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Predicting the Expansion Draft: Detroit

Ladies and Gentlemen, the moment you’ve been waiting for...

Montreal Canadiens v Detroit Red Wings Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Ever since we started this project, the one thing we knew is that the post about Detroit is both going to be the most read and the most discussed of our series. It’ll also be the most controversial.

One of the hardest aspects to writing this post is that there is rather great potential for a large divide between what Detroit should do and what Detroit will do.

What we’ve decided to do for Detroit is this: We will present what we think is the best-case scenario that we can hope for, given the current lineup. Here’s one example. Based on his current play and contract, should Danny DeKeyser be protected? No. But, do you really think he is not protected after Detroit signed him to that contract this summer?

We will then talk about the situations that are likely to occur due to the “less-than-optimal” protection selections that the fan base is bracing for.

Before we get to that, here’s some important information, since some people will be reading this who haven’t followed the entire series. If you’ve been following along, you can skip to where we discuss the forwards.

Introductory information

Helpful tools

Capfriendly Expansion Tool: Here

Capfriendly Expansion FAQ: Here


Red Wings players exempt from the expansion draft:

Red Wings players exempt from the expansion draft

If you are wondering why Anthony Mantha is not exempt, J.J. and I dove into that this summer. According to the CBA, he should have been exempt, but the league changed the rules (certainly with the players union’s OK).

Protection Options

The Wings have the choice of protecting 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goalie OR 8 skaters (defensemen and forwards) and 1 goalie.

No Move Clauses

Players with an No Move Clause must be protected. For the Red Wings, that’s only Frans Nielsen.

UFAs and RFAs

We wrote a section on how Unrestricted and Restricted free agents will work. I’m copying it from my previous article. Here it is:

Because of the way the rules work, a team does not have to protect a player if he’s in need of a new contract (UFA or RFA) after this season. They still could do so, to ensure that Vegas does not try to sign him to a contract in their special window before the expansion draft. But Vegas can only select 10 players in need of new contracts, and there's no ‘double jeopardy’ on these guys - if they aren't taken during the early access window, they aren't exposed again with the remaining roster during the normal selection the next day.

This leads to an aspect of the protection scenarios that we have been debating for a while. When would a team protect a UFA?

Teams will usually have a pretty good idea if a player is interested in coming back. If so, they’ll try to extend him before the deadline, which means they would have to use a protection slot after they sign him. They could also protect him if they think they could work out a deal before July 1, and they want to make sure they maintain the exclusive negotiating rights.

Another scenario if they are very sure a player will re-sign would be to not protect him and plan to re-sign him on July 1.

On the other hand, if you think a player is going to test free agency anyway, you have little to lose by not protecting him. Vegas is the only team that has the advance window, and I don’t think too many people are going to give up the chance to have 30 other teams bid on their services to sign with Vegas ahead of time. The only difference could be if Vegas drastically overpays for someone, or if they can offer something like a captaincy or top line minutes.

Another possibility is that a player nearing the end of his career could see an opportunity to join the Vegas front office after finishing his career. But, there really isn’t too much that Vegas can offer that overcomes the financial advantage of July 1 for unrestricted free agents.

In short, it is in a player’s financial interest (in most cases) to wait until July 1, as someone will likely overpay for his services. So most free agents will want to wait past the Vegas signing window.

If this seems complicated, it’s because it is. RFAs are pretty easy. If you want to keep the player, protect him. Teams have much more leverage in RFA negotiations.

Exposure requirements

This is where you really need to look at the Capfriendly Expansion Draft tool. Here are the requirements, then I’ll show you how to check for yourself.

So, two of the forwards that the Red Wings expose to the expansion draft have to both be under contract in 2017-18 AND have each played in EITHER 40+ NHL games this current season (counting through the remaining games) OR 70+ NHL games this season and last season.

One of the defenseman exposed has to meet the same requirements.

One of the goalies exposed has to either have a contract extending past this season OR be an RFA at the end of this season AND the team has to have extended the RFA a qualifying offer.

UFAs DO NOT count for the exposure requirement unless the player is extended before the protection lists are due.

Now, let’s look at how you can use the Capfriendly tool to figure out which Red Wings meet the exposure requirements.

