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Projecting the Dallas Stars’ Protection List for the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft

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With the team’s roster more or less set, let’s explore which players the Stars might protect from the Seattle Kraken.

New NHL Franchise Seattle Kraken Open Team Store Photo by Jim Bennett/Getty Images

It’s been almost two years since the NHL first announced that they would be adding an expansion team in Seattle for the 2020-21 season. Now that it’s less than a year away, it’s time to start projecting the Dallas Stars’ protection list for the 2021 expansion draft.

A lot has changed since we last did this exercise two years ago. Most of the names on the roster are the same, but there are some new additions as well as a clearer view of how the team’s younger players are panning out. Also different is that there’s no guesswork in what the roster might look like — barring the Stars acquiring or trading away any players with multi-year contracts, the current roster is the one it’ll be come expansion time.

For reference, here is a full list of the rules for the draft, the most notable of which are as follows:

  • Teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, or eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goaltender.
  • All players with no movement clauses (NMC) at the time of the draft, and who decline to waive those clauses, must be protected.
  • All first-year and second-year NHL players, and all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward protection limits).
  • Teams must expose two forwards and one defenseman who are a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played in at least 40 NHL games the prior season or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons, as well as one goaltender who is under contract in 2021-22 or will be a pending RFA.

We’ll break down each positional group, listing each eligible player and highlighting those that might be worth protecting. We’ll then wrap up with a full protection list, as well as a projected pick for the Seattle Kraken.

Note: For the sake of avoiding clutter, we will only list notable exempt players, rather than listing every single unsigned draft choice or exempt prospect.


Forwards

NMC: Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov, Tyler Seguin
Exempt: Mavrik Bourque, Ty Dellandrea, Joel Kiviranta, Jason Robertson, Riley Tufte
Eligible: Nicholas Caamano, Andrew Cogliano (UFA), Blake Comeau (UFA), Jason Dickinson, Justin Dowling (UFA), Radek Faksa, Denis Gurianov, Roope Hintz, Tanner Kero (UFA), Joel L’Esperance, Adam Mascherin, Joe Pavelski

Assuming no one waives their NMC, Dallas will have three forwards who will automatically be protected from expansion. Out of those three, Tyler Seguin is likely the only player the Stars would want to protect despite his struggles in 2019-20, but as we’ll see, the Stars won’t miss those other two protection slots.

Out of the eligible players, we can go ahead and pencil in Radek Faksa for protection — you don’t sign a player to a five-year contract extension unless they’re part of your long-term plans. It’s also a safe bet that the Stars will protect Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz, both of whom should be top-six fixtures moving forward. Even if either player takes a step back in 2020-21, they’re still young and talented enough to warrant protection.

That leaves one last spot with two notable players remaining — Joe Pavelski and Jason Dickinson. Despite a rough start in Dallas, Joe Pavelski eventually found his groove and was a Conn Smythe favorite had the Stars won the Stanley Cup earlier this fall. Then again, he’ll be 37 by the time of the expansion draft and with just a single year left on his contract. In contrast, Dickinson has turned into a solid middle-six option and will only be 26. He might not be the better player for the 2020-21 season, but he is the better long-term option.

Regardless of which player the Stars protect, however, the team will still face have a potentially major problem that needs addressing — there are no other non-UFA forwards on the roster who currently meet the experience requirements necessary for exposure. The Stars will need a player such as Nicholas Caamano or Joel L’Esperance to play at least 40 games this season, which, given the likelihood of a shortened season, is essentially a full-time roster spot. Otherwise, the Stars would be forced to expose both Pavelski and Dickinson.

Alternatively, the Stars could acquire such a player via trade or free agency, or even re-sign a pending UFA to a contract extension prior to the expansion draft. The latter option is unlikely for reasons we’ll get to in a bit, but the Stars at least have several options available.

