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Seattle Expansion Draft Series – Article 1: The Rules

It’s that time! You know what time I mean. Time to read all about the Seattle Expansion Draft!

Now, you may say that it’s a long way off. And you’d be right. But, at least a few times a week, questions pop up in the comments about the expansion draft, so it makes sense to get started now.

And I do mean “get started.” Just like last time with Vegas, this will be an expansive, months-long series that will cover all aspects of the expansion draft.

Today’s article will cover the rules of the expansion draft. Who is eligible? How many players can teams protect? How many horrible trades are NHL GMs required to make to help out the expansion team? Two out of those three things will be covered in today’s article.

The next article in the series will take an early look at Detroit. I’m sure people will spend a lot of time in this article’s comments discussing what they think Detroit will do, which is great! Just know that there will be a specific article coming soon that will break down Detroit’s choices.

After that, I’ll take a look at each team around the league, checking in with other writers who cover the teams to get a better look at what decisions they’ll be facing.

As the draft gets close, I’ll take a look at changes to team rosters between now and then that may change what a team decides. Then, mock drafts. If you remember last time, it’s a lot. So let’s get started!

Protection Slots and Exemptions

This is what most people care about when it comes to the expansion draft. Sure, there are some smaller items that do have some impact, but as we’ll see in a little bit, not very much.

First off, Vegas is completely exempt from the expansion draft. Seattle will not be picking any players from the Vegas Golden Knights.

Every other team will be able to protect some of its players from being selected by Seattle. We’ll start with how that works, then go into which players are eligible to be selected and which are exempt.

Each team has one of two options:

7 forwards, 3 defense, 1 goalie
8 skaters (non-goalies), 1 goalie.

Most teams will go with the first option. The second option would be one that teams who have four defensemen they value higher than a fifth forward. Regardless of which option a team chooses, they can only protect one goalie.

A player who has a valid No Movement Clause (NMC) MUST be protected. Last expansion draft, players were allowed to waive a NMC specifically for the purposes of the expansion draft and were able to have the NMC remain in place following the expansion draft. It seems likely that the league will do the same thing this time.

This only applies to NMCs, not No Trade Clauses.

If you aren’t sure if a player qualifies, take a look at CapFriendly’s amazing Expansion Draft Tool. A player who must be protected will have an NMC in front of their name. Detroit has no such players. Frans Nielsen had a NMC, but at this point in his contract it’s changed to a modified no trade clause (M-NTC).

In order for a player to be eligible for Seattle to select them, they must have played more than 2 professional seasons by the end of the 2020-21 season. To use a Detroit example, Filip Zadina is exempt and Detroit does not have to use a protection slot on him, regardless of how many games he plays this season. In his case, this season will count as his second professional season because he only played 9 games in the NHL two seasons ago.

The short version is that for the purposes of the expansion draft, a professional season is defined as 10 or more NHL games for players who are 18 or 19 years old or 10 or more NHL games, AHL, or European professional league games for a player who turns 20 before December 31 the year the season begins. The players also have to be signed to an NHL contract, so if a player played 5 seasons in the KHL before signing an NHL contract, those five seasons wouldn’t count for this requirement.

I’m going to cover Detroit’s exemptions in the next article, but if you look at the CapFriendly tool linked a few paragraphs up, you can see who is exempt for Detroit.

Other Requirements (That Are Pretty Meaningless)

One thing that sometimes confuses people is that each team is required to expose four players who meet specific criteria. Last expansion draft, no team had any issue meeting this requirement, so while I’ll cover it here, it’s not something to spend much time focusing on.

A team must expose at least 2 forwards and 1 defenseman who meet the following criteria:

  • They have to be under contract in 2021-22
  • They played in 27 or more NHL games in 2020-21 OR
  • They played in 54 or more NHL games in 2019-20- and 2020-21 combined*/

A team must expose one goalie who meets the following criteria:

  • They have to be under contract in 2021-22 OR
  • They have to be an RFA going into the 2021-22 season./

* UPDATE: Because of the shortened season, the game requirements for this season is pro-rated. Here is the relevant section from the 2020 Memorandum of Understanding:

The numbers I calculated above are assuming that teams play 56 games this season. If the season is cancelled, that’ll likely change.

