Who Will the Rangers Lose in the Expansion Draft?

There were no surprises Sunday on the Rangers’ protected/exposed lists for the Vegas expansion draft.

So now the wait until Wednesday night begins, the wait to see which one player Vegas GM George McPhee (nicknamed by the press GMGM) chooses from the Rangers roster.

The Rangers protected:

ForwardsDerek Stepan, Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller
DefensemenRyan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Nick Holden
GoalieHenrik Lundqvist

Under the expansion rules, teams were allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie (several teams, including the Islanders, went that route in order to protect more defensemen).

Vegas will take one player from each team’s exposed list. First and second-year pros, such as Brady Skjei, Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich, were exempt. Brendan Smith, who will be an unrestricted free agent in less than two weeks, did not require protection; he can sign with any team on July 1. Dan Girardi was bought out last week (and is now an unrestricted free agent), and Kevin Klein has said he will likely retire.

[Carpiniello: Girardi Left It All On The Ice]

So the Rangers stand to lose Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Michael Grabner or goalie Antti Raanta (all 30 NHL teams will lose one player and only one player).

The Rangers’ list of exposed players:

ForwardsTaylor Beck, Chris Brown, Daniel Catenacci, Jesper Fast, Tanner Glass, Michael Grabner, Marek Hrivik, Nicklas Jensen, Carl Klingberg, Oscar Lindberg, Brandon Pirri, Matt Puempel
DefensemenAdam Clendening, Tommy Hughes, Steven Kampfer, Kevin Klein, Michael Paliotta, Brendan Smith, Chris Summers
GoaliesMagnus Hellberg, Antti Raanta, Mackenzie Skapski

Now the speculation begins. Which player will Vegas claim?

I’m pretty certain it’s down to the four previously mentioned.

Raanta is an interesting case. There are more than 30 goalies with NHL experience available in the draft, and it is believed the Golden Knights will take Marc-Andre Fleury from Pittsburgh – he has waived his no-trade clause for Vegas only, according to reports. McPhee will take three goalies, minimum, but can always deal one to a team in need of goaltending (Calgary came off that list with the trade for Arizona’s Mike Smith last week; Dallas fixed its problem by getting Ben Bishop, as did Carolina with Scott Darling).

Still, teams need No. 1 goalies and reliable backups. Raanta is surely the latter and could be the former. So perhaps McPhee selects Raanta then deals him to another team for draft picks or a player.

I think the Rangers might be better off if that occurs, because replacing a backup goalie when so many are available is easier than finding young forwards with upside, such as Fast and Lindberg.

Grabner is another argument, but he’s older – he’ll be 30 in October – and isn’t likely to match his 27 goals on an expansion team. He has one year left on his contract and would be due a big raise if he has another productive season.

So I think it will be Lindberg or Fast, two young, developing forwards who skate well, get involved physically and are responsible in all three zones. Neither has reached his ceiling yet. Both are restricted free agents.

Lindberg, 25, was one of Glen Sather’s great underrated trades (from Arizona for Ethan Werek). Fast, also 25, is one of Rangers coach Alain Vigneault’s most trusted players in all situations.

Either would be a big loss … and a smart pick by McPhee.

The buyout of Girardi gave the Rangers an extra spot to protect Holden, who despite a difficult playoff had a solid season, particularly the first half.

The Rangers want to re-sign Smith, who won’t come cheaply – probably $4-4.5 million per for four years – and still have work to do to add a top-four defenseman, preferably a right-hander. Klein and Girardi were the Rangers’ only two righties, other than Kampfer. Smith played the right side effectively, but with the loss of Girardi, whatever you think of him, they need to find a first-pair partner for McDonagh.

Or, if the Rangers lose Raanta, they will need to find an inexpensive backup goalie. There will be many available, but some of those carry too hefty a price tag.

The expansion draft roster freeze is in effect until Thursday. The naming of Vegas’ selections will be made as part of Wednesday night’s NHL Awards show in Las Vegas.