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Who to protect? Wings have tough calls on expansion

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Goalie Jimmy Howard’s tremendous play in the world championships may cause Red Wings management to rethink allowing him to be exposed in the expansion draft.

Detroit — The Red Wings will lose somebody.

Like all of the other 29 NHL teams, the Wings will lose a player to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, who will begin play in October.

But who will the Red Wings lose?

Is it going to be a forward like Darren Helm, Riley Sheahan or Luke Glendening?

A young defenseman such as Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Jensen or Ryan Sproul?

Or, how about a goalie, Jimmy Howard or Petr Mrazek?

Howard, Larkin help U.S. rally past Russia at worlds

The Red Wings will know for sure who is leaving when the expansion draft takes place June 21. Teams must submit their protected lists June 17, which will provide plenty of fodder for fans and the media alike.

There are two ways teams can go when submitting their protected lists.

They can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender — or, if they’re particularly deep in an area and want to maintain that strength, they can protect eight skaters (any combination of forwards and defensemen) and one goaltender.

All first- and second-year professionals, such as Dylan Larkin, are exempt and do not need to be protected. So are all unsigned draft picks and players on their entry-level contracts.

Players with “no-move” clauses in their contracts must also be protected; the Wings only have one, Frans Nielsen, an unrestricted free agent signed last summer.

Who to keep and who to expose are tricky propositions. Variables such as contracts, recent production, age and depth are important factors to consider.

Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said the Red Wings will go the 7-3-1 route.

Prior to submitting the protected list, Holland expects plenty of phone calls with teams wanting to get something in return from a team, rather than just losing a player for nothing in the draft.

“If there’s a possibility for a trade out there to make us better, we’re going to try to make it happen,” Holland said. “I anticipate I’ll be on the phone a lot a week or two leading up to submitting a list of players.”

Teams might sway the Golden Knights to pick somebody else rather than an unprotected player it really wants to keep.

And Vegas general manager George McPhee told the Associated Press he’d be happy to stockpile draft picks.

“If (teams) want to give us draft picks to encourage us to take a certain player or leave another player alone, we’re open-minded and we’re going to listen to everyone,” McPhee said. “You usually build your team, historically, through the entry draft, so we’d certainly be interested in acquiring picks.”

Vegas must also take on approximately $43.8 million of salary – the minimum salary cap – through the expansion draft.

But who will the Red Wings protect and expose? Here’s my predictions:

Goaltenders

Protect: Petr Mrazek.

Expose: Jimmy Howard, Jared Coreau.

The belief is the Red Wings plan on keeping Mrazek (age 25), who is eight years younger than Howard (33), with the fact Howard has two years remaining on his contract at $5.3 million.

But given the way Howard played this past season, and his current outstanding performance at the world championships, you have to begin to wonder if Holland would consider keeping Howard and exposing Mrazek.

After a disappointing season which saw Mrazek post a career-worst 3.04 goals-against average and .901 save percentage – and Mrazek has continued to be shaky at the world championships for the Czech Republic, for what it’s worth – Holland might consider leaving Mrazek exposed and accept the salary cap relief (Mrazek has one year left, at $4 million).

Coreau is draft eligible, but given the fact there are so many more NHL-tested goalies available, Vegas isn’t likely to be interested.

There’s also one more route Holland could go, to alleviate his salary cap problems — protect Coreau and leave both Howard and Mrazek exposed.

Defense

Protect: Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green, Nick Jensen.

Expose: Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Kronwall, Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul.

Many analysts see DeKeyser and Green as locks to be protected. So, then it comes to either Jensen or Ouellet being protected — and both Kronwall (age 36, two years left at $4.75 million) and Ericsson (33, 3 years, $4.25 million) exposed, with Vegas unlikely to bite because of their salaries, age and injury issues.

Ouellet is more physical, and a bit stronger defensively, while Jensen was impressive in his skating and offensive ability.

Either would at least partially interest Vegas if available in the expansion draft.

Forwards

Protect: Justin Abdelkader, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Frans Nielsen (no-move contract), Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Henrik Zetterberg.

Expose: Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, Tomas Nosek, Riley Sheahan.

Yes, Sheahan only scored two goals the entire season – on the final day of the regular season – but he would likely intrigue the Golden Knights.

Sheahan is only 25, has shown the ability to score 10-15 goals per season, is big (6-foot-3, 226-pounds) and capable defensively, and only becomes a restricted free agent in 2018 (he’s signed for $2.075 million through next season). Many scouts feel there’s still untapped potential with Sheahan, who would be given ample opportunity with an expansion team such as Vegas.

Glendening would also be a consideration, for his defensive and penalty killing ability, and at age 27, he could be a young leader on a growing, evolving team.

Helm would also provide Vegas an experienced player who could fill several roles. But Helm has four years left on his contract at $3.84 million, and has missed considerable time because of injuries, which is likely to keep Vegas away.

Riley Sheahan

NHL Expansion Draft

When: June 21; teams must submit their protected lists by June 17.

Protected: Teams can protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or any combination of eight skaters plus one goalie.

Exempt: All first- and second-year pros, and unsigned draft picks, are exempt from selection.