A Look Ahead To The 2021 Seattle Expansion Draft For The Bruins

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By: Lydia Murray | Follow Me on Twitter @lydia_murray12

As many of you probably know, a new NHL team located in Seattle will be entering the league in the 2021-22 season. This means that in June of 2021, there’ll be another expansion draft. According to this article from NHL.com, the rules will remain the same as they were for the 2017 Vegas expansion draft, so we know exactly what it’ll look like. If you need a refresher, read through the linked article, as it details everything that’s important. So, what does this draft mean for the Bruins? As the linked article states, teams have two options in terms of protecting players. They can protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie, or a total of eight skaters and one goalie. Back in 2017, Bruins’ general manager Don Sweeney chose the 7-3-1 format. This is almost certainly the format the organization will choose again given the current team. Even so, when looking at the roster, it seems like the Bruins will lose a really good player for nothing. However, when you take a closer look, you’ll find this may not be the case. 

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Given the contract statuses (all information in this article about that comes from CapFriendly) of many of the team’s key players, if Sweeney plays his cards right, the Bruins could end up getting very lucky. David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and Jaroslav Halak will all be unrestricted free agents in the 2021 offseason, as will formidable fourth-line center Sean Kuraly. Zdena Chara is also going to be a UFA (in the likely event that he plays next season), so even if he doesn’t retire, he won’t need to be protected (not that Seattle would pick a then-44-year-old player anyways). While Seattle will be able to take any of these players if left exposed, it wouldn’t make any sense for them too. They’d have no rights to the player and the player will be able to sign with whoever they want to come July 1st, 2021. If they were to be picked, the Bruins could easily just resign them then. So, the Bruins will be able to leave these players exposed and not worry about losing them for nothing, provided they don’t give them contract extensions before the draft. Hopefully, Sweeney is smart with these players and doesn’t do that (he can still negotiate a contract though), as that will put the Bruins in an excellent position to come out of this relatively unscathed. With that in mind, here’s a look at who the Bruins are likely to protect.

Forwards

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Starting with the forwards, it goes without saying Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand will all be protected. All three of them would be taken in an instant, much to the detriment of the Bruins. Bergeron and Marchand both have no-move clauses, so they have to be protected, but even if they didn’t, there’s just no way the Bruins would expose them. Charlie Coyle has a modified no-move clause on his contract extension that kicks in next season, so he will need to be protected unless he waives it, although even if he did, he will most likely be protected anyways, Besides them, it would be shocking to see the Bruins expose Jake DeBrusk (in the near-certain event he resigns this offseason). He’s developed into a solid, albeit streaky, top-six winger, and he’s still young, so to expose him wouldn’t be smart. 

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Beyond those five, things get less clear. If Sweeney doesn’t extend the UFA forwards, he’ll be able to protect players he otherwise would’ve had to expose, including Anders Bjork (who’s a likely-to-resign RFA this offseason) and Chris Wagner. Trade deadline acquisitions Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase will both be RFAs in the 2021 offseason, but it remains to be seen how they will fit in with the Bruins in the long-term and if they will be worthy of protection. If they are, despite the long-term extension given to him this season, Wagner will likely be the one left exposed, since he is not likely to be picked given his status and the other, more enticing options that the Bruins will have available. Bjork took big steps forward in his development this season and is turning himself into a solid third-liner with the potential to become more than that. With that in mind and given how much the Bruins have invested in his development, I would be surprised to see him get exposed.

Defensemen

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Things get tougher for the Bruins when it comes to defensemen. It goes without saying Charlie McAvoy will be protected. He is the team’s number one defenseman of the present and future, and he’ll only continue to improve for the next several seasons. Exposing him would cost the team dearly, so there’s no way it happens. Brandon Carlo will undoubtedly be protected too, as he is becoming one of the best shutdown defensemen in the league, and like McAvoy, he’s only getting better. He will be an RFA in the 2021 offseason, but the Bruins will have to protect him even if they don’t sign him to an extension before the draft, because if Seattle were to pick him they would own his rights, and if he was left exposed, he would almost certainly be picked. The biggest question for the Bruins right now is what will happen with Torey Krug. He’s a UFA this offseason, and should he resign, which he has made it abundantly clear he wants to, he will be the third protected defenseman. I’m hopeful that he will resign, but if for some reason it doesn’t work out, the team will have no shortage of options surrounding who to protect.

