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NHL Expansion: How would it impact the Blackhawks?

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Expansion of the NHL is inevitable, so what would an expansion draft mean for the Blackhawks?

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The expansion of the NHL is on the horizon and with an expansion comes an expansion draft that will have a ripple effect for every team around the league.

Per Darren Dreger of TSN:

The last time we saw an expansion like this was in 2000 when the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild entered the fold. With the likely possibility of the addition of two teams, considering Las Vegas looks like a lock for at least one, current NHL rosters are going to look dramatically different in a few years when veteran eligible players are set to be picked.

Before we get into how this would impact Chicago's roster, some proposed rules for the potential expansion draft are as follows:

  • Teams can lose one player for each expansion team.
  • Only one goalie can be protected.
  • You can protect seven forwards and three defenseman or eight skaters regardless of position.
  • Players not qualified are those with two or less years of professional experience. Also consider that those with no-movement clauses probably don't qualify as well.
  • A team may or may not have to protect a player on an NMC clause anyway.
  • Any team at the cap ceiling must expose 25% of salary ($18.5 million in salary for the Hawks)
  • This does include AHL players professionally.

The NHL is making more players available because they want these expansion teams to be competitive quickly. They want a situation where after $500 million is spent on a team in Vegas, that team has the pieces in place for success right off the bat. It's the nature of the business.

You'll note the trickiness with players that have no movement clauses. The NHL hasn't decided whether or not to allow these kinds of players available for selection. This affects the Blackhawks in particular, as they currently have seven players with these clauses so they could theoretically be protected. Yet Chicago would still have to find a way to expose that $18.5 million in cap space. As Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet notes, the expectation is just that:

With all of that in mind, and a general assumption of what the Blackhawks' roster will look like in June 2017 when this draft is supposed to take place, let's take a best guess on narrowing down how this could affect Chicago. As with a decision on who the expansion teams will be, the expansion rules are not set in stone yet either, so these assumptions are loose in their own right.

Given how tight the Blackhawks are up against the cap, a situation that won't change too much until the draft in 2017, we think it's safe to assume Chicago will want to keep as many current core players locked up as possible. Naturally, that goes along with the seven forwards, three defenseman, and a goalie option.

Our assumption on what players the Blackhawks will want to protect and who they'll leave up for grabs:

Forwards (Protected) : Jonathan Toews (NMC), Patrick Kane (NMC), Teuvo Teravainen, Marian Hossa (NMC), Artem Anisimov, Marcus Kruger, (7th to be determined)

Defenseman (Protected) : Duncan Keith (NMC), Niklas Hjalmarsson (NMC),  Brent Seabrook (NMC)

Goalie (Protected): Corey Crawford (NMC)

Unprotected Forwards: Andrew Shaw (assuming he is able to resign with the Blackhawks), Kyle Baun, Vinnie Hinostroza, Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero, Matt Fraser, Mark McNeill, Ryan Haggerty

Unprotected Defenseman: Erik Gustafsson, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Ville Pokka, Kirill Gotovets, Nolan Valleau

Unprotected Goalie: Scott Darling (assuming he is resigned after 2017), Michael Leighton (assuming he is resigned to the AHL), and other goalies who won't be taken in an expansion draft anyway.

As you'll notice, we decided to narrow down the Blackhawks new core moving forward as the focus of the protected players. Toews and Kane are obvious mainstays. Teravainen is a young talent the Hawks will probably try to sign long term this summer, as losing him would really hurt Chicago in any event. Anisimov and Kruger are guys that Stan Bowman clearly sees as long term options at 2nd center and 4th center respectively, given their contracts, so they are no-brainers as well.

Where it does get interesting in the forwards you protect is Hossa. The veteran will still have four years left on his deal at a set $5.275 million cap hit, by the time the expansion draft rolls around in 2017. At 38 years old, Hossa maintains himself in the best of shape, but a slow and steady decline is natural and to be expected. If he retires early, the Blackhawks would face a significant cap recapture penalty, hamstringing the team even more, something they would rather not contend with given their annual salary cap gymnastics. The question becomes: do the Hawks want to keep Hossa happy on a tight leash and make sure he doesn't walk away in a fashion that hurts them?

We were in agreement that would be part of the likely thought process. It isn't even considering the fact that Hossa still likely has several years of good hockey left where he can be useful for a contender, even if in an eventual diminished role, perhaps on the third line. Nonetheless, he's protected.

You'll note Artemi Panarin wasn't included among the protected forwards. That's because, well, he'll only have two years of professional experience in the NHL/AHL, so the Blackhawks will be safe to keep him regardless. You can breathe now.

In fact, most of the Hawks' forward group that they should really be careful to keep around is included amongst that group. They don't have any current AHL prospects that are lighting it up as future stars and college guys like Nick Schmaltz and Tyler Motte are a few years away from debuting anyway. In our mind, the Hawks stand to really come out unscathed forwards-wise.

Defensively though, it gets tricky. While Chicago does have Gustav Forsling stashed away overseas as an intriguing talent for the foreseeable future, they don't have much room to work with regarding current talent that could become vital pieces of a new defensive corps.

We assume Pokka will be looked upon as the heir incumbent to be the number four defenseman, possibly even next year, as its a spot the Blackhawks have struggled to find a reliable anchor for this season. He would be left vulnerable to the draft and losing him could damage Chicago's current Cup window. Gustafsson, someone who shows talent but still clearly needs seasoning, would also be left vulnerable to the draft, also leaving Chicago in a precarious position. It's unlikely any expansion franchise takes both, considering they basically have the pick of the litter of the entire league, but losing either could potentially damage short and long term championship prospects. That's the risk you have to take though when your three core guys are stalwarts like Keith, Hjalmarsson, and Seabrook.

Overall, we think the Hawks would make out well of this expansion draft.

That's what happens when a lot of the current roster is on one year deals and or are rentals. It becomes hard to project what the roster will look like on an annual basis with who fills in where. The guys who would potentially fill in next season will likely be cheap veterans that aren't worth keeping around anyway, and college guys like Schmaltz or Motte wouldn't have enough experience to qualify. Other than standing to lose top new defensive core pieces, in Pokka or Gustafsson, the Blackhawks should be safe to worry about other roster issues.

Now we just wait and see how this dramatically affects the rest of the league.

Robert Zeglinski is a staff writer and contributor for Second City Hockey and No Coast Bias. He is currently the sports editor at Aurora University. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.