SB Nation Expansion Draft: The Sharks We Left Behind

That's right, Mr. Plank here with another commentary. Didn't think the SBN suits would have me back perhaps.

At one point I was sipping cocktails in some Tijuana alleyway with a broad named Alexis. Fine lass, a bit on the talkative side, but you get what you pay for and I wasn't paying a dime. She was a chef at some upscale restaurant in downtown San Francisco, real high class stuff, liked her scotch old and her men young. She liked a lot of things. I guess I was one of them, but I didn't pay enough attention on the account of the booze and incessant buzz of the power lines overhead.

Those power lines fueled the entire city. It hummed and we hummed. Oh to be young again. Oh to be young enough not to realize when you've grown old and bitter. The irony of the sun.

I lit my pipe, kissed her delicate nose, and took a taxi to the airport where the promise of worldwide connection awaited.

Chasing the power lines. Always chasing those goddamn power lines.

I'm always on the run.


If you aren't yet aware, SBN's NHL page has set up a mock expansion. In this hypothetical scenario, the League has expanded to 32 teams, returning to Winnipeg and Quebec for one last shot at revitalizing the Canadian markets we all know and love.

So how does this effect the Sharks? Under the rules of this expansion, the Sharks have the option to protect a certain number of players from the clutches of the two new franchises-- anyone left unprotected is free game for Quebec and Winnipeg to obtain:

Ground rules on protected lists:

1) Teams can protect either "1 goalie, 5 defensemen and 9 forwards" OR "2 goalies, 3 defensemen and 7 forwards."

2) If you go the two goalie route, at least one goalie left unprotected must have played in at least 10 games last season OR 25 games in the last two seasons combined. One game = at least 31 minutes.

3) Each team must leave unprotected at least one defenseman who appeared in 40 games last season OR 70 games in the last two seasons combined.

4) Each team must leave unprotected at least two forwards who appeared in 40 games last season OR 70 games in the last two seasons combined.

5) Players who have played in 49 or fewer games are automatically exempt and do not need to be protected.

It's an interesting critical thinking exercise at this point in the offseason, what with training camp coming up quick around the corner. After the jump is my list of players to protect, the impeccable rationale behind it, and an invitation for you to call me a fool and try to sway me when FTF submits it's final list to SBN.

Considering the depth of the goaltending prospects in the Sharks system, the level of talent amongst the forwards, as well as the fact that leaving two goalies unprotected isn't even an option for San Jose (see rule #2 above), I will be protecting 1 goalie, 5 defenseman, and 9 forwards.

Goaltenders (Protect One)

The goalie situation is a difficult one for me to choose from. Niitymaki provides some stability considering he has been a starter before, and in yet another year when the Sharks are expected to be a Cup contender, that's something I'd like to have in my back pocket. His SV% has been pretty mediocre throughout that time (.903 career), but I like the fact that his even strength save percentage has been pretty solid the last two seasons. He's a goalie who should be good enough to win games provided he gets some defensive help in front of him.

On the other side of the coin is Thomas Greiss. I had my concerns about him going into last season, but in a limited backup role behind Evgeni Nabokov, he more than held his own (.912 SV%). I like his youth, his upside, and his reflexes-- the only suggestion I have for the coaching staff is to jimmy up a rope around his waist and tie it around the crossbar so he doesn't end up trying to make saves in between the faceoff dots.

When push comes to shove I protect Greiss. I think he can be just as effective as Niittymaki next season (i.e. both are guys who aren't going to steal you many games, both are prone to inconsistency) and will test him for the starting role all season long. With youth on his side, Niittymaki is pushed out and Greiss is protected.

* Thomas Greiss protected.

* Niittymaki exposed to the expansion draft.

Forwards (Protect Nine)

The beginning of this is as easy as punching a defenseless baby in the face-- Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, and Ryane Clowe are protected. Those are six players who comprise your top six, and with the free agent market pretty much dried up in respect to these types of guys, there's no way I risk losing any one of them without getting assets back in return.

