clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Good and Bad of Expansion Protection

With our summer long party underway it’s time to face reality for a moment. Just a few days from now team’s must turn in their list of players to protect from the Vegas expansion draft. The Pens have two options to choose from. Each method has a good side and a bad side. Here’s what the Pens might do to ensure their best players stay in Pittsburgh.

Las Vegas NHL Franchise Reveals Team Name And Logo Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Yesterday, Hooks dropped a good primer on what to expect from the Penguins in the coming days dealing with the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft. In his piece, he explained the basics of the expansion draft and listed all the important days and times to remember. It’s going be a hectic couple of days so buckle up.

One other item he went over was who the Pens might protect and which strategy they might use, the 7-3-1 or the 8-1. You can make a strong case for either strategy fitting the Pens’ needs but regardless of which route they choose general manager Jim Rutherford has difficult decisions ahead of him before the Saturday deadline.

While both protection strategies could work for the Pens, each one has its own upsides and its own downsides. Let’s take a look.

First things first...

Before diving in too deep, let’s go over a few things that will be in play when the Pens ultimately decide who they will protect and who they will leave exposed for the expansion draft.

  • No Movement Clause: Any player with a No Movement Clause (NMC) in his contract must be protected unless they agree to waive their NMC. For the Pens, players with with a NMC are Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury. All of these players will be protected except for Fleury who agreed to waive his NMC back in February.
  • Exempt Players: All first and second year pros are exempt from being selected by Vegas and therefore do not need to be protected. Notable exempt players on the Pens roster are Conor Sheary, Jake Guentzel, Carter Rowney, Daniel Sprong, Zach-Aston Reese, and Tristan Jarry.
  • Pending UFAs and RFAs: Players who will be free agents beginning July 1, 2017 are not exempt and must be protected or left exposed to selection. Beginning at 10 A.M. on Sunday, June 18th Vegas will be given an exclusive window to negotiate with any pending free agents who are left unprotected. One catch, if Vegas signs a free agent in this period, that player counts as their expansion selection from whatever team the player was from.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each protection strategy:


Starting with the 7-3-1 strategy, this path allows you to protect the greatest number of players with a heavy focus on the front end. It breaks down to seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie. Most teams will be using this option.


  • Simply put, if you have deep forward depth like the Penguins do this avenue allows you to protect almost all four of your lines, exposing a bottom six depth forward at the worst.
  • This strategy looks even better for the Pens when you take into account the exempt status of NHL regulars Sheary and Guentzel who spend most of their time on the top line alongside Crosby.
  • Given the free agent or career status of some of players on the Pens roster at this moment, using this approach could feasibly allow you to bring back almost your entire forward corps who just helped you win the Stanley Cup and maybe even improve upon it.


  • Where this strategy succeeds in protecting the forwards, it lacks in protection for the defense. A solid top four on the blue line is key for any team looking to make a run and choosing this way leaves one of those players exposed.
  • For the Pens, you can make an argument there are five players on the roster who warrant protection they are so valuable. Letang already slots in with his NMC, that leaves Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin, and Ian Cole for the last two spots on the list.
  • Another downside for the Pens in this situation is the amount of pending free agents you may have to protect at forward to fill the seven slots. Depending on how Jim Rutherford views certain players and how they fit into the Pens system, he could be protecting two of three pending free agents. Not that it is a bad thing protecting who you feel are your best players, there is just no guarantee since they are protected they will still sign new deals for next season.

Projected 7-3-1 Protection List for Penguins

  • Forwards: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust, Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino.
  • Defensemen: Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta
  • Goalie: Matt Murray


Moving on now to the second option for protection in the Vegas expansion draft, the 8-1 model. This strategy allows teams to protect any eight skaters (forwards or defenseman) and again one goalie.


  • This option allows you to choose your eight best players and protect them from exposure. There are no restraints on a certain number of forwards or defensemen to choose just so long as you protect eight skaters. The only rule you must abide by the the NMC rules for guaranteed protection.
  • Have an exceptional top four on the blue line that could be potentially derailing if you broke them up? Then this strategy is crafted especially for you. A good example of a team likely to go this route is the Nashville Predators or the Anaheim Ducks. The blue line is clearly the strength of both of those teams and would severely cripple their championship hopes if one defender were to leave.
  • General managers won’t have to worry about filling extra protection spots with pending free agents who may not end up resigning with the team before free agency begins and they hit the open market.


  • Choose this option and you are voluntarily allowing three players to be exposed with no compensation if one is selected by Vegas. Going from 11 protected players to only 8 might scare a few teams as they will be guaranteeing at least one highly skilled player will be left unprotected.
  • If you’re a longtime general manager who is bad at your job or a new general manager stepping into a bad situation then you may find yourself buried up to your neck in NMCs that can severely limit how many players you can keep on your own terms due to expansion rules. This method provides very little wiggle room when it comes to bad contracts. Luckily, the Pens avoid this problem since the only NMCs they have are on players they would be keeping regardless.
  • This is a very intriguing option and it will be exciting to see how many teams choose to go this way. You can view this method as a high risk, high reward scenario and I think that may scare some teams off. It will all boil down to how much certain teams value their blue line in its current state since this method is designed specifically to allow a team to protect four blue lines but at the expense of protecting three other players. Skimming the rosters its easy to pick out a handful a teams who are best suited to go this route but it is only a select few. That makes it somewhat unfortunate because the more teams who go this route, the better chance there is for chaos.

Projected 8-1 Protection List for Penguins

  • Skaters: Sidney Crosby, Evegeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, Brian Dumoulin.
  • Goalie: Matt Murray

Keep in Mind

A few things to remember over the next few days:

  • Every team will lose one (and only one) player to Vegas in the expansion draft. It won’t be a great player but odds are they won’t be awful either.
  • Just because the Pens don’t protect someone you think they should have doesn’t mean they are gone. There will be a lot of behind the doors dealing going on between the Golden Knights and other sides to “protect” more players through compensation. Whatever that compensation may be, picks or prospects for example, won’t be known until the draft.
  • Protection lists will be made public on Sunday morning. Keep an eye out.
  • The full Vegas Golden Knights roster will be unveiled during the NHL Awards on Wednesday in....Las Vegas.
  • Rumors have already began to fly. If you follow along on Twitter be on the look out for fake accounts tweeting out fake news. ALWAYS CHECK FOR THE LITTLE BLUE CHECKMARK.
  • This is just the beginning of a crazy few weeks leading up to free agency on July 1.
  • The Penguins are back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions.

Expansion Prediction

After weeks of going back and forth and toying with the CapFriendly Expansion Tool I believe the Penguins will choose the 8-1 protection method for the expansion draft. It would hurt to see a guy like Maatta or Dumoulin be taken and get nothing in return. Losing a guy like Rust or Hagelin would be an easier pill to swallow and easier for Rutherford to replace than a top four defender. The 8-1 route just makes the most sense to me looking at the makeup of the Pens roster right now and how it projects going forward.

That’s not to say Rutherford doesn’t have a trick up his sleeve for later in the summer but if you’re going to lose a defenseman just make sure you get a fair return coming back.

Vegas will be picking Marc-Andre Fleury as their Pens selection. The writing is on the wall. If by chance they change their mind and go a different direction, look for Carl Hagelin or Nick Bonino to be in the mix to head to Sin City.