Again, please don’t spend time worrying about this part. This does not affect which players are exempt either.

The last rule for teams other than Seattle (and Vegas) is about players who are injured long-term (like Henrik Zetterberg). According to Capfriendly, here is the wording for that:

“Players with potential career-ending injuries who have missed the previous 60+ consecutive games due to an injury, do not meet the criteria set forth by the league in respect to the minimum exposure requirements for players, and in certain cases these players may even be deemed as exempt from the Expansion Draft selection process.”

This will not affect many players. Since people here are mainly focused on Detroit, right now it affects Zetterberg, and that’s it on the Red Wings.

Seattle’s Side

Seattle must take exactly one player from each team during the expansion draft. Other teams can make trades with Seattle in addition to the one player selected from their team. For example, hypothetically a team could trade a player like Reilly Smith for a fourth round pick with the understanding that Seattle would take a player like Jonathan Marchessault, but that’s obviously a ridiculous hypothetical. I mean who would gift an expansion teams 23 of a top line?

Seattle must take at least 14 forwards, at least 9 defensemen, and at least 3 goalies. At least 20 of the 30 players they select must be under contract for the 2021-22 season. The total cap hit of the players they select must be between 60% and 100% of the 2020-21 cap hit. (Minimum $48.9M, maximum $81.5M) This should not be a problem at all.

Seattle will have a window of time between when the expansion draft protected lists are finalized and when the expansion draft takes place in which they can sign not only unprotected UFAs, but also unprotected RFAs. The current team CANNOT MATCH. It’s not like an offer sheet.

That is the information that I’ve been putting out since the Vegas Expansion Draft Series, and it’s accurate. But it’s not complete.

Apparently, Seattle can select an unprotected UFA or RFA in the expansion draft WITHOUT signing them during that 48 hour period. How do we know this? Because as Prashanth Iyer researched, it happened last time, even though the league never specifically said it could (as far as I could find).

Vegas signed two UFA/RFA players on 6/21, the day the expansion draft selections were announced, so you would assume those contracts were negotiated during the 48 hour window and announced on the 21st. Those players were Erik Haula and Deryk Engelland, if you are curious.

They also selected the following players who were on expiring UFA/RFA contracts:

Teemu Pulkkinen – RFA – Vegas signed July 6, 2017
Connor Brickley – UFA – Florida signed July 1, 2017
Chris Thorburn – UFA – St. Louis signed July 1, 2017
Jean-Francois Berube – UFA – Chicago signed July 1, 2017
Brendan Leipsic – RFA – Vegas signed July 15, 2017
Oscar Lindberg – RFA – Vegas signed July 4, 2017
Griffin Reinhart – RFA – Vegas signed July 15, 2017
Nate Schmidt – RFA – Vegas signed August 5, 2017

(The players in italics were selected as part of a trade.)

In many cases, this doesn’t change too much, but I wanted to make sure the information I present to you is accurate. Vegas only selected a UFA as part of a trade. The only real change from what I’ve been saying is that Seattle can select a RFA without signing them during that 48 hour period. I don’t think it changes much, if anything, of the predictions I’ve made so far because I’ve basically been treating RFAs as if they could be selected without being signed: If a team would be upset to lose one, they’ll protect them if possible.

It still makes sense in most cases for teams to not protect UFAs because what it really protects is the exclusive negotiating rights through July 28 (the day free agency opens for all teams this season, which is 7 days after the expansion draft.) If a player isn’t going to re-sign with their current team, they’ll want to test the market so all 31 teams can make offers, driving up the price. Of course, they may really want to sign with Seattle, in which case they weren’t going to sign with their original team anyway, so it doesn’t really matter, does it?

So that’s it! Keep your eyes out for the Detroit article. Like I said earlier, I’m sure that there will be a lot of people discussing Detroit’s protected players in the comments here, which is great! Let the speculation begin!

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