Protect or Not; Rangers, Isles, Devils & The Upcoming Draft

Protection.

That’s the issue as the Rangers, Islanders and Devils respective high commands prepare for a unique NHL Expansion Draft followed by the annual Entry Draft.

On June 21, the Expansion Draft will take place in Las Vegas and two days later, the 2017 NHL Entry Draft will be held in Chicago over the usual two-day period.

Rules for the Expansion Draft have had general managers trying to figure the proper equations that will enable them to ice a contending team next season.

According to the rules, teams can protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie; or any combination of eight skaters plus one goalie.

The exemptions include all first and second-year pros as well as unsigned draft picks, whom of which are exempt from selection.

Needless to say, there are vexing questions involving each of the local teams.

RANGERS:

Who should go? Who must stay?

[Carpiniello: As Expansion Draft Looms, Who Will Rangers Protect?]

For example, how could the Blueshirts not retain Michael Grabner, who stunned just about everyone with a 27-goal season and excelled in both playoff rounds?

But if Grabner stays, who goes? That means we have to choose between J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes.

On the lower rung, another choice must be made between center Oscar Lindberg and right wing Jesper Fast, each of whom played nobly both in the regular season and playoffs.

Unfortunately, if the Rangers decide to keep Grabner, then both Lindberg and Fast must go.

Derek Stepan remains an enigma. As a top-six center, he had a superior regular season, but was unable to put points on the board during the Rangers’ playoff run.

What to do? The feeling here is that Stepan should be retained. The pluses exceed the minuses and the underwhelming playoff performance should be chalked off to what it was and expect better next year.

Up front, the other keepers include Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, and Mika Zibanejad.

Now here’s a puzzler; the club needs one genuine tough guy. This past season, Tanner Glass intermittently was that man and then some in the playoffs. What do they do with him?

The answer is they cannot afford to retain Tanner. Why? Despite his playoff heroics, the club can’t afford to retain the grit guy in today’s up-tempo high-speed game.

No question, the defense presents issues for the Blueshirts as well. The roster locks — for the moment at least — are Ryan McDonagh and, by rule, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal.

Unless Rangers GM Jeff Gorton can buy out either Girardi or Staal, both must be protected due to their no-movement clauses.

In the event that Gorton reaches an agreement with either player, then the open-protection slot should go to Nick Holden. Holden had a brilliant first half in his Blueshirts debut, then tailed off and endured a so-so playoff.

Under the 7-3-1 format, backliners such as Kevin Klein and Adam Clendening would then be exposed.

Mid-season import Brendan Smith impressed in his short time with the Seventh Avenue Skaters. The sandpaper edge he brought in the post-season was welcomed.

Pending unrestricted free agent Brendan Smith reflects on his stint with the Blueshirts after coming over at the trade deadline and ponders his options heading into the offseason.

As a pending unrestricted free agent, Smith could be signed by Vegas, thereby sparing the Rangers from losing any other players.

While Smith’s loss would be felt, it would also allow Gorton to do two things. That is to keep Antti Raanta and potentially sign another right-handed defenseman (are you listening, Kevin Shattenkirk of New Rochelle?).

Then there’s the guy nobody wants to see go — Raanta. Unless some deal can be made with Vegas, Raanta may have to go bye-bye.

Those who are ultimately exempt include Brady Skjei, Pavel Buchnevich, and Jimmy Vesey — all exempt in lieu of being first-year pros.

ISLANDERS:

This one I’ll make simple. Assuming — of course, I know it’s an assumption — that the Islanders re-sign John Tavares, both he and Andrew (no-movement clause) Ladd automatically stay.

Add Anders Lee and Josh Bailey to the list.

The defense issues are a bit complicated. I suggest that the club keep Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan.

That would mean Thomas Hickey would be left unprotected — and that’s a toughy. After all, who could forget Hickey’s clutch goals dating back to 2013?

Thomas Hickey has had a knack for scoring some huge goals for the Islanders in overtime. The defenseman talks about coming up big in the extra session.

Leaving Hickey unprotected would give the likes of Adam Pelech and Devon Toews a shot at making the big club.

Ah, the goaltending; a three-man bugaboo this past season. The winner here is Thomas Greiss because of his contract and the fact that the Golden Knights are not likely to take Jaroslav Halak.

Good arguments could be made for the protection of such willing workers as Casey Cizikas and Nikolay Kulemin. At age 26, Cizikas is Mr. Hustle up front and brings intangibles not evident in many players.

Call it grit and leadership, but this guy is good. Ditto for Kulemin, the most underrated forward who, at age 30, still can be better as a defensive forward.

Finally, there’s Cal Clutterbuck. Granted he struggled with injuries this past season, Cal solidifies the bottom six and has excellent chemistry with Cizikas. Both are heart and soul guys.

[Hogan: Clutterbuck, Much More Than A Great Name]

The 38-year-old Jason Chimera could very well tempt Vegas.

GM Garth Snow certainly will be challenged when it comes to the likes of Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome. As for Nelson, his multiple 20-plus goal seasons make it tempting to protect the big guy.

Ditto for Strome who’s filled with talent, but lacks some consistency. The change of head coaching duties to Doug Weight could be a tonic for Strome, who played better at both ends of the ice under Weight.

The trick here is the Islanders have new prospects in the system who could overtake Strome on the depth chart. The bottom line is that exposing him is an option dependent on which prospect could potentially fill his role.

P.S. On Two Reliables: Recently re-signed Dennis Seidenberg surprised with the best plus-minus on the team and, hopefully, will not be plucked because of his age, 35. As for Alan Quine, 24, he was a valuable plug-in over the season but is he a worth a coveted protection spot?

DEVILS:

Blessed with the first pick in the Entry Draft, Ray Shero remains in rebuilding mode with only a handful of untouchables. When goaltending is considered, Shero must figure that Cory Schneider‘s most recent performance — well below par — was a mere aberration and that Cory will bounce back with a solid campaign next season.

[Daneyko: Why Penguins’ Success Bodes Well For Devils’ Future]

Up front, there’s an attacking core that demands protection. They include Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac. Since Michael Cammalleri has come off a poor campaign, he normally may be trade bait, except for his no-trade clause.

Zajac and Henrique make up the pulse of the team’s offense. Hall and Palmieri create a one-two dynamic that could lead the offense for years to come.

Unquestionably, the Devils’ defense requires some work. Captain Andy Greene, remains the backbone of the blue line despite an uncommonly average season in 2016-17.

Ben Lovejoy, who was to be the ‘new Adam Larsson,’ did not measure up to the Larsson standard but was adequate enough to remain a regular.

John Moore‘s offensive assets and his zeal for learning make him worthy of protection. As does, Damon Severson.

Some will argue that Severson’s mediocre 2016-17 experience should rule him out, but he’s still young enough to hone his game to sharpness.

A tough call among the defenders has to be John Merrill, who significantly lifted the quality of his game. You can say the same for Dalton Prout.

P.S. Because Ryane Clowe of the Devils and the Islanders’ Mikhail Grabovski are permanently sidelined due to injuries, they do not need to be protected although their contracts remain in play.


HOW THREE FANS FEEL ABOUT THEIR TEAMS’ PROTECTED LIST:

RANGERS:

SAMUEL SANDLER of Suffern, New York says the following players should be protected:

Using the 7-3-1 format, his picks include:

FORWARDS: RICK NASH, MATS ZUCCARELLO, CHRIS KREIDER, MIKA ZIBANEJAD, MICHAEL GRABNER, J.T. MILLER, AND KEVIN HAYES.

DEFENSEMEN: RYAN MCDONAGH, DAN GIRARDI, AND MARC STAAL.

GOALIE: HENRIK LUNDQVIST.

ISLANDERS:

MATTHEW BLITTNER of Brooklyn says the following players should be protected:

Using the 7-3-1 format, his picks include:

FORWARDS: JOHN TAVARES, CASEY CIZIKAS, JOSH BAILEY, ANDERS LEE, ANDREW LADD, BROCK NELSON AND NIKOLAY KULEMIN.

DEFENSEMEN: NICK LEDDY, TRAVIS HAMONIC AND JOHNNY BOYCHUK.

GOALIE: THOMAS GREISS.

DEVILS:

LEO SCAGLIONE, JR. of Staten Island would protect the following:

Using the 8-1 format, his picks include:

FORWARDS: TAYLOR HALL, TRAVIS ZAJAC, KYLE PALMIERI, AND ADAM HENRIQUE.

DEFENSEMEN: ANDY GREENE, DAMON SEVERSON, JOHN MOORE, AND BEN LOVEJOY.

GOALIE: CORY SCHNEIDER.