Defensemen

NMC: N/A
Exempt: Dawson Barteaux, Joseph Cecconi, Thomas Harley
Eligible: Taylor Fedun (UFA), Ben Gleason, Joel Hanley (UFA), Niklas Hansson, Julius Honka, Miro Heiskanen, Stephen Johns (UFA), John Klingberg, Esa Lindell, Jamie Oleksiak (UFA), Mark Pysyk (UFA), Andrej Sekera

Despite having only three protection spots available, it is much, much easier to project whom Dallas protects on the blue line. Come expansion time, Miro Heiskanen could very well be the reigning Norris Trophy winner and will be an easy pick for protection. John Klingberg is another easy choice — even though he’ll only have one year remaining on his contract, he’ll still a No. 1 defenseman with just a $4.25 million cap hit.

Esa Lindell rounds out the final spot, as he, like Faksa, is part of the team’s long-term plans. Should that change within the next year, it’s far more likely that Dallas would opt to find a trade partner, rather than lose him “for nothing” to Seattle. Besides, the only other player under contract for the 2021-22 season is Andrej Sekera, who will instead fill the exposure requirements for the defense.

Some fans might be concerned that with this list, Jamie Oleksiak — who has morphed into a legitimate top-four defenseman — would be technically left exposed. But as a pending UFA, he makes little sense as a Seattle selection, as he could simply choose not to “re-sign” with the Kraken. There’s only an issue if the Stars signed Oleksiak to an extension prior to the expansion draft, which, quite frankly, wouldn’t make any sense. If both the Stars and Oleksiak want him in Dallas long-term, they’ll simply wait until after the draft to sign a new contract — they could even agree to the contract terms verbally beforehand.

Goaltenders

NMC: Ben Bishop
Exempt: Jake Oettinger
Eligible: Landon Bow, Anton Khudobin, Colton Point

Finally, the goaltending group is the most straightforward of them all — there is only one protection slot available and Ben Bishop has to be protected thanks to his NMC.

That unfortunately leaves Anton Khudobin exposed, but that honestly might be for the best. Heading into free agency, the Stars were hesitant to give Khudobin a three-year deal because they didn’t want to block the path for Jake Oettinger, who is already knocking on the NHL door. There’s a good chance Dallas might try to trade Khudobin next off-season anyway — might as well see if Seattle takes him off your hands for you, saving yourself from losing a skater in the process.

As for the other eligible goaltenders, the Stars have nothing to worry about — although the Stars ultimately brought Bow back after choosing not to tender his qualifying offer, he’s not part of the team’s long-term plans. Meanwhile, Point has struggled since turning pro, and barring a breakout season in Cedar Park, there are much better options available for Seattle.


Now that we’ve broken down our options, let’s get down to business. Here’s our projected protection list for the 2021 expansion draft:

Forwards (7): Jamie Benn (NMC), Jason Dickinson, Radek Faksa, Denis Gurianov, Roope Hintz, Alexander Radulov (NMC), Tyler Seguin (NMC)
Defensemen (3): Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg, Esa Lindell
Goaltender: Ben Bishop (NMC)

Perhaps unceremoniously, our list is the exact same as it was two years ago. Whether that’s good or bad is up for your own interpretation.

Our only real decision was whom to protect with the final forward spot. I made the assumption that the Stars would find a way to fulfill the exposure requirements at the forward position without having to expose both Jason Dickinson and Joe Pavelski. Ultimately, I chose the former as Dickinson is the better choice from a long-term perspective, and would undoubtedly be Seattle’s pick were he left exposed.

But fear not, Captain America fans, as I don’t anticipate the Stars will lose Pavelski even if he is exposed. It just doesn’t make sense for an expansion team to select a 37-year-old with only one year remaining on his contract, even if they had hopes of pulling a Vegas Golden Knights and making the Stanley Cup Final in their first season.

Instead, I believe that the Seattle Kraken will take Anton Khudobin with their selection. He’d be a bit of a risk at 35 years old, but he’s a starter-caliber goaltender with two years remaining on his deal with a reasonable cap hit of $3.33 million. Every team needs quality goaltending, even the bad ones, and Khudobin would also be both a fan and locker room favorite.

On the other hand, there will be plenty of other goaltenders available on the market for Seattle, both in the expansion draft and free agency. The Stars don’t have much else available outside of Pavelski and Sekera, but maybe the Kraken take a liking to someone like L’Esperance or Gleason.

After all, Vegas was so successful because they capitalized on selecting players undervalued by their previous clubs. Perhaps there’s someone in Dallas that the Stars will regret not protecting in hindsight...