Here’s Jonathan Ericsson:

Ericsson meets the exposure requirement because he is under contract after the current season (as noted by his contract end date being in green), and he meets the 40/70 requirement (as noted by the blue check mark).

Brendan Smith does not currently meet the exposure requirement. He meets the 40/70 requirement (blue check mark), but his contract expires this season. If the Red Wings signed him to an extension, he would then meet the exposure requirement.

The last example is Ryan Sproul. He is under contract through the 2017-18 season, so he counts that way, but he has not yet met the 40/70 requirement (no blue check mark). If, however, he plays in 19 more NHL games between now and the end of the season, he will count as a player who meets the exposure requirement.

Vegas’ Options

Vegas will select 30 players in the expansion draft, one from each team. They will have a 48 hour window during which they will have exclusive negotiating rights for any UFA or RFA not protected by his team.

As said in the UFA and RFA section, Vegas can sign up to 10 players during this window. They do not have to pay compensation for signing another team’s RFA, like they would with an offer sheet.

If Vegas signs a UFA or RFA, they CANNOT select another player from the team during the expansion draft. So, hypothetically, if Detroit does not extend or protect Brendan Smith, Vegas can sign him as a free agent during this special window. Detroit cannot then lose another player during the expansion draft.

If Vegas does not sign a Detroit free agent, they will choose one and only one Detroit player in the expansion draft. Any Detroit UFAs (like Smith) would then be fair game for all 31 teams starting noon on July 1.

So Vegas could end up with more than one Detroit player, but only if they pick someone in the expansion draft, then sign a UFA after 12:00pm July 1.

OK, got it?

Now, on to the predictions!


We predict that Detroit will choose the 7 Forward, 3 Defensemen, 1 Goalie option. They don’t have four defensemen that are worth not being able to protect the three additional forwards.

Frans Nielsen must be protected because he has a No Move Clause. Even though his cap hit is high relative to his current level of performance, there is no way that Henrik Zetterberg is not protected, barring some unforeseen change. Regardless of any other arguments, if Zetterberg retires, even if he does so as a member of another team, before his contract expires, the Red Wings will get hit with a large cap recapture penalty.

At this point, let’s address the one question everyone opened this article to read: Is either (or both) of Andreas Athanasiou or Anthony Mantha going to be exposed, and if so, what’s the best bulk-pitchfork supplier?

Like many, if not all of you, Mike and I are of the opinion that these two are no-brainer protects. So, we are going to protect them, but we will later discuss possible reasons they may not be.

Barring any trades, Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist should be the next slots for protection. Both should bring back a high enough return that it makes no sense to lose them for free, even if the plan was to trade one or both.

Our last protect is Justin Abdelkader. The team extended him through 2023, so we don’t see the team exposing him to the expansion draft. This is similar to the DeKeyser scenario mentioned in the introduction. We would not protect him, but the team will.

Darren Helm, Luke Glendening, and Riley Sheahan each satisfy the exposure requirements. Thomas Vanek is a UFA, and we don’t see the team extending him. Even if they want to try to re-sign him, he would likely want to wait until July 1 to sign a deal, so there is no point in protecting him.

Since when this article was written and when it’s scheduled to be posted, the team has indicated they are looking into re-signing Vanek. If they do, it still makes sense for them to wait until after the expansion draft. Like we wrote in the section on UFAs, exposing him only means that Vegas will be able to negotiate with him for 48 hours.

If the reports are true and he wants to stay, its in both his and the team’s best interest to wait until after the expansion draft. If he wants to stay, he would want the team to be the best it could be, and not protecting him would do that.

Drew Miller and Steve Ott are also UFAs. If you think we would protect either player, you will never never never know us. (No you wont’!)

There’s nothing to indicate that the team values Tomas Jurco enough to protect him.


Mike Green is a no-brainer if he’s still with the team. Like we said above, Danny DeKeyser will almost definitely be protected, whether or not he should be. That leaves one spot.

Niklas Kronwall is in a similar position to Henrik Zetterberg with cap recapture, but his injury history and less-than-stellar play this year would make him a long shot for Vegas to select.

Out of the remaining defenseman choices, we select Xavier Ouellet as the third player for protection.

Nick Jensen and Ryan Sproul have not played enough (at least to this point) to merit a protection spot. Also, for the same reason, neither is in much danger of being taken by Vegas. So it was down to Ouellet and Alexey Marchenko.

