The what, where, why, and when of the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft are pretty much nailed down. It’s an expansion draft, it’s happening in the late spring of 2021 at Seattle Center Arena (providing the paint is dry), and it’s to fill out the bulk of our new team’s roster.
The hard parts are the who and the how. We have about 22 months to wrap our heads around the minutiae surrounding this process, and it’s not going to be easy.
So we thought we’d put up a series of articles going over the specifics. Hopefully our approach will result in some Happy-Meal-sized chunks of information that you can refer back to when you need to, without overwhelming you with endless rabbit-hole adventures.
Today we’re going to focus on two things. First, we’ll try to get a grip on all of the terms and their associated abbreviations that we’ll need to know. And secondly, we’ll wade into the rules that will apply to both the existing teams and our Seattle franchise during the run-up to and the day of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.
I promise: no pop quizzes.
Player Contract Vocabulary
The guys on the ice are going to be most people’s main focus, so let’s start there. There are certain terms associated with player contracts that are going to come up a lot, and you’ll need to know the layman’s version of what they mean. Let’s get started.
Unsigned Player: When a team drafts a player in the Entry Draft, they become “property” of that team. In order to play for a professional team (AHL or NHL), they must sign a contract. Any player who is property of a team, but has not signed a contract, is an unsigned player.
Player Under Contract: A player who has an existing, unexpired contract with a team.
Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA): A player who is not under contract with any team, and is free to sign with any team.
Restricted Free Agent (RFA): This one is a bit of a pain in the ass. It’s a player whose contract has expired, however the team with whom he is playing has first bargaining position and right of first refusal on any outside contract offer the player receives. The player is still considered “property” of that team, however his rights can be traded to other teams. Screwy, huh?
Qualifying Offer: In order to retain the rights to an RFA when his contract expires, the team must offer the player a contract for the upcoming season at a prescribed minimum amount. If no qualifying offer is made, the player becomes a UFA.
No-Trade Clause (NTC): The contract stipulates that the player can’t be traded, period.
No-Movement Clause (NMC): The contract stipulates that the player can’t be traded, OR sent to the minors, period. This may seem like a picky detail, but under draft rules players with an NMC are treated differently than those with an NTC.
Limited No-Trade/No Movement Clause: The player’s team can only trade/demote them under certain conditions, and most often those conditions give the player some say over what teams he can or can’t be traded to. Each one of these is contract-specific.
Waiving a No Movement Clause: Outside of the draft this is a slightly different kettle of fish. But in this specific case, players who have NMC’s that want to be chosen by Seattle can voluntarily (and temporarily) invalidate their NMC for the draft. That player is left exposed, and it allows the team to protect a different player.
I’ll stick my neck out here and suggest that this scenario is highly improbable. The team would more likely ask the player to waive the NMC so they could trade him to Seattle for some asset of value in return, rather than lose the player for nothing in the draft.
Okay, with me so far? A lot of this is old hat for most of you, but be nice to the newbies who are just getting their feet wet here. They could be the ones cheering next to you on opening night.
Expansion Draft Vocabulary
The rules of the draft as published by the league use a host of terms not normally seen in your average day of hockey coverage. Fortunately the rules for the 2021 expansion draft are the same as they were in 2017, so we have a recent example to refer back to.
Protected Player: A player whose team has prevented them from being selected by Seattle. A team can only do this for a limited number of players.
Exempt Player: A player who does not meet the eligibility requirements for being considered for the draft. These players do not count against a team’s protected list limits (see the rules section). They also do not count towards a team’s exposure requirements (again, see the rules section).
Protected List: This is the list of players that a team has stopped from being selected in the draft. How many players, and what type of players, are outlined in the expansion draft rules below.
Exposed Player: A player who is not exempt, and who is not on the protected list.
First- or Second-Year Pro: Any player who has not completed two full seasons as a professional. These players are exempt.
(Update 12/10/2020: A player who has completed his second pro season, and will be entering his third pro season in 2021-22, is still exempt. This was clarified by league muckety-muck Bill Daly prior to the 2017 expansion draft, and we include it here to clear up any confusion.)
Now, notice the term “professional”. This includes both the NHL and AHL. So if a player has completed two seasons with the farm team, and is not protected by their team, they’re fair game. It’s very possible that this could be beneficial for Seattle, and pay particular attention to this aspect of the rules with respect to goaltenders.
It kinda goes without saying, but unsigned players — essentially, zero-year pros — are also exempt.
Career-Threatening Injury: Any player who has either a) missed his team’s last 60 consecutive games, or b) who has previously been deemed by the league to have an injury that does (or could) prevent them from playing in the future. These players are exempt.
Bench Minor: Delay Of Game
Before jumping in with the draft rules, I want to first mention something that is not a rule, but will affect the outcome of the draft in a very significant way. The (not Las) Vegas Golden Knights will not participate in the Expansion Draft. None of their players can be selected.
Spin that around in your head for a bit. We’re going to come back to visit that insidious loophole left over from a bygone era in future articles.
Okay, time to get serious. Buckle up…
Expansion Draft Rules — Existing Teams
Each team must protect any player with a no-movement clause.
Each team is allowed to protect one goaltender.
Each team is allowed to protect a limited number of skaters. They have two options: they can choose to protect either a combined total of 8 skaters regardless of position; or they can protect 7 forwards and 3 defensemen.
Wait, why would a team only protect 8 players when they can protect 10? If, for instance, a team has more than 3 defensemen that they want to protect, they can do that at the expense of being able to protect two fewer players overall.
Seven teams chose the 8-player option during the 2017 draft, with the New York Islanders setting the record by choosing to protect 5 defensemen. So it gives flexibility to the teams; but it also exposes more players overall, giving the potential for a more competitive expansion team. That’s the league’s goal in formulating the rules.
Each team must expose at least: two forwards, one defenseman, and one goaltender.
Each of the exposed forwards and defensemen must be under contract for the upcoming season, and must have played in either at least 40 games the previous season, or at least 70 games over the last two seasons.
The exposed goaltender must be either under contract, or an RFA who has received his qualifying offer. There is no minimum number of games requirement for goaltenders.
Man, this is getting tiresome. Let’s take a quick break.
Expansion Draft Rules — Seattle
Seattle must select one player from each team — not including the Golden Knights, as mentioned above — for a total of 30 players.
Seattle is required to select a prescribed minimum number of players at each position: 14 forwards, 9 defensemen, and 3 goaltenders. So, no drafting 30 goalies and holding them hostage for beneficial trades. But you’ll notice that those numbers add up to 26. Seattle will have the flexibility in those remaining 4 players to grab anyone they want at any position. That’s more important than it may seem.
At least 20 of the players Seattle selects must be under contract for the 2021-22 season. (So, for instance, they can’t select any more than 10 UFA’s, though why they would want to is beyond me.)
The total value of the contracts of the players selected must be between 60% and 100% of the NHL salary cap for the 2020-21 season. So if the salary cap is $85 million, then $85 million would be the upper limit of the contract value of players selected; the lower limit would be $51 million.
There’s an additional rule relating to buying out a player’s contract, but it would take another 20 paragraphs just to explain how the contract buyout process works. Just know that it’s there, and it’s not going to be a factor.
Okay, that’s all. Wow! We did it!
Again, this is going to seem like a lot. But we’re going to refer back to this a fair bit, especially as we continue our series.
There is lots more to go over, and it’s way more fun. Next up: how players are preparing for the NHL Expansion Draft.