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NHL Expansion - Who Would You Protect?

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Pierre LeBrun, Darren Dreger and Renaud Lavoie all confirmed this morning that the NHL is considering expanding in 2017-18 or by 2019-2020.

LA Kings brain trust.
LA Kings brain trust.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The writing has been on the wall for a while but this is the first concrete evidence we have that the NHL is seriously considering adding another team to the league.

The discussion was framed within terms of salary cap projections for next year.

So what are the rules surrounding the expansion draft? I'm glad you asked!

But wait, there's more.

Well that just throws a bit of a monkey wrench into things. And mucks up the simplicity of 7F, 3D and 1G. However, there is this:

So the risk factor is fairly low to lose someone of great value who isn't protected.

Let's pretend that the expansion draft will be this summer (I know it won't be for another year, but just go with it for a second). The Los Angeles Kings would obviously protect Anze Kopitar, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and Jeff Carter. But who else should they protect? Marian Gaborik would bring the total up to five players, leaving only two more that they wouldn't have to expose to the draft.

If John Hoven is correct, the Kings could potentially lose Dustin Brown as they may not save him. So that leaves Dwight King, Kyle Clifford, Milan Lucic (if he re-signs with LA - which he has said multiple times he's interested in doing), Trevor Lewis, Andy Andreoff, Nick Shore and Jordan Nolan.

NOTE: Kris Versteeg and Vincent Lecavalier were not presented as options given that the former is an unrestricted free agent this season and the latter has promised to retire. Ideally the Kings would keep Versteeg, but that would put them over the roster limit (and this is also a discussion for another time).

Let's move on to the defensemen. Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin are guaranteed locks. That leaves Brayden McNabb and Alec Martinez as worthy of being protected from the expansion draft. McNabb is 25 and is on an extremely cap-friendly RFA deal for one more year. Martinez has shown a lot of growth, especially in tough zone deployments, but has a $4 million cap hit for the next 5 years. With a stagnating salary cap, this could lead to a very tough decision for GM Dean Lombardi.

Oh, there's one more thing. The league is mulling over whether or not players with no-move clauses should be exposed (or protected, I supposed) in the expansion draft.

It's difficult to imagine a scenario in which the NHLPA wouldn't fight the league should they decide players with NMCs are eligible for the expansion draft. So, barring anything strange happening, expect that GMs wouldn't have to protect a player with an NMC.

What this means for the Kings is that Kopitar wouldn't count towards one of the seven forward (or eight skater) spots given that he has an immediate no-move clause (as well as for the next four years). So in theory, that leaves Carter, Toffoli, Pearson, Gaborik and three others.

What do you think? Of the players mentioned, who would you protect and who would you leave exposed? Share your thoughts in the comments below.