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Here’s an update on the Chicago Blackhawks’ expansion draft situation

The Vegas Golden Knights were officially unveiled, so let’s take a fresh look at what the Blackhawks have to figure out for the upcoming expansion draft.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Chicago Blackhawks David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL revealed its newest franchise — the Vegas Golden Knights — earlier this week, so the expansion draft is on everyone’s mind. We’re all trying to figure out which players will be protected, and which ones Vegas will be free to select for its initial roster.

For the Blackhawks, the situation is a bit different than others. Chicago has liberally handed out no-movement clauses over the past couple years, and those players must be automatically protected from Vegas. That means most of Chicago’s protected list is already in place, and it’s just a matter of figuring out the details.

Those details will be crucial to how the Blackhawks ultimately navigate the expansion draft, though, so they’re worth digging into. Now that the Golden Knights are official, it’s a good time for a refresher on how this will impact Chicago. Let’s do that.

To start, here are the basics for the expansion draft:

  • The Golden Knights will select one player from each of the 30 other NHL franchises. They must pick at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goaltenders, and at least 20 of the 30 players must be under contract for the 2017-18 season. The total cap hit of all players selected must be between $43.8 million and $73 million.
  • Each NHL team gets to create a protected list of players that Vegas cannot select. There are two options for how to structure the protected list: seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender, or nine players regardless of position.
  • All players with no-movement clauses, including partial no-movement clauses, must be protected.
  • All players with two years or less of NHL/AHL service time will be automatically exempt from the expansion draft. So anyone signed in the past two years, such as Artemi Panarin, does not need to be protected.
  • Teams must expose players who meet certain criteria. There must be at least one defensemen and two forwards who are under contract for 2017-18 and played at least 40 NHL games in 2016-17 or 70 NHL games total since the start of 2015-16. Teams must also expose a goaltender who is either under contract for the 2017-18 season or about to enter restricted free agency.

So those the key rules!

With all that in mind, eight players from Chicago will be automatically included on its protection list due to no-movement clauses: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Corey Crawford.

That means the Blackhawks don’t have nearly the options for the expansion draft as some other teams. Unless they make some monster trade between now and June, practically their entire protection list is already laid out for them. It’s just a matter of who finishes off that group, and which players will ultimately make sure Chicago covers all the requirements listed above.

Here’s the simple breakdown before getting into choices:

SUREFIRE PROTECTION: Toews, Kane, Hossa, Anisimov, Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Crawford

EXEMPT: Panarin, Forsling, Schmaltz, Motte, Hinostroza, Kempny, Gustafsson, DeBrincat, Knott, Johnson, Fortin, Kero, Baun, Dahlstrom, Norell, Valleau, Lundberg, Johansson, all unsigned prospects

UNPROTECTED: Kruger, Pokka, van Riemsdyk, Panik, Hartman, McNeill, Rasmussen, Svedberg, Carrick, Fournier, Carruth

Note that this list does not include any player who will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. While Vegas technically could select Scott Darling, Brian Campbell, or Andrew Desjardins, it’s unlikely, and those guys will NOT help cover the 40/70 requirement due to their contract status.

Dealing with the requirements

So let’s start with the simple reality for the Blackhawks: their main choice for the expansion draft is whether to protect another defenseman or protect three more forwards. If they protect another blue liner, they’ll be over the 7-3-1 limit and required to stick to the nine-player format.

The 40/70 rule may complicate matters, however.

If the team chooses to protect a defenseman, it would most likely be top prospect Ville Pokka, so the 40/70 rule would be a non-issue. You’d have Trevor van Riemsdyk and Marcus Kruger to cover two of the spots, and the final one could be filled by Ryan Hartman, who needs another 25 games to hit 40 this season. Alternatively, Richard Panik or Dennis Rasmussen could cover it if either player is extended before the draft.

Things aren’t so simple if you go for the 7-3-1 protection list, though. As you might’ve realized, we just listed four forwards who could fit the 40/70 requirement. If the Blackhawks decided to protect three more forwards — say, Kruger, Hartman, and Panik — then they would need to figure out who could fill the 40/70 requirement for the forwards.

One of them could be filled by extending Rasmussen, who is up to 61 games over the last season-plus. The other would need to be filled by re-signing Desjardins or Jordin Tootoo before the draft. If the Hawks go into the draft with only Kruger, Hartman, Rasmussen, and Panik meeting the 40/70 rule, they’ll almost certainly be going the nine-player route.

The situation is a bit simpler in goal. Crawford is the Hawks’ protected goaltender, and Rockford’s Mac Carruth, who is an RFA next summer, will cover the requirement for an available goaltender. Darling will be a UFA next summer, so his situation probably won’t be impacted by the expansion draft unless he’s extended before then. Vegas could select Darling, but given the list of potential goalies out there and Darling’s contract status, the team will probably have superior options.

The current possibilities

So here are where things could go for the Blackhawks now based on their present situation. And again, the 7-3-1 route would require the team to re-sign Tootoo or Desjardins.

7-3-1 route
PROTECTED Toews, Kane, Hossa, Anisimov, Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Crawford, Kruger, Hartman, Panik
UNPROTECTED Pokka, van Riemsdyk, McNeill, Rasmussen (extended), Tootoo/Desjardins (re-signed), Svedberg, Carrick, Fournier, Carruth

Requirements covered by: TVR, Rasmussen, Tootoo/Desjardins, Carruth

Possible Vegas picks: Pokka, TVR

9-player route
PROTECTED Toews, Kane, Hossa, Anisimov, Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Crawford, Pokka
UNPROTECTED Kruger, Hartman, Panik, van Riemsdyk, McNeill, Rasmussen (extended), Svedberg, Carrick, Fournier, Carruth

Requirements covered by: TVR, Kruger, Hartman, Carruth

Possible Vegas picks: Kruger, Hartman, TVR

So the biggest thing to note here is that the Blackhawks won’t be losing a big name. If they go the 7-3-1 route, they’ll lose a young defenseman like Pokka or TVR. I’d rather lose the latter, but either way, not the biggest loss. Alternatively, protecting one of those guys would mean losing a forward like Kruger or Hartman. Again, either one would be costly, but Kruger’s cap hit makes his loss palatable, and Hartman is a good bottom-six guy.

The Blackhawks have some things to figure out, but the expansion draft shouldn’t be too difficult for them to navigate.