Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Come next summer, the NHL is expected to hold it's first expansion draft since 2000 when the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild entered the league. Although the paramaters are slightly different, the basic premise is this: Las Vegas, who is expected to be granted a franchise, will be allowed to fill their roster with one unprotected player from each NHL team.
Although nothing is finalized, current teams will have a choice between two scenarios. As of now the NHL is kicking around the idea of teams being allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters of any position and one goalie. Choices will need to be made throughout the NHL with teams like he Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings (winners of the last four Stanley Cups,) as well as the Washington Capitals, who are loaded with talent, having to make some very, very tough decisions.
The Buffalo Sabres are just coming out of a dark period where they laid to waste their previous roster and have only begun to assemble their nucleus. There's a talent discrepancy between the top players and a myriad of lower-tiered players, but regardless, they'll be exposing a very good player to the new franchise. Were the expansion draft to take place this summer the Sabres would have some hard choices.
Here's a look at the players who are sure to be protected by the team:
C, Jack Eichel
C, Ryan O'Reilly
LW, Evander Kane
F, Sam Reinhart
D, Rasmus Ristolainen
G, Robin Lehner
Now comes the decision as to what's more important, protecting three forwards and two defensemen or three skaters total.
In a game of elimination, the Sabres can elect not to protect the following without serious repercussion:
--G, Chad Johnson, F, David Legwand, and D, Carlo Colaiacovo will all be unrestricted free agents at season's end so there's now worries there while F, Cal O'Reilly and D, Cody Franson will be UFA's the following season.
--F, Nicolas Deslauriers is a fourth liner and although he brings plenty of grit, his type can be found elsewhere
--RW, Brian Gionta is 37 yrs. old and near the end of his career
--F, Matt Moulson is 32 yrs. old, in the midst of his worst season as a pro and carries a $5M cap-hit. Not the most enticing scenarios for a new franchise unless they need money to get to the cap.
--F, Cody McCormick is on the roster but has been sidelined all season.
Here's the remaining group of players who are on the roster who management will need to make a decision on:
--F, Tyler Ennis, 26 yrs. old and entering the prime of his career. Ennis was having a sub-par year before succumbing to an injury which may keep him out the remainder of the season.
--W, Marcus Foligno, 24. The big power forward has found chemistry on the third line and just scored his career-high 10th goal of the season
--C, Johan Larsson, 23. Center's the third line. When on his game is as tenacious as they come. Has 10 points this season.
--F, Zemgus Girgensons, 22. Speedy forward who can play all positions up-front. Having a sub-par season (14 points) after a 30-point seasons (15+15) in 61 games last year.
--D, Josh Gorges, 31. The saavy, shot-blocking vet has been playing well in a role that's above his second-pairing talent
--D, Zach Bogosian, 25. A veteran of 468 NHL games already, the bit hitting, strong-skating defenseman is on a pace for the second most points of his career.
--D, Mark Pysyk, 24. The steady, stay-at-home d-man had a real rough patch for a bit but seems to be climbing out of it.
--D, Jake McCabe, 22. Rugged defenseman with untapped offensive acumen is just beginning to hit his stride in this his first full season with the club.
Of this grouping, I am of the opinion that Bogosian and McCabe are keepers on the back-end. The Sabres are thin on defense after the trades GM Tim Murray made last year and although they have some talent in the system they need to keep what talent they have back there.
Now comes the big choice, do we keep three forwards and expose a defenseman, or do we keep a defenseman and exposed Gorges and those four forwards?
My personal choice is to protect a defenseman--Pysyk.
In that scenario, unless there are serious concerns about the health of Ennis, he would likely be plucked from the Sabres lineup as he's the most skilled player of the remaining group.
As big a fan as I've been of the three-time 20-goal scorer, his East/West, jitterbug game seemed to clash with the North/South game favored by the coaching staff. Before going down with an injury he was on a 10-goal, 39-point pace. There's no question he has the talent to continue to be a perennial 20-goal/50-point player, questions have arisen concerning him in Buffalo.
That said, it's a tough choice, as it should be. With the Sabres in play for Stamkos and the possibility of trading for a top-pairing defenseman on Ristolainen's left being very optimistic, the Sabres need to build and strengthen their defense-corps. Buffalo has strength down the middle to the point where Reinhart and Girgensons, both drafted as centers, are playing on the wing and the team has untapped potential in wingers Justin Bailey and NCAA winger Hudson Fasching.
Although there are still 11 games remaining in the season, Sabres management has seen a lot of hockey from there players and have a good idea as to where each player is headed in the grand scheme of things.
Somebody on this present roster will be headed to Las Vegas (no, Evander, you can only go there to visit for now,) the question is who?