Winnipeg Jets expansion draft list is pretty straightforward
Imaginary draft offers hockey fans fun exercise in choosing which players to protect
The NHL hasn't formally announced the expansion of its 30-team operation anytime soon but the league, in all its NHL glory, put out the parameters for an expansion draft Wednesday.
You know, in the event the league expands in the next couple of years. Which may not happen. Nothing has been decided. We'll see.
That hasn't stopped some from putting together mock expansion draft protection lists, just to see what their favourite teams might look like when the time comes for those clubs to formally submit the paperwork to the league.
Expansion is expected to happen for the 2017-18 season. If the NHL decides to expand, of course.
Obviously a lot can change between now and an official expansion announcement. Regardless, let's guess what the Winnipeg Jets, who dropped a 4-1 decision to the Calgary Flames Wednesday night, might do with their list.
First off, a couple of things: one, assume Las Vegas is the only expansion entry, and two, the Jets do not trade away any current member of the ever-shifting core.
The league has given the clubs the option to protect eight skaters and one goaltender or seven forwards, three defencemen and a goaltender. Players with less than three years pro experience are cleared from the draft process.
Either way, the Jets should be in a position where it won't matter.
3 defence choices
The three obvious choices on defence are Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers. That leaves Toby Enstrom vulnerable, yes, but by the time the expansion draft rolls around he probably won't be part of the Jets plans anyway.
What about Josh Morrissey? No worries. He'll only have two years of pro experience, so he'll be exempt. If the NHL delays the selection process a year and expansion doesn't happen until the 2018-19 season, then the conversation about Morrissey changes.
There is no scenario where it would be acceptable to waste a protection spot on Mark Stuart, Ben Chairot or Paul Postma. But you already knew that.
Goaltending is pretty cut and dry, as well.
Obviously, the Jets will hold onto Connor Hellebuyck. Eric Comrie just started the clock on his pro career this season, so he'll avoid the draft as long as it happens in the summer of 2017, and not the following summer.
What about Ondrej Pavelec or Michael Hutchinson? Good one. Even if they were under contract after next season, it's doubtful Las Vegas would claim either given the multitude of crease talent that figures to be up for grabs.
Up front choices trickier
Up front is where things could get tricky for the Jets.
The no-brainers are as follows: Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp. Reminder: Nikolaj Ehlers is in the same boat as Morrissey and Comrie—exempt as long as he doesn't get into his third year of service.
Mathieu Perreault would be an automatic on that list, one imagines, but he's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after next year and his future is a little cloudy.
If Winnipeg retains his services, then write his name down. Even if Perreault isn't part of the mix, though, that still only leaves two spots for Alexander Burmistrov, Joel Armia and Marko Dano. (Scott Kosmachuk and JC Lipon are long shots at best.)
Of those players, Burmistrov makes the strongest case. He's able to play up and down the lineup and he's established a level of defensive trust with the coaching staff. All things being equal, it's easy to see him on the list.
As for Armia and Dano, their situations are a little tougher to predict.
Both have looked fine in the opportunities provided to them, but when the time comes and the Jets have to make a decision, it will come down to this: how have they evolved between now and the expansion draft, and which player still has some room to hit any projected ceiling the club feels is still there?
Answers will come in due time. Until then, it's fun to guess who the Jets will protect and who the club would be comfortable saying goodbye to.
Reminder: this is all subject to league expansion. Which might happen soon. Or maybe it won't.