Expansion Rules will Create Crisis for some GMs

With news breaking this week that the NHL and NHLPA have agreed on the structure for  a future expansion draft, the maneuvering and preparations across the league can begin in earnest.

Reaching an agreement on no movement and no trade clauses was among the most important unanswered questions surrounding the way teams will form their protected lists. With the potential for an expansion draft taking place as early as next summer, the need for that determination was obviously important.

One position that will get plenty of focus will be between the pipes. As there is only one option for protecting goaltenders, there is a near guarantee that a pair of solid goaltenders are headed to Vegas should a draft take place next summer.

The requirement that no movement clauses must be protected could put pressure on a number of general managers to make a move this summer – or prior to next year’s deadline – to ensure they aren’t losing a goaltending asset for nothing.

This relates specifically to teams whose current starters hold no movement clauses while a promising prospect is ready to take on significant NHL minutes. Boston (Rask and Subban), Pittsburgh (Fleury, Murray) and Tampa Bay (Bishop, Vasilevskiy) will be at the center of the conversation but they’ll hardly be the only teams balancing a challenging situation as it pertains to their goaltending pipeline.

Winnipeg, St. Louis, Detroit, Colorado and Anaheim would all have a balancing act to perform if an expansion draft were to be on the horizon and even with a few teams in need of help in net, there isn’t likely to be a clear solution for every GM to work out.

Entering this summer, Toronto, Calgary and Carolina are all expected to be on the hunt for a goaltender – although the Canes just spent assets last summer to acquire Eddie Lack. it wouldn’t shock me if Jim Nill, Dale Tallon and Mike Gillis aren’t looking to explore changes in the crease either (Tallon would be looking for a long term successor for Roberto Luongo, nothing else).

No GM will be in a hurry to be the first to blink and unload his current starter. But Jim Rutherford, Steve Yzerman and Bob Murray in particular all have a pretty difficult decision to make. All three hold a proven veteran starter along with an incredibly promising prospect who is pushing to take on a larger role. In the case of Yzerman and Rutherford, their current starters each hold a no movement clause.

Those no movement clauses really complicate things as in any other scenario each veteran would simply cede the net to their promising understudy when the time came. For example, Marc-Andre Fleury is still a terrific starter at the NHL level and would be required to be protected come next summer’s potential expansion draft. That means Jim Rutherford either must accept the loss of Matt Murray or find a solution to keep Murray on the roster while acquiring assets for Fleury. If Rutherford’s as impressed with Murray as nearly everyone else, you’d have to assume he’d make Murray his priority to hold onto. It’s the move I’d make if I were Rutherford.

At this stage Murray is the more promising choice who is not only much more affordable, but has far more tread on his tire. While he hasn’t seen a full NHL season just yet, he’s wowed at the AHL level and it seems like a safe bet that he’d carry that play into 2016-17.

The same goes for Bob Murray in Anaheim who, despite a pair of decent playoff performances over the past two seasons, has a valuable trade commodity in Freddie Andersen with John Gibson waiting in the wings. Anaheim, it would seem, has been waiting to hand the job to Gibson and this year’s playoff exit may be the final piece of evidence Murray needs to pull the trigger on Andersen (among others). Andersen is already being talked about as the next goaltender to be run out of take over the crease in Toronto and that makes a lot of sense when considering each team’s situation.

Among the other curious cases league-wide, Yzerman’s conundrum in weighing Bishop (who carries an NMC) and Vasilevskiy (who is as tall as he is talented) is no easy one just as Doug Armstrong faces a similar challenge with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen.

When you consider the cost certainty of a young goaltender it makes some of these decisions easier to make. Gibson, Murray and Allen still have team control on their contracts and offer more than just promise when it comes to their play. However, a flooded trade market with a host of goalies who should garner some variation of a package that includes a high pick, top prospect or even rostered player, is hardly a sellers market.

In fact when Brian Burke and Brad Treliving sit down to discuss their goaltending, they’ll likely have their choice of suitors when it comes to the trade market. Even the Flames have their own promising youngster to consider as Jon Gillies sits in their pipeline. Regardless, when it comes to this summer’s trade market, the Flames management team can play potentially desperate GMs against one another to not only drive down the price on a future starter, but to pin down the best fit for their squad.

Despite the pressing need of help in net from teams such as Carolina, Calgary and Toronto, it doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a pre-expansion fire sale this summer. That’s assuming expansion is even officially confirmed. As is often the case on the NHL trade front, there will likely be a lot more smoke and only a bit of fire.

You can probably count on at least one significant move in the goalie market this summer. The Flames need a solution in a bad way and I can’t imagine the Maple Leafs want to go through another season with the honor and class of starting Jonathan Bernier and their minor league scraps for 82 more contests.

Once expansion is approved I’d imagine far more conversations take place as the effort to prevent the loss of assets from occurring come next summer.

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