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  • Expansion, the salary cap, and protecting your favorite Wild players


    With the Las Vegas Golden Knights entering the league beginning next season, a fantastic narrative surrounding the NHL this season has revolved around the expansion draft. Fan bases, beat writers, bloggers, and pundits have been speculating about which players each team would protect and which could be left exposed, while also contemplating who might be most desirable player available for Las Vegas General Manager George McPhee to select. The rules set for this expansion essentially set each team up to lose one good player by limiting the number of players that can be protecting and giving the expansion team a single pick from each team. There’s been plenty of speculation about who the Wild might expose throughout the season, but in order to really be involved in that discussion, you’ve got to follow the money. Just like the decision to move Joel Eriksson Ek back to Sweden, the salary cap is a major influence on every decision the Wild will make when it comes to personnel and the expansion draft will be no exception. Today we’ll take a look at the cap situation for next season and how it will affect who the Wild will expose to Las Vegas.

    Expansion Draft Rules

    Before talking expansion, let’s revisit the rules. Teams are allowed to choose to protect either a set of 7F+3D+1G or 8 skaters + 1G. All No Movement Clauses MUST be protected and occupy one of the team’s slots. Players with No Trade Contracts may be exposed (Eric Staal). All first and second year players plus all unsigned draft picks are exempt from the draft. 1F+1D MUST be exposed that are signed for next season and played at least 40 games this season or 70 games combined between this season and next season. 1 G Must be exposed that is signed or is a restricted free agent for next season. (Tuch, Reilly, Eriksson Ek, Anas all exempt)

    2017-18 Salary Cap

    The Wild are a cap ceiling team, meaning they spend to within shouting distance of the salary cap each year and this year is no exception. The Wild have spent to the $73M cap with a small cushion and figure to do the same next year. There is a two-fold issue approaching that the Wild must address, the first being that the cap does not figure to increase by much, likely a maximum of $2M to $75M. The second is that the Wild have 3 pending restricted free agents who are all expecting significant raises moving forward and the additional ~$2M of salary cap is not likely to cover the incremental salary that Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, and Erik Haula will demand. Let’s also not forget that the team will likely add Eriksson Ek back to the roster and he comes at a premium cost for a rookie. If the Wild wants to find a way to keep them all and add the young Swede, it needs to find no less than $5M to do so. All things considered, the Wild needs to find a way to shed some salary, so that will come at the cost of a roster player. What remains to be seen is whether the Wild will use the expansion draft as a vessel for that change or if the team can make a move before the draft to set itself up for the future.

    There are several ways for the Wild to use the draft to help relieve salary cap stress, but most aren’t very appetizing. In most folks dream scenarios, Jason Zucker would return to his hometown to help promote the hockey brand in Las Vegas. This might be appealing for some Wild fans, but Zucker’s $2M salary (plus the bump in the salary cap) does not generate the space the Wild will need to retain the rest of the roster, so essentially if Zucker is picked in the expansion draft, the Wild will end up losing 2 players instead of one as they will still need to clear cap space to remain compliant. Clearly, the Wild are also searching for a way to sign another goaltender so they can protect Devan Dubnyk, so we won’t discuss that here. However, we will look deeper into the ramifications of protecting and exposing certain players and what the affect will be on the salary cap if they are selected and also if they are not.

    Of course, the situation is fluid so what I’m writing here may become irrelevant based on player trades, injuries, and player performance throughout the rest of the season. So consider this a snapshot of the current situation that will be updated as the season progresses. We will also assume for now that now that no one waives their NMC and have a goal of clearing enough cap space to resign the RFA forwards when combined with a projected cap increase of $2M.


    Protected NMCs: Zach Parise $7.54M - Mikko Koivu $6.75M - Jason Pominville $5.6M

    4 Remaining Spots: Erik Haula RFA - Mikael Granlund RFA - Nino Niederreiter RFA - Eric Staal $3.5M - Charlie Coyle $3.2M - Jason Zucker $2.0M

    Beyond the hometown attraction of selecting Jason Zucker, there are other forwards who be desirable for the new franchise. Eric Staal is having a renaissance year in Minnesota and his $3.5M salary for the next 2 seasons makes him both valuable in Minnesota and desirable in an expansion draft that may be weak for centermen. The same applies to Erik Haula, who is younger but with a lower upside. Coyle, Granlund and Niederreiter are all players entering their prime with high upside. Granlund and Niederreiter are both set for significant pay raises and it has been speculated that one will likely be a salary cap casualty, and making one of them available and hoping they are selected instead of one of your young defensemen. If one of Granlund, Niederreiter or any young defenseman save Matt Dumba are selected, it will create enough cap space to resign the rest.

    If the Expansion Draft were today, I would protect: Staal, Coyle, Niederreiter, Haula

    As you can see, I’ve chosen to expose Granlund. At this point if I have to choose between losing him or Nino, I’m going to save Nino. Based on production and the effect on teammates, Nino’s measurable statistics leave Granlund behind and I feel like Nino still has another level he can reach while Granlund has shown he is closer to his ceiling. This isn’t to say that he will be selected by Las Vegas and or retained by the Wild, but it gives Vegas another option besides taking a defender that would also help the Wild solve the salary cap conundrum.


    Protected NMCs: Ryan Suter $7.54M

    2 Remaining Spots: Jared Spurgeon $5.19M - Jonas Brodin $4.17M - Marco Scandella $4.0M - Matt Dumba $2.55M

    Let’s face it, any of the Wild’s defensemen not named Prosser or Suter should be attractive to other teams. They’re young, productive, and have affordable contracts. This seems to be the impossible question about how the Wild will proceed, and it seems increasingly likely and attractive for Vegas to select one of these young defenders over the available forwards in Minnesota. I don’t envy the position of Chuck Fletcher in making this decision, there isn’t a correct answer.

    If the Expansion Draft were today, I would protect: Spurgeon and Brodin

    I don’t protect Dumba because losing his salary doesn’t solve next year’s salary cap issue. Much like Zucker, the team might have to shed a second player if Dumba is selected based on the cap, and Dumba hasn’t yet shown the growth I expect of him under the new coaching staff. Spurgeon is untouchable in my book, and I think in the books of almost everyone. The league likely values Spurgeon highly despite his size as he is a #1 right hand shot defenseman. So the argument for me comes down to Brodin vs Scandella. I would detest losing either, so this is a tough question but Brodin gets the bump because he is signed for an extra year and is showing more potential than ever before, especially on offense.

    How to avoid some of this nonsense

    If GMCF can figure out a way to move Pominville’s salary, it would allow the team to not really have to consider the salary cap when exposing players. This would put him in position to negotiate a deal with Las Vegas to retain whichever players he finds most valuable and select the player he is most accepting of giving away. It would take an act of congress to pull something like that off, but it is possible. If Vegas selects Zucker and the second player to go is Pominville, I would be ok with that because there would be a bit of leftover salary to sign one extra depth player. But there are a million different possibilities and an endless amount of discussion to be had surrounding the expansion draft. I invite you to start that discussion below.


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