Logan Couture doesn't need to be protected considering he has played in less than 49 NHL games. He'd obviously be on the list, but thankfully I've got another free spot to try and get some guys protected that I want to keep within the organization.

We now have three spots available to protect players-- unfortunately, we won't be able to use them all. Out of that pool, Jamie McGinn, Torrey Mitchell, Scott Nichol, and Jamal Mayers all fit the criteria for rule #4, which states that, "Each team must leave unprotected at least two forwards who appeared in 40 games last season OR 70 games in the last two seasons combined."

Essentially, we're working from the outside in. Two of these guys must be left available for Winnipeg and Quebec to draft if they so choose, meaning a fan favorite could possibly be playing north of the border next season.

Jamal Mayers is immediately left unprotected considering his poor advanced metrics and role as a fourth liner. This means that the choice comes down to leaving Jamie McGinn, Scott Nichol, or Torrey Mitchell unprotected.

McGinn is a non-option for me-- he is protected as quickly as the decision was made to ditch Mayers. Which leaves me in a bit of a bind considering it now comes down to Nichol or Mitchell. Both players are billed as defensive specialists whose role is to shut down opposing forwards, create some havoc on the forecheck, and generally make life as difficult as it can be for anyone who goes up against them.

Let's take a peek at some advanced defensive stats from last season and see what we can glean:

Scott Nichol vs. Torrey Mitchell

Team GP Qualcomp GFON/60 GAON/60 GFOFF/60 GAOFF/60 PK TOI PK GAON/60 PK GAOFF/60
Scott Nichol
Torrey Mitchell

Admittedly, this is a very tough one. Mitchell has the upper hand in the even strength department, but Nichol was obviously a much better and relied upon penalty killer. It appears as if the Sharks are going to be relying a lot on their younger players this season when shorthanded, in order to fill the hole left by Manny Malhotra, and losing Nichol creates an even bigger issue for the team in this regard.

In terms of intangibles, Nichol is the clear winner I'd say. He has a lot more fight in him, even at 35 years old, and is definitely a player that opposing defenseman are aware of when he's out on the ice. His faceoff prowess also can't be discounted here, especially when one considers the amount of time he spends on the kill taking draws in the Sharks end.

All that being said, Mitchell is a decent player. He's defensively sound, and despite lacking the physical acumen you want on those lower lines, has some wheels that can stretch defenses-- the kid can skate, and in today's NHL, that's important. Furthermore, his age makes him a more attractive option to keep. Nichol will likely lose a little jump next season, and Mitchell could improve both offensively and defensively.

With these things all considered, I think I choose to protect Mitchell over Nichol. Nichol, despite being a fan favorite, is a commodity that could be replaced with numerous other NHL veterans across the League, many of whom are still free agents right now. Furthermore, taking the perspective of Winnipeg and Quebec into consideration, Mitchell would be much more valuable in the case of an expansion draft (age, the fact that fourth liner centers are a dime a dozen). I'd say there's a very good chance Nichol gets passed over unselected and ends up playing in San Jose next season even if he goes unprotected by the organization.

* Joe Thonton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, Ryane Clowe, Jamie McGinn, and Torrey Mitchell protected.
* Jamal Mayers and Scott Nichol unprotected.

Defenseman (Protect Five)

Just like the forwards, pretty much a straight shot from the get go-- I know what players I'm going to be debating over before I even take a hard glance at the roster. Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Douglas Murray are the three who don't even warrant a thought process.

Jason Demers, despite being a rookie last season, has played in more than 49 NHL games (rule #5), so he's eligible to be snatched away. I use up my second to last protection slot on him, meaning I have one more player who can be protected.

Ah yes, on to my two favorite contracts on the Sharks blueline. Niclas Wallin versus Kent Huskins. A battle of the ages, the greatest spectacle in all of sports, the bees knees against the cat's pajamas.


Using the same methodology as before, let's take a look at last year's advanced defensive metrics and see if we can separate the wheat from the chaff:

Kent Huskins