NHL expansion draft: 12 biggest surprises on Vegas protected lists

The NHL released the expansion draft protected and unprotected lists on Sunday, as we finally know which players the Vegas Golden Knights will have a chance to select this week, before the picks are formally announced at Wednesday’s NHL Awards.

Well, we sorta finally know.

There are going to be many side deals, announced and unannounced, that affect who Vegas will select in this draft.

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Like the Anaheim Ducks leaving both Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson unprotected, with every possibility that they have a side deal cut with Vegas to avoid those players. The Columbus Blue Jackets also reportedly have a side deal to keep the Knights off several of their players.

With the caveat that there are many, many unknowns, here are 12 surprises from the expansion draft lists:

Bruins expose Matt Beleskey

Bit of a surprise here, as they opt to keep Riley Nash protected over winger Matt Beleskey, who makes $3.8 million through 2020. Obviously, this tells you how the Bruins feel about Beleskey, who has 18 goals and 27 assists in 129 games with them. This is a surprise in the pleasant sense, for the record.

Sabres expose William Carrier 

Carrier is 22 years old and coming off his first season in the NHL (41 games, 8 points). But the Sabres now have a new GM with no loyalty or ties to him, and the blunt evaluation apparently meant that Tyler Ennis meant more to the Sabres than Carrier. Was this an enticement to keep them off goalie Linus Ullmark?

Semyon Varlamov protected by Avalanche

There was some thought that Semyon Varlamov would be exposed with the Avs protecting Calvin Pickard, as the former is signed through 2019 at a $5.9 million cap hit, was a George McPhee draft pick and has had some diminishing returns. But the Avs clearly feel he makes them a more competitive team in the short term. Or feel that Pickard won’t be taken due to the glut of goalies available.

Detroit Red Wings expose Petr Mrazek, keep Jimmy Howard

One of the biggest surprises of the day.

Did Mrazek play himself onto the unprotected list? He had a .908 save percentage in 50 games last season. The Red Wings opted to protect Jimmy Howard, who is eight years older, signed through 2019, has a $5.292 million cap hit and not nearly the potential upside of Mzarek.

Unless the Wings really, really didn’t want to lose Xavier Ouellet because their blue line is so thin – or really, really don’t think Mrazek has the stuff of a starter – this doesn’t pass the logic test. One assumes the Knights would flip him in a second if they select him. But maybe that’s the ultimate gamble: That the Knights won’t take him, given Fleury and the other goalies available.

Whatever Florida is doing

Don’t you have to find a way to protect Jonathan Marchessault, after the season he had and with his contract? The Panthers opted to protect four defensemen, including Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk, and left their 30-goal forward exposed for … reasons? Maybe a side deal is in order. Or maybe they just assume that the Knights will take Jason Demers instead.

Wild protect Jason Zucker, expose Eric Staal

The Minnesota Wild hosted an Eric Staal renaissance last season, with 28 goals and 37 point, his best offensive season since 2013. He has two more seasons at $3.5 million.

But he’s 32 and Jason Zucker is 25. So despite the fact that we all anticipated that the Golden Knights might have a chance to draft a Las Vegas native in Zucker, the Wild ruined that homecoming.

Wild expose Marco Scandella and Matt Dumba

Minnesota knew there’s an expansion draft, right? The idea that they could lose one of these guys for nothing is absolutely stunning. And even with the Eric Staal carrot, it’s probably going to happen, unless a deal can be reached.

New York Islanders protect five defensemen

The Islanders were the only team that protected five defensemen in Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy, Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. Which we imagine speaks volumes about their current forward group, more than anything else. The incredible thing is that they may have protection on a sixth player, Calvin De Haan, if Elliotte Friedman is to be believed, which of course he is. Hey, when you have the 17th best save percentage in the NHL (.909) as a team, you gotta protect that blue line.

On top of that, Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson were exposed. You have to imagine there’s more here than meets the eye.

Ottawa exposed Bobby Ryan

Hey, what happened to the Ryan-aissance after that incredible playoff offensive explosion from Ryan?! Well, Ryan’s always believed that his $7 million cap hit was more than the Golden Knights would be willing to add, and he’s signed through 2022. The Senators also protected Cody Ceci over Marc Methot, which was expected.

Whatever the Blues are doing

The Blues’ protection list is a real curiosity. If Ottawa thinks the Knights lay off Ryan’s salary, why did the Blues think they’d take on $7 million of Paul Stastny for a year? Because he’s a center? Why on earth are they protecting Ryan Reaves, and leaving David Perron exposed? Is Vlad Sobotka infinitely more important than Carl Gunnarsson and Robert Bortuzzo on defense?

Lightning expose Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin

There was speculation that one of these young defenders would be protected along with Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman. Instead, it’s veteran Braydon Coburn, 32 and signed through 2019, that gets the spot, leaving both young players (23) exposed.

Matt Martin protected by Maple Leafs

Maybe they felt that George McPhee would quickly take him, considering he worked with Martin as a consultant with the New York Islanders. Or maybe they somehow knew that the Blues’ protecting Ryan Reaves made the world safe for this kind of thing. Then again, Matt Martin was brought in for his protection, so …

What from these lists surprised you?

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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