From watching both play this year, Ouellet has stood out by not standing out. He’s played solidly on a defensive corp that hasn’t played well overall this year.

Looking at some stat comparisons between the two (both 5v5 score-adjusted as of January 12), and Ouellet is ahead.

  • CF%: 48.5 to 46.7
  • GF% 57.5 to 52.1

We still have half a season left, which is a lot of time for things to change. Ouellet could spiral downward, Marchenko could surpass him, or Sproul or Jensen could shine in the second half.

This would leave Jonathan Ericsson, Alexey Marchenko, Brian Lashoff, Ryan Sproul, and Nick Jensen exposed. Brendan Smith is a UFA after this season, and we predict Detroit lets him walk.

Note: In the week between the writing of this post and its publication, Nick Jensen has been playing very well. If that continues, he might work his way into the conversation, but let’s wait and see if he continues his recent stretch of solid play.


All four of the Red Wings goaltending options satisfy the exposure requirement. Jared Coreau and Edward Pasquale are not going to be protected (and are in no danger of being claimed)

The choice is between Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard, and even though Mrazek has not played at the same level we’ve seen from in the past, he is our selection. While the team would not want to lose Jimmy Howard for nothing, Howard is 32, while Mrazek is 24, and Howard has a higher cap hit for an extra year.

Either way, Vegas will likely have better options for a starting goalie than Howard, and will not want to pay over 5M for a backup. I mean, who would want to do that?


If you were yelling at your computer in the player selection about “well, that would be great, but we all know that’s not going to happen!” here is where we discuss alternative scenarios.

With no roster moves, there is at least one reasonably likely scenario that will anger Red Wings fans.

Darren Helm gets protected

We have nothing against Helm, and he played well for the team this season before going down to injury. But his re-signing this off-season was one of the main exhibits for the “Fire Ken Holland” crew. Even if people didn’t feel THAT strongly, many still felt that it was a signing that didn’t have to be made and prevented younger players from earning a spot out of training camp (us included).

If nothing changes, it is possible, perhaps even probable that Detroit protects Darren Helm. If that happens, one of Athanasiou and Mantha would likely be the one to lose his protection spot. Remember, we are not saying we want that, but if that scenario doesn’t scare you, welcome to the site, thanks for stopping by!

Niklas Kronwall gets protected

This could happen, although it’s less likely than Helm. The reasons this could happen are a combination of Red Wing Loyalty(TM) and the cap recapture possibility.

While in a different time zone than “ideal,” this wouldn’t be the disaster that losing Athanasiou or Mantha would be. None of the defensemen who’ve played this year have made a strong case that losing them would greatly harm the team.

The Nightmare Scenario

Much like how you don’t talk about how a goalie has a shutout for fear of jinxing it, or say “Macbeth” in a theater in which that play is not being performed, I dare not speak this scenario’s name.

Let’s just say it would involve a current fourth-liner (or two for double the misery!) with an expiring contract being extended and protected.

Let’s move on.

Tatar and/or Nyquist is Traded

If you started to feel sick about any of the forward scenarios in this section, here’s some hope. It’s possible that one or both of Tatar and Nyquist are traded before the protection roster is due. Trading both seems unlikely, but possible.

If one is traded, then if Helm is protected (or another player who shouldn’t be), Athanasiou and Mantha could still remain protected (which they 185% should be).

Green is Traded

Another possibility, but like I said for the Kronwall section above, it’s not going to really make that much of a difference in terms of expansion protection.

Final Protection Predictions

Because many people will just scroll down to this part, then go straight to the comments, let me reiterate this: This list is our best scenario considering players we feel will 100% be protected whether or not we feel they should be. These players are Danny DeKeyser and Justin Abdelkader. If you didn’t read the article, and you are wondering about Zetterberg, please at least read the part where we explain why he will be protected (and needs to be).

Also, these are Mike and my predictions at this point in the season. Other members of the WIIM team may feel different. We will re-evaluate the situation closer to the deadline for submitting rosters for the expansion draft.

Forwards: Frans Nielsen (NMC), Henrik Zetterberg, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Justin Abdelkader

Defense: Mike Green, Danny DeKeyser, Xavier Ouellet

Goalie: Petr Mrazek