Is it too soon to think about expansion draft madness?

December 4, 2018
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The NHL has approved Seattle for an expansion team to become the 32nd franchise in the league. With a new expansion team comes another expansion draft. However, unlike the Vegas expansion draft, the Buffalo Sabres might see themselves in a more vulnerable position the second time around. 

Buffalo was one of those teams that gave a pick to the Golden Knights, but it was a 6th round pick. The pick was offered to entice Vegas to avoid taking goaltender Linus Ullmark. Vegas would wind up taking winger William Carrier. But when the expansion draft protection lists needed to be submitted, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart were allowed to be exempt from the expansion draft, which helped the Sabres avoid giving up more. 

Other teams paid higher premiums to protect certain players. Columbus offered up a first rounder in 2017, a second rounder in 2019 and the contract of David Clarkson to avoid losing goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. Vegas wound up taking William Karlsson, who wound up blossoming into a fine player. 

Minnesota wanted to protect their defensive corps, and offered up winger Alex Tuch to protect their blue line and making center Erik Haula was the selection.The 22-year old Tuch got a contract extension and is a point per game player for the Golden Knights. 

The Anaheim Ducks gave up young defenseman Shea Theodore to protect their blue line. Theodore is already a top pairing defenseman for Vegas who also got a contract extension. 

The Sabres could be in a similar position when the Seattle expansion draft comes along. However, there is a lot of unknown at this time, as Buffalo only has 4 contracts heading into June of 2021: Jack Eichel, Kyle Okposo, Patrik Berglund and Rasmus Ristolainen. 

The Sabres will likely have second contracts prepared for young players like Rasmus Dahlin, Casey Mittelstadt and Tage Thompson. Linus Ullmark would also need a new contract by that time and if he's developed into a capable starter, it could murk up the waters. Buffalo fans would also like to see Jeff Skinner get an extension, Jake McCabe and Sam Reinhart should get nice new contracts, in addition to any other potential newcomers to the team.

Adding to those players, Buffalo's pipeline will be hitting restricted free agent status, which would put them in danger of being eligible for the expansion draft if they pan out. Part of the expansion draft rules include players who have played two full professional seasons, NHL or AHL. Those players would include names such as Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen, Rasmus Asplund, Will Borgen and Alex Nylander. 

What would the Sabres protection list look like in 2021? Here's a (way) too early projection of what the Sabres could lose to Seattle, with projections of keeping Skinner, Reinhart and McCabe around. 

8 skaters, 1 goalie model: 

Automatic - None. There are zero contracts at the moment that have a no movement clause. Kyle Okposo's no movement clause has reverted to a modified no-trade clause. The only no movement clauses currently belong to Jeff Skinner and Jason Pominville, whose deals expire after this season. 

Projected protection list: 

(F) Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart, Casey Mittelstadt, Tage Thompson, (D) Rasmus Dahlin, Jake McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen, (G) Linus Ullmark

Notable names left off: Kyle Okposo, Rasmus Asplund, Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen, Alex Nylander, Will Borgen

Yes, it may be too soon, but the excitement of the expansion draft being a reality again is fun to think about.