But for the first time since 2000, the NHL is actively courting expansion locations, with Las Vegas and Quebec City officially throwing their hats in the ring. Given that, and given that we're nearing the end of July, it's time for fun with speculation about who might play for those theoretical new teams.
The expansion draft rules the NHL used last time this came around require an attorney to fully understand, but the bottom line is this: expansion teams had a two-team fantasy hockey snake draft picking from the established NHL franchises in order to stock their teams with talent.
Fortunately for pretty much everyone, there were rules allowing NHL teams to protect certain roster players and exemptions for a few others. No one wants to read a 25,000 word article, so I am going to try to give the brief version of the previous expansion draft protection/exemption rules:
Teams could protect one of two kinds of rosters, either (A) 1 goalie, 9 forwards, and 5 defensemen, or (B) 2 goalies, 7 forwards, and 3 defensemen. For those of you nervously reaching for a calculator, they could either protect 15 players using Roster (A), or 12 players using Roster (B).
There were also a number of exemptions that precluded a player from being taken in an expansion draft. For instance, no first or second-year pros could be selected; no unsigned draft choices (unless player was drafted from a European club 4+ years prior and remained unsigned), and no player on an entry level contract were eligible either.
So if that possible expansion draft happened this very minute, who would Stars keep under each roster structure, and who could be left out in the cold (or Las Vegas) should these rules remain? These selections will be made using rules from 15 years ago, so if the rules are different next summer let's all throw a fit and blame Worley.
Roster (A) - one goalie, nine forwards, and five defensemen
Goalie: Antti Niemi
Forwards: Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky, Valeri Nichushkin, Cody Eakin, Antoine Roussel, Brett Ritchie
Defensemen: Alex Goligoski, John Klingberg, Jason Demers, Johnny Oduya, Patrik Nemeth
Eligible for expansion draft: Colton Sceviour, Patrick Eaves, Vernon Fiddler, Curtis McKenzie, Travis Moen, Jordie Benn, Jyrki Jokipakka, Kari Lehtonen
Roster (B) - two goalies, seven forwards, and three defensemen
Goalies: Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen
Forwards: Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky, Valeri Nichushkin , Brett Ritchie
Defensemen: Alex Goligoski, John Klingberg, Jason Demers
Eligible for expansion draft: Antoine Roussel, Cody Eakin, Colton Sceviour, Patrick Eaves, Vern Fiddler, Curtis McKenzie, Travis Moen, Johnny Oduya, Patrik Nemeth, Jordie Benn, Jyrki Jokipakka
That was a lot harder than it looked. Let's point out a few of the obvious things that jump off the page:
Roster (B) is the worst plan ever
This protection roster makes sense for a very specific team: one with two franchise goalies and tons of kids that will be exempt. A lot can change in a year or two, but only protecting three defensemen and seven forwards is not nearly enough, as evidenced by the alarming number of good players (particularly defensemen) eligible to be drafted by the expansion team. The only conceivable downside to Roster (A) is the fact that...
Lehtonen or Niemi must go
Because the expansion draft is at least 12 months away, if not significantly more, the Stars would likely protect whichever goalie plays the best in the coming seasons. The bad news is, because the Stars now have a legitimate 1a and 1b at the moment, the goalie left unprotected probably suits up for an expansion team. While Niemi is listed as protected on Roster (A), keep in mind that choice probably comes down to the last hour. There is no right answer, it would just suck.
Valeri Nichushkin and Brett Ritchie
Currently both players have one year remaining on their entry level contracts. The expansion draft would be next summer at the earliest; meaning both would have just inked a new contracts requiring protection by the team.
Notable forwards left out
In either roster, I could be talked out of Ales Hemsky. Similar to the goalies, if he doesn't have a good year this season he could be left twiddling his thumbs. Hemsky presents as an aging but skilled veteran. If, for some reason, the Stars went with Roster (B) I could easily see them protecting Eakin instead of Hemsky. Losing Colton Sceviour or Patrick Eaves would be tough because of their utility, but there is no guarantee a player like Sceviour would get drafted.
Notable defensemen left out
This is the worst. Roster (A) loses Jokipakka and Oleksiak, but Roster (B) loses Oduya, Nemeth, Jokipakka, and Oleksiak. All of that without mentioning the fact that Jordie Benn will definitely go without protection in either scenario. You can nitpick about Demers in Roster (B) or Nemeth in Roster (A), but the bottom line is the Stars would have to sweaty palm their way through an expansion draft hoping one of their defensive investments doesn't get snatched up.
Just because a player goes unprotected does not mean they will be drafted
As a general rule, fan bases tend to over value their players assuming any team would want guys like Patrik Nemeth or Jyrki Jokipakka. Why wouldn't they? The fact of the matter is there will be 29 other teams full of guys eligible for the expansion draft.
This list could look vastly different in 12 months based on the upcoming season. Regardless, the Dallas Stars would be forced to leave a few key guys in the giant claw machine of the NHL expansion draft. Players like Niemi/Lehtonen, Jordie Benn, Jyrki Jokipakka, and the like would be painful to lose for a franchise starting to build from within the organization.
So we ask you, dear readers, if the expansion draft was this weekend, who would you want the Stars to protect?