30 IN 30 - COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (4th place)
The talent just keeps on coming for the Blue Jackets. Years of smart managerial decision-making having finally paid off for this team. The internal development system has churned out NHL-calibre players year after year, providing the much sought after lineup flexibility most teams can only dream of. It would come as no surprise to see yet another year of success in Ohio from one of the league's deepest rosters. But will this collection of forwards in the 40-60 point per season range take them over the top in the playoffs? Without the same generational talent held by Pittsburgh or Washington, the Blue Jackets lack the gamebreakinig ability usually needed to steal games in a series. Can GM Jarmo Kekalainen clear some much needed cap space in order to acquire an impact scorer, or is he content with the route they're on, as the league's premier blue-collar team? No matter the decision, expansion will be a tricky one with so many NHL calibre players left for Columbus to protect.
PROTECTION LIST STRUCTURE
- Dubinksy (*NMC)
- Foligno (*NMC)
- Hartnell (*NMC)?
On a team built through depth and goaltending as opposed to a standalone top-tier scoring talent, Columbus will have to go with the 7-3-1 in order to protect as many players as possible. In the eyes of a few, defenceman Jack Johnson may add intrigue to the selection process, but in our opinion his age and contractual uncertainty (UFA in 2018) allow us to remove him from our discussion early; long-term player value can be obtained elsewhere in this lineup.
One such group to have is the forward contingent of Matt Calvert, William Karlsson, and Josh Anderson. It appears Scott Hartnell's 'no movement clause' will impede the Jackets from protecting anyone within this group, meaning Vegas will indeed have their choice from this crop if they so desire. However, goaltender Joonas Korpisalo may be too attractive an option for the Golden Knights to pass up. A very affordable new contract adds to his highly appealing waiver eligibility. On the whole, he could provide Vegas solid value as a 3rd string tender, able to move up and down between their NHL and AHL roster. But with the expansion draft goalie market so flooded with talent, we have our reservations about this pick. As noted in our Edmonton Oilers article, selecting any goalie beyond the big three of Fleury, Grubauer, and Raanta, will likely be made with the intention of placing them in the AHL, and AHL alone. Is Korpisalo the long-term developmental goalie prospect they prefer or do they see a higher ceiling elsewhere? In our opinion, we see available goalie options elsewhere and side with taking a young forward instead. Also, we have a hunch that additional compensation will be headed the Golden Knights' way to keep their hands off Korpisalo.
PICK A FORWARD... JUST NOT OUR TOP FORWARD
The group we have available were for the most part line-mates last season on the Jackets' 3rd unit.
Matt Calvert, at the age of 27, takes the title of grizzled vet on this line. The hardworking winger has been a fairly effective checker on this Columbus team for years. Never one to shy away from physical play, Calvert has the ability to change the momentum of a game in more ways than one. But 2016-17 was a down year for him, posting near career lows across the board, even though his primary linemates experienced relative success. At 27 and with no further skill set left to uncover, Calvert will remain outside the scope of our expansion selection.
It hasn't taken long for William Karlsson to establish himself as a smooth skating, defensively responsible centre in this lineup. Smart-decision making and strong positional play have allowed him to succeed in a traditionally more physical role. With bumps to his offensive totals this year, development continues for the young Swede, who's playing at an absolute discount rate of $1.0M per season. If Vegas runs into the RFA/UFA selection cap set at 10, Karlsson could very likely be the pick here. However, because of the Marcus Kruger addition, we have our sights set elsewhere.
With Kruger coming in to fill a checking line centre role for the Golden Knights, William Karlsson would be bumped out of his natural spot and either forced to play fewer minutes or transition to wing. Instead of doubling down on a similar player, we have a better solution: Josh Anderson. The 6'3 220lb winger has steadily improved each season since his draft year. After a 17 goal campaign in 2016-17, it's not unreasonable to think the 23 year-old could develop into a consistent 20 goal scorer. With the size and versatility to play anywhere from 2nd line all the way down to the 4th line, he provides great selection value and has the potential to be an absolute pain for opposing teams, especially in front of the net. As a matchup nightmare with solid stats and a predictably cheap bridge deal on the way, Anderson separates himself from his two linemates and becomes our selection for the Vegas Golden Knights.
It will be interesting to see what this team does with the likes of David Clarkson and Scott Hartnell. Clarkson may never play in the NHL again but still has 3 years of $5.25M cap hit left to his name. We've seen teams take advantage of these sort of contracts before, through the long-term injury reserve (LTIR) rules, allowing them to either exceed the salary cap by a classification dependent sum (re: the point before or during the season with which they designate his status) or reach the salary floor by taking on the cap hit. Meanwhile, Hartnell is painfully experiencing his late career descent. At 35 it's not like this should come as a surprise to anyone, but with two more seasons left on his current deal, a buy-out could be the only solution. The sooner both players are off the books for the Jackets, the sooner they can start talking extension with pending 2018 free agents Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, William Karlsson, and Ryan Murphy.
Next up: Chicago Blackhawks