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Pittsburgh Penguins Expansion Draft Preview

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A look at how the Pittsburgh Penguins will navigate the upcoming expansion draft, where it seems that Marc-Andre Fleury has removed a lot of the doubt and drama of what is about to happen in the next week

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For the Pittsburgh Penguins, almost all of the debate, intrigue and drama from the 2017 NHL Expansion draft was already resolved during the regular season. That's when Marc-Andre Fleury agreed to a team request that he waive his no-movement clause for the draft, allowing the team to protect Matt Murray and have Fleury be exposed. News of this broke after the Stanley Cup run and ensured the Penguins wouldn't have had to scramble this week to trade Fleury, or worse buy him out as a last ditch effort to get him off the roster and keep Murray protected.

Still, this expansion draft is unique, much anticipated and finally here so let's get ready for it all the same.

Schedule

We've done this before, but here's how it's going down. We'll just borrow (remember friends don't steal they borrow) from our buds at Broad Street Hockey, since they explained it so well it would just be redundant to do the typing twice:

12 p.m. ET | Friday, June 16: Deadline to place a player on waivers before the Expansion Draft roster freeze.

Self-explanatory, right? Teams must make these decisions before noon on Friday.

5 p.m. ET | Friday, June 16: Deadline for a player to waive his no movement clause for the purposes of being exposed in the Expansion Draft.

Teams must ask players to waive their NMCs by Monday, and the player has the rest of the week to decide whether or not they will agree to it.

3 p.m. ET | Saturday, June 17: Expansion Draft trade, waiver and signing freeze begins for all teams besides the Vegas Golden Knights.

All 30 existing rosters will freeze beginning at this time. With the exception of the 31st team, the Golden Knights, teams will not be allowed to make trades, place players on waivers, or sign players to contracts during this period.

5 p.m. ET | Saturday, June 17: All teams simultaneously submit Expansion Draft protection lists to the NHL’s Central Registry.

The Central Registry will accept these at the same time so that there’s no funny business around leaks or anything. They will spend the night going through the lists and making sure all rules are followed by the 30 teams.

10 a.m. ET | Sunday, June 18: Protection lists are approved and distributed to teams and the NHL Players’ Association.

We’re expecting that the league will make the protection lists public at this time as well. That should be a fun Father’s Day morning.

10 a.m. ET | Sunday, June 18: Vegas’ exclusive window for free agent negotiation opens.

The Golden Knights will be allowed first crack at any pending unrestricted or restricted free agent, as long as that player is not protected in the Expansion Draft. The purpose behind this is to allow the Golden Knights to get a sense of whether or not they will be able to sign a free agent before going ahead and using a pick on them in the Expansion Draft.

10 a.m. ET | Wednesday, June 21: The Golden Knights submit their Expansion Draft selections to the league and NHLPA.

At the same time, Las Vegas must submit contracts for any free agent they’ve signed during their special signing window. Should they select an RFA, the team they are selecting him from will not be eligible for compensation as they normally would be.

8 p.m. ET | Wednesday, June 21: During NHL Awards show in Las Vegas, the league will announce the Golden Knights’ Expansion Draft selections.

The big moment. We’re unsure how this reveal will be done, but we know it will be during the annual league Awards show on NBCSN and Sportsnet.

Pensburgh's strategy suggestions

Teams can either protect 7F+3D+1G or 8 skaters and one goalie. We're electing for the latter, because here how each way might play out:

7F+3D: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust, Carl Hagelin, Oskar Sundqvist ; Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin

8 skaters: Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Letang, Schultz, Dumoulin, Olli Maatta....Hornqvist

Going eight skaters makes sense because it allows the Penguins to guarantee their top-4 defensemen for next year are coming back. Simply put, that's the smartest strategy for Pittsburgh to take due to not having much defensive depth in the organization, and a bevy of veteran free agents (Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, Mark Streit) that are not expected to return to the team next season.

There's been debate on who to protect with the last spot, and a case could be made for Hornqvist (top PP, unique skillset) or Rust (younger, better skater) but regardless, we don't think it matter because...

Prediction

Fleury seems like a no-brainer for the Vegas Golden Knights to select as their expansion choice from Pittsburgh. Whether they then elect to trade him to a team that needs a goalie (like Vancouver, Winnipeg, Calgary or...gulp, Philly) or keep him for themselves (which TSN's Ray Ferraro thinks they will do), Fleury has the most value for a new team.

It will be a sorrowful moment for the player, team and fans to see Fleury's 14 year association with the Penguins come to an end, but in a bittersweet way it's a blessing in disguise for the Pens.

First, if MAF is taken as expected, that means Pittsburgh won't lose a guy like Hornqvist/Rust/Hagelin/Cole in the expansion draft that many have expected they would all along.

Second, clearing Fleury's  $5.75 million off the salary cap, with Pittsburgh not needing to trade Fleury and take back a salary would be a huge and very rare opportunity to have a lot of cap room heading into free agency. Not to suggest the Penguins would go crazy and over-spend on a free agent, but less Fleury the Penguins would have about $20 million in space under the now expected ~$75 million 2017-18 salary cap. They still have free agents of their own to sign (Schultz, Dumoulin, Conor Sheary) and need to sign or replace Nick Bonino and a couple of defensemen, but the Pens would be sitting pretty.

That's a bit further down the line and it remains to be seen how it will play out, but for expansion purposes Fleury pretty much took out all the drama or unknown, when he almost literally "took one for the team" to open himself up for the expansion draft.

We'll know for sure on Wednesday night, but Fleury ought to be the center-piece of the Las Vegas team.