If Krug doesn’t need to be protected for some reason, Matt Grzelcyk will likely be the third protected defenseman. If left exposed, he will almost surely be picked up, which will hurt the Bruins, as he is an excellent third-pairing defenseman who is able to play important minutes and up in the lineup. But, he is an interesting circumstance, as his contract expires this offseason. He will most likely resign with the team, but on what terms will change how the Bruins are affected by this expansion draft. He’s an RFA, but if he signs a one-year deal, it will bring him through his age 27 season, thus making him a UFA. This is without a doubt the best possible scenario for the Bruins, as it will make it so no matter what, he will not have to be protected. But, whether or not that’s likely is hard to say. If Grzelcyk wants to stay a Bruin, this is probably the only way it’ll happen, unless Krug doesn’t resign. So, hopefully, it happens, but it may not if he’s not comfortable betting on himself, or if he doesn’t want to remain a Bruin for some reason. 

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In the unlikely event that neither Krug or Grzelcyk have to be protected, the Bruins will probably protect Connor Clifton, Jeremy Lauzon, or Urho Vaakanainen. Lauzon impressed this season after being called up from Providence, so much so that he stuck in the lineup once those he was called up to help replace got healthy. He was great on the third-pairing with Grzelcyk, and if this season was any indication, the future is bright for him. Meanwhile, Clifton had a shakier season, partially due to injury. He had games where he looked like a solid third-pairing defenseman, but also somewhere he hurt the Bruins more than he helped him.

He’s a good player when he’s on his game and plays a style that can only be described as “Cliffy Hockey.” If he’s more consistent next season, he might be the one protected. Lastly, Vaakanainen, who had high expectations placed on him going into this season, was underwhelming for much of it. He still has a high ceiling, and it could easily have just been a bad year for him, so hopefully, he can turn it around next season. If he doesn’t, he makes the decision easier for Sweeney. Even if he does, I believe he is the least likely of the three to be picked by Seattle, as he has limited NHL experience, and there will be at least there good, proven, NHL player available instead. Jakub Zboril is another one the Bruins could choose to protect, as he took a major step forward in his development this season, but as of right now, he has the least NHL experience of the four, so it’s doubtful that he’d be picked.

Goaltenders

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Finally, when it comes to goalies, it’s completely up in the air as of right now. If they don’t sign Rask or Halak to an extension before the expansion draft, they’ll be able to protect one of their prospects. If they sign either of them before then, whoever gets signed will be protected. If both are signed before then, the Bruins will surely protect Rask over Halak. But, given the circumstances, I don’t see them signing both before the draft, because there’s a decent chance that Seattle would pick the one exposed due to the other options that will be available to them from the Bruins. If the Bruins are able to protect a goalie prospect, the only one who will need protection is Dan Vladar.

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Both Jeremy Swayman and Kyle Keyser will have two years or less of professional experience by the expansion draft, thus exempting them from it, and I don’t see the team resigning Maxime Lagace this offseason. Even though he took a huge step forward in his development this season and was one of the top goaltenders in the AHL, it’s doubtful Seattle would take him even if left exposed, even though they’ll be looking for promising goalie prospects. He’ll have zero NHL experience barring any serious injuries to Rask or Halak, and the Bruins will have at least one, possibly two or more, young defensemen who are proven in the NHL that will likely prove more enticing. 

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Final Thoughts

In short, the Bruins have no shortage of options when it comes to the expansion draft next year. Most of their choices are clear-cut, but they have some potentially tough decisions to make for the remaining spots, although a lot can change in a year that could help them. They’re extremely lucky that several of their key players will be on expiring contracts unless they sign them to extensions before the expansion draft. If it weren’t for that, they’d be almost guaranteed to lose a great roster player. Even so, they’ll most likely lose a good young defenseman for nothing, which hurts. But, the organization has plenty of depth at that position, so it won’t be detrimental. It will be very similar to the 2017 Vegas expansion draft in that way, when they lost Colin Miller, in that it was unfortunate to lose him for nothing, but in the long run, it didn’t have a huge impact. So, let’s hope that Sweeney does the smart thing and doesn’t sign too many players (if any) to extensions in the middle of next season, thus ensuring that the Bruins won’t be too seriously hurt by the upcoming expansion draft.

 

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