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Who Should Colorado Protect for the Expansion Draft?

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Now that the trade deadline has passed, things are slightly clearer as to who Colorado might protect in June.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

As the official video game general manager of Mile High Hockey, I feel as though my credentials on EA Sports’ NHL video games gives me the privilege of making such an important decision as the one I’m faced with. Who will the Colorado Avalanche protect before June’s expansion draft? Las Vegas needs hockey players, and like it or not, there will be a current member of the Avs who’s a Golden Knight come the fall. Every team faces this reality though, and from a standings viewpoint, seeing as how the Avs are the worst team in the league, that should mean the Avs get rid of one bad player.

Before we dive in, I want to refer you to this handy-dandy guide. http://www.sbnation.com/nhl/2016/6/22/12007686/how-nhl-expansion-draft-will-work-rules-protection-las-vegas-2017

I may be biased as an SB Nation writer, but I do believe this article is by far and away the best guide as to how the expansion draft works. I referenced it many a time when writing this piece to help me understand who exactly Colorado can protect, and who they can’t. Bookmark that link if you’re curious about the Vegas draft, and enjoy it for the next few months.

So, Colorado can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goaltender, OR eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and a goaltender. It seems obvious to me, and everyone here, based on when I proposed the question on the comments of a Cupcakes article earlier this week, Colorado should go with the latter option.

Why is that? Simple. Colorado isn’t that good where they need to protect eleven players. They obviously need to unload some dead weight. Trades accomplished some of that by ridding the team of Jarome Iginla and Cody McLeod. Free agency will do its part as well, as guys like Fedor Tyutin, John Mitchell, Cody Goloubef, and Rene Bourque.

So through those standard processes alone, Colorado will look like a different team. Thanks to a 31st NHL franchise, another player will be ousted as the Golden Knights are required to take someone from every team. That’s thirty players who Vegas will be blessed with; twelve forwards, six defensemen, and two goalies for the NHL squad. Then ten players can go towards their AHL team and make that a decent minor league force right off the bat.

Enough about them though. I’m going to put on my GM hat, go through what my thought process would be, and explain why eligible players from the Avs should be protected, or left for Sin City.

Who Is exempt from the protection process?

Mikko Rantanen, J.T Compher, Chris Bigras, and A.J Greer among others. Any NHL player currently in his first or second year, or an unsigned rookie, is exempt, and does not count towards the protected allotment of players.

Who Will Be Protected?

  1. Nathan MacKinnon. This is obvious to virtually everyone. He hasn’t produced on the score sheet like we’ve hoped, but his skating ability and skill is highly coveted. MacKinnon is who Colorado should build around going forward and not let Vegas have any chance at scooping him up.
  2. Nikita Zadorov. The prize piece of the infamous Ryan O’Reilly trade has been one of the few bright spots for Colorado this season, or at least he was before someone else got in his way at practice, which I typed in my Allen Iverson voice. If MacKinnon is who Colorado should build around on the forward side of things, Zadorov is who the defense should be built around. The 21 year old is not going anywhere.
  3. Matt Duchene. After surviving the trade deadline, I sincerely hope the reports of a Duchene trade being put on hold until the summer are untrue. I would hate to lose the guy who dreamed of playing for this club and has been subject to some sheer misery and undeserved stress in his tenure with the Avs. Duchene’s passion, experience, ability, loyalty, and friendly contract aren’t worth trading, or allowing Vegas to have the chance at.
  4. Erik Johnson. The Avs look like a different team with EJ in the lineup. Sadly, we seemingly say that at least once a year because of Johnson’s difficulty to stay healthy. That presents the argument of “Well, he gets hurt a lot, so do we cut our losses and leave him unprotected?” I don’t think so, because Johnson is a leader in the locker room, the team’s best defenseman from a defensive perspective, and the team’s best defenseman from a defensive perspective. He was just locked up two summers ago for a multi-year deal and there’s no reason to let him go so soon after that extension.
  5. Gabe Landeskog. Much of the Duchene blurb can be copied and pasted into this space. The only reason why I put more importance on protecting Duchene than Landeskog is a sheer numbers game. Duchene produces more goals and assists than Landeskog, and doesn’t take at least one stupid suspension every season. I do dearly hope Gabe is a member of the Avs next season, and I think he will be. He’s still the captain and a vital part of the Avalanche’s commitment to getting back to championship caliber levels.
  6. Francois Beauchemin. I’m gonna get this one out of the way. First of all, Sakic is obligated to protect Beauchemin because there is a no-movement clause on his contract. Beauchemin cannot be traded or left up in the air in a possible move to southern Nevada. Glass half-full approach: he’s a good veteran, leader and voice in the locker room. The Avs will have a lot of young guys around and having Grandpa in a wheelchair around might not be the worst thing. I have to assume with how bad he’s been this season, Beauchemin is planning on retiring after next season. Give it one more year, make money, give it your all for a second Stanley Cup one last time, then get out of the way. Maybe being on the third defensive pairing, and not being on the ice twenty minutes a game would make him at least serviceable. Regardless, the Avs are stuck with him next season.
  7. Tyson Barrie. It will be tempting to leave Barrie off this list when the time comes. The one issue is that considering the long deal Colorado just gave him, it would hurt to give him up for nothing consider what some GM’s would give for a guy like Barrie. He does add an extra dimension for Colorado’s offense. Things are more wide-open, and there is a better chance of a goal occurring when Tyson is on the ice (notice how I didn’t specify for the Avs or the opponent). He’s been very below expectations this season, and it would be quite ideal for him to not suck next year. Pardon the Vegas puns, but gamble and roll the dice that Barrie will be better and worth keeping around for next season.
  8. Blake Comeau. Here’s where things get interesting. You could make the case for a few skaters getting this eighth and final skater spot. Why Comeau instead of one of those other guys? Comeau can be good in the right situation. He was a nice addition in the 15-16 season before becoming quite useless this season. Why has that happened? Don’t know! What I do know is his contract is friendlier than that of some other guys, and if the Avs could ever get some depth, he’d be a good player on a fourth line, and maybe the third line if it comes to that. He’s only 31 and two seasons ago, was a good member of the Penguins’ Top Six. He can get back to at least half that level, can’t he? I hope, if I’m gonna protect him.
  9. Calvin Pickard. Picks is the goalie the Avs should protect. Not Semyon Varlamov. Why? Calvin doesn’t have an inordinate amount of money on his current contract, unlike Varlamov, for one thing. That’s not necessarily Semyon’s fault. What is Varlamov’s fault is that he’s been expected to be the Avs’ #1 goaltender. Sometimes, he is at that level at which he was in 13-14. It typically happens when the Avs are either playing the Blackhawks, or Colorado is outshot in a game by like a 60-20 margin. Pickard, if nothing else, is a very solid #2 goaltender. Is he worthy of being a starter? Probably not, but he is extremely serviceable. He has one more year left on his deal before becoming an UFA in the summer of 2018.

Some of the guys this leaves unprotected and eligible to be picked include the just previously mentioned Varlamov, Carl Soderberg, Mikhail Grigorenko (RFA), Eric Gelinas (RFA), Patrick Wiercioch (RFA), Rocco Grimaldi (RFA), and Matt Nieto (RFA). I made sure to note which of those guys are restricted free agents this summer because Vegas can still pick them despite an expiring deal, but that doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to stay in Colorado either.

One of those guys is gonna be a Golden Knight this fall. My money is on Semyon Varlamov being poached by Vegas, at this moment. If he is left up in the air, I think Vegas will pick him up because they’d be getting a goaltender who has shown flashes of being downright amazing at times. They take the risk of that not happening, especially after a nagging man muscle injury, but even if they aren’t thrilled with how it goes with Varlamov, he’s a free agent in the summer of 2019. Vegas won’t be awful because of these expansion rules right off the bat, but they won’t be an instant playoff team either. It should take at least two years for them to figure out what their ceiling is and where they want to go. Give Varlamov a spin, see how it goes, and evaluate his future before the decade is up.

My reasoning, as always, is without flaw, completely correct, and entirely indicative of the future.