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Weighing the Sharks’ Expansion Options

For the first time since 2000, the NHL is expanding and adding a new team to the league: The Las Vegas Golden Knights.

The Vegas organization will be added to the Pacific Division, making the Central Division the only one with just seven teams.

But divisions and alignment are not what teams and fans care about at the moment. Instead, they care about the impending expansion draft.

How the Expansion Draft Works

Between June 18 and June 20 of 2017, the Golden Knights will select one player from each NHL organization to build their roster. They are required to draft at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goaltenders in total while staying under the salary cap.

Existing franchises are allowed to protect their players in one of two ways; they may protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender, or they may protect eight skaters—regardless of position—and one goaltender.

Players who are in their first or second professional year are exempt from the draft and do not need to be protected. Players with no-movement clauses, however, are required to be protected.

Click here to see NHL.com’s full expansion draft rules for 2017.

What Should the Sharks Do?

The San Jose Sharks are a deep, talented team that appeared in the Stanley Cup Final last summer. But, their depth and skill means they will lose a talented skater in the expansion draft.

To figure out what San Jose could do come June, we will run two hypothetical situations for the team—one for each protection option.

*As a note to readers: The Sharks are not required to protect any skaters by the expansion rules. Joonas Donskoi, Dylan DeMelo, and all skaters who have played in juniors or the AHL this season are exempt and do not need to be protected. Also, I am assuming Joe Thornton re-signs with San Jose by the end of the year, but Patrick Marleau does not.

The 7-3-1 Protection

Protected Forwards Protected Defensemen Protected Goaltender
Joe Thornton Marc-Edouard Vlasic Martin Jones
Joe Pavelski Brent Burns x
Logan Couture Justin Braun OR David Schlemko x
Tomas Hertl E: Dylan DeMelo x
Joel Ward x x
Chris Tierney x x
Melker Karlsson x x
E: Joonas Donskoi x x

Going with this method, San Jose could protect every major forward on its roster as well as some depth skaters. However, this also means they would need to expose one of Justin Braun and David Schlemko.

If this is the case, who does the organization protect?

On one hand, Braun makes up half of the Sharks’ top shutdown defense pair. He and his partner, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, face the opponent’s top forwards and keep them off of the scoreboard night in and night out.

Additionally, the American defenseman has ability to make every partner he plays with statistically better, a trait I discussed in a previous article, which you can read here.

Though Braun is not an offensively gifted player, his defensive skills are elite, and his impact on his partners is under-appreciated.

Schlemko, however, is far exceeding his expectations in teal. The offseason acquisition is dominating the league in terms of possession and has helped his partner, the once controversial Brenden Dillon, re-find his game.

The bottom-pair blueliner also slots in on the Sharks’ second power play unit.

I wrote about Schlemko’s impact in San Jose earlier this season. You can read that article here.

It is a difficult decision, but in my opinion, Braun is the better defenseman to protect in this situation. The Sharks can find another bottom-pair defenseman should Schlemko get taken, but replacing a top-pair skater like Braun will be difficult.

The 8-1 Protection

Protected Forwards Protected Defensemen Protected Goaltender
Joe Thornton Marc-Edouard Vlasic Martin Jones
Joe Pavelski Brent Burns x
Logan Couture Justin Braun x
Tomas Hertl David Schlemko x
E: Joonas Donskoi E: Dylan DeMelo x

This method solves the problem caused by going the 7-3-1 route because San Jose would be able to protect both Braun and Schlemko.

But, the problem with this strategy is it means the Sharks could only protect four forwards instead of seven. This would mean skaters like Joel Ward and Chris Tierney would be exposed to Vegas in the draft.

Ward being taken in expansion would not be the worst situation for San Jose; he is 35 years old and would hold a $3.275 million cap hit for one more season.

He would be missed, but there is enough talent in the Sharks’ pipeline to replace the aging veteran.

The main concern here is exposing Tierney, the intelligent 22-year-old centerman.

The 2012 second rounder has proven to be a solid, two-way skater in his 146 games as a Shark and is the team’s top penalty killer. Tierney has also shown to be a skilled passer and has the assists-per-60 rate of a first-line player.

His age and award-winning hockey IQ means he is only going to get better as his career progresses. He could be a great piece once the Sharks’ aging core phases out and players like Timo Meier and Nikolay Goldobin need someone between them who can give them the puck.

Losing “The Cobra” would be a giant loss for San Jose.

Tough Decisions

Based on these projections, the San Jose Sharks will likely lose one of Justin Braun, David Schlemko, and Chris Tierney. Vegas drafting any of these three players would be a great move for the new franchise, but it would also be devastating to San Jose.

Expansion is coming, and decisions need to be made.

If you want to simulate the expansion by protecting every teams’ players and mocking a draft, check out Plan My Team or Cap Friendly.

Fun Fact

-In the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft, the San Jose Sharks traded Jan Caloun, a 2000 ninth-round pick, and a 2001 conditional pick to the incoming Columbus Blue Jackets and traded Andy Sutton and a 2000 seventh-round pick to the incoming Minnesota Wild on the condition that neither team selected goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.

About Drew Weber

Drew Weber is a lover of hockey and abuser of analytics. Prior to joining Pucknology, he covered the San Jose Sharks and Team USA for The Hockey Writers and contributed briefly to Fear the Fin. You can follow him on Twitter at @puck_over_glass.

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