Wednesday, July 21, 2021

31 protected lists and 31 picks in the NHL’s all-time expansion draft

It’s expansion draft week, which is great because expansion drafts rock. Hockey fans had to wait a generation between NHL drafts, and we might have a long wait before we see another one. This week, I want as much expansion nonsense as I can get.

Luckily, nonsense is what I do best. So today, I want to revisit something I wrote four years ago: The all-time expansion draft.

Back then, as the league was getting set to welcome a Vegas Golden Knights team we all agreed would be terrible, I decided to come up with an all-time protected list for each NHL franchise. I used the modern rules, which is to say each team could protect one goalie and either seven forwards and three defenseman, or eight skaters. I made a list for each team, argued with a few fan bases, and a good time was had by all.

Four years later, I’d like to take another shot at it, if only because I want to correct a few picks that look like mistakes, and consider a few players who weren’t on the radar back then but might be today. But I’m also going to up the ante – once I have a protected list for each team, I’m also going to make a pick from everyone else. At the end of this, we’ll have a 31-man expansion team pulled from all of NHL history. Will it be any good? I have no idea, which is half the fun.

But first, a few ground rules:

– Each team is protecting players based on what they did with that franchise, using “height of their powers” criteria. For active players, we’re also factoring in what we think they’ll do in the future, although we won’t go overboard with projecting every current player to be a Hall-of-Fame lock. As with this year’s draft, players who are first or second-year pros are exempt.

– No player will be protected twice, so if the Oilers protect Wayne Gretzky (spoiler alert, they will) then the Kings, Rangers and Blues don’t have to.

– Entire franchise history counts, meaning for example that the Avalanche also have to cover off the Nordiques. That means we’ll have to veer from our typical “the Jets are the Jets” rules, because otherwise the Thrashers get left out. Defunct franchises don’t count, so any players who only played for them will be ineligible.

– We have no salary cap, no side deals, and don’t have to worry about any no-movement clauses. Apart from that, we have to pick a team with the same criteria as the Kraken, meaning we need to take at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.

Make sense? No, of course not, this whole concept is ludicrous. But it’s fun, and we might not get to do it again for a long time, so let’s get weird.

Original Six teams

I’m going to start with the big six, if only because once we’ve done them we’ll have a good sense of where our all-time expansion roster is headed.

Montreal Canadiens

Forwards: Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau, Howie Morenz, Guy Lafleur, Bernie Geoffrion, Yvan Cournoyer, Joe Malone
Defensemen: Larry Robinson, Doug Harvey, Serge Savard
Goalie: Jacques Plante

Who’s available: With over a century of history and more talent than any other franchise, we know we’ll get a great player from Montreal. But who?

I made a few changes from my 2017 list here, including swapping in Malone at the expense of Elmer Lach, and Serge Savard for Guy Lapointe on the blueline. Those are borderline calls, and there’s still names like Henri Richard, Steve Shutt and Aurele Joliat to consider. But it doesn’t really matter, because the real action here is in goal. Last time I went with Ken Dryden, but this time I’m leaning towards Plante, and we also have Bill Durnan and Georges Vezina (but not Patrick Roy, who can be protected by Colorda). Oh, and Carey Price, who of course would never be exposed in a real-world expansion draft.

Our pick: We really can’t go wrong with any pick here, but let’s build from the net out with one of the all-time greats in Ken Dryden.

Chicago Blackhawks

Forwards: Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Denis Savard, Jeremy Roenick, Steve Larmer
Defensemen: Pierre Pilote, Chris Chelios, Duncan Keith
Goalie: Tony Esposito

Who’s available: The Hawks are a fairly straightforward team to fill in, although we run into a tough call on the blueline. I left off Doug Wilson in 2017, but since then he’s become a Hall-of-Famer, which feels like it should get him on the list. But at the expense of who? I’m not sure, which is why I’m keeping the same three picks. Tony Esposito over Glenn Hall is the other tough choice.

Our pick: Hall is tempting, but I think the goalie position will be deep and don’t want to load up too quickly. Instead, I’ll take Doug Wilson.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards: Darryl Sittler, Dave Keon, Frank Mahovlich, Mats Sundin, Darryl Sittler, Syl Apps, Auston Matthews
Defensemen: Borje Salming, Tim Horton, King Clancy
Goalie: Johnny Bower

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