Jeff Petry. Luckily for Montreal, they are not being hurt by these No Movement Clauses. Both Price and Petry would have been guaranteed to be protected. Price is the unanimous best goalie in the world, and Petry has become one of Montreal’s top defenseman since being acquired in 2015. After these two players, we now need to protect 2 defensemen, and all 7 forwards.
After the two players with No Movement Clauses, we now need to protect 7 forwards and 2 defensemen. First off let’s take a look at the players that are almost guaranteed to be protected.
Starting from the defense, the first obvious protection is Shea Weber. Although he may not be PK Subban, there is still no doubt that Weber is not only the best defensemen on Montreal but also a top defenseman in the league. Weber finished tied for 2nd in goals as a defenseman this past season with his 17 markers. He also had 9 more goals than the next best Habs defensemen. On top of his offense, he was very solid defensively. His 1.25 GA/60 lead all NHL defensemen with more than 30 GP. Although his contract situation may be pretty rough, he is still an easy pick for Montreal.
Now onto the forwards. Protecting Pacioretty is probably the easiest decision Montreal will have to make. The Captain is one of the best left wingers in the league and has proven himself as an elite goal scorer. He has scored at least 30 goals in the last 4 seasons, including 35 last year and a career-high of 39 in 2013-14. Pacioretty also has one of the best contracts in the league, as he is only being paid $4.5 million for 2 more seasons.
Despite all the criticism he has been receiving, Alex Galchenyuk is still one of Montreal’s top offensive players. Although he did not have a good finish to the year, you still have to take note of what he did before his nagging injury. Galchenyuk scored 30 goals in the previous season and was one of the league’s leading scorers until he was sidelined. Even with his poor end to the season, Galchenyuk still finished 2nd on Montreal in points per game and was on pace for around 60 points had he not gotten injured. On top of everything, Galchenyuk is only 23 years old.
Gallagher is in a similar boat to Galchenyuk. After showing tons of promise, he had an underperforming year due to injuries. Also like Galchenyuk though, you need to look back at what he did before this season. Apart from this year, he has always been in and around the 20 goal mark throughout his career. In the previous year, Gallagher was on pace for around 30 goals before a hand injury similar to the one he sustained this season. Even when he doesn’t score, he is still usually a factor for Montreal by getting on the other team’s nerves with his chippy play style. All this is far too much to pass on, especially considering he’s still yet to reach his prime.
Very Likely To be Protected
After the 4 players listed above, we now have 4 forwards and 1 defensemen to protect. Despite not being as big of guarantees compared to the players above, these next players are still more than 99% likely to be protected in my opinion IMO.
Before the season, using a protection spot on Danault would have been a surprise to many. Danault was rarely used in Chicago, and only had 5 points in 21 games after being acquired by Montreal near the trade deadline. Despite showing little signs in the previous years, Danault had a breakout season with the Habs this season. After an injury to Alex Galchenyuk, Danault was able to showcase his talents playing alongside Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov on the Habs 1st line. Danault was able to pick up 40 points this season and was solid on the defensive end as well. The former 2011 1st rounder is still only 24 years old, and still, has plenty of years to enhance his game even further than he did this past season.
Since being acquired on waivers from the Calgary Flames 2 years ago, Byron has proved to everyone why he belongs in this league. After showing some promise in the 2015-16 season with 11 goals, Byron became one of Montreal’s top scorers this past year, scoring 22 goals and picking up 43 points. This placed him 2nd in goals and 4th in points on the Habs. The only thing that is keeping the speedy forward out of my “guaranteed” section is that he will most likely not sustain this rate of scoring. Byron had a crazy 22.9% shooting percentage this past season compared to the league average of around 9-10%. Even though he may not be a guaranteed protection, there is still a very small chance the Habs leave one of their 20 goal scorers unprotected.
Shaw may not have had the best of seasons, only scoring 12 goals and 29 points this year, but it is still very likely that he’s protected. It is very clear that Bergevin values Shaw as a long-term member of the Habs due to the 6 year, $3.9 million contract he was signed to last summer. In addition, Shaw is still considered an above average 3rd liner and brings value to the Canadiens. One may argue that the Habs should leave Shaw unprotected so Vegas could take his arguably contract off of Montreal’s hands. For what it’s worth, I don’t think the Habs should get rid of a 25-year-old regular just because of a contract that may be 1 million more than it should be.
We are now only left with 2 more players to protect; 1 forward and 1 defensemen. These final two selections will be the most difficult of the entire process.
Firstly, let’s knock out the players who are most likely to be left unprotected. Career AHLers like Connor Crisp, Bobby Farnham, Stefan Matteau, and Chris Terry will definitely not be protected. In addition to these players, it is unlikely the Habs will protect a 4th liner in Torrey Mitchell even though he’s been a serviceable player for the past couple of years. That leaves us with Tomas Plekanec, Charles Hudon, Jacob De La Rose, and Daniel Carr.
While Plekanec would help the Habs out short term, exposing 3 good young players would hurt them significantly. Also, getting rid Plekanec’s $6 million cap hit would help Montreal add some key pieces for this upcoming season. Between those two reasons, it is safe to say Plekanec will be left off Montreal’s protected list.
The next player to be left off would have to be Daniel Carr. While Carr has shown promise in the past, the other two players have far more upside to their games. They are also a lot younger than Carr. In addition, Carr is less of a well-known name than the other two players so it is less likely he will be selected.
That leaves us with our final two players in De La Rose and Hudon. De La Rose has had far more NHL time than Hudon thus far into their careers. Although De La Rose may struggle offensively, his defensive play is very strong and could be of great use to Montreal in the future. De La Rose has also started to find his offensive game a bit, as he had 14 goals and 31 points with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps.
Despite the promise De La Rose is showing, Hudon, on the other hand, has the potential to be a very good scoring forward in the NHL. Hudon has been tearing up the AHL. After 28 goals in 2015-16, Hudon upped his play even further with 27 goals in 11 fewer games played. His 27 goals put his tied for 7th in the AHL, with most of the players above him played far more games than him. Hudon also has 4 points in 6 NHL games with Habs.
Overall, Hudon has far more upside than De La Rose, and while they can both become good NHL players, I will have to use the final forward protection spot on Charles Hudon.
While the final forward spot may have had a longer thought process, the final defensemen spot with easily be the most difficult choice the Habs will have to make. The players remaining are Nathan Beaulieu, Jordie Benn, Alexei Emelin, Brandon Davidson, and Nikita Nesterov, plus AHLers Zach Redmond, Keegan Lowe, and Dalton Thrower.
The 3 AHLers are the easy picks to be left unprotected, as none of them have the potential to become regulars in the NHL. Next, I am going to eliminate the 2 depth players; Brandon Davidson and Nikita Nesterov. While the two defensemen are young and have the potential to become regulars in the big league, the Habs will have a fairly easy time replacing these depth guys whether it’s in free agency, off waivers, or via a trade where they do not have to give up much.
The next player to be left unprotected is Alexei Emelin. Emelin is always a liability when he is on the ice but somehow has managed to constantly get into the lineup. Apart from his hard-hitting, there really isn’t anything good to say about the Russian defensemen. On top of everything, his $4.1 Million cap hit is far too high, and Montreal would love to get rid of it for the final year of his deal.
That leaves us with our final two players; Nathan Beaulieu and Jordie Benn. The two players are very different from each other. Benn is a solid defender with little offensive abilities who has just hit his prime, and Beaulieu is a young player with lots of offensive upside who makes constant mistakes and struggles defensively. At the season’s end, the Habs opted to keep Benn in the lineup over Beaulieu in game 6 of the 1st round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Many have lost their patience with Beaulieu. The young defender could have one game where he is unbelievable, then follow that game up with a horrid performance with tons of mistakes. Benn on the other hand rarely made mistakes throughout his time with Montreal and was very reliable when called upon, but at the same time never did anything too special. Basically, Beaulieu is the high risk, high reward option, and Benn is a low risk, average reward option.
If I were Montreal, I would still protect Beaulieu 100%. Although he has struggled, he still has way too much upside to pass up on. He is still only 24 and has shown signs of why he was a first-round selection back in 2011 over the years. Also, Benn is nothing special, and similar players could be found elsewhere.
Final Protection List
Forwards: Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault, Andrew Shaw, Paul Byron, and Charles Hudon
Defensemen: Jeff Petry, Shea Weber, and Nathan Beaulieu
Goalie: Carey Price
And that does it for part two of the mini-series. In the 3rd and final segment of the series, I will be going over who the Habs might lose in the Expansion Draft. Leave a comment on what your protected list would be if you were the Habs. Go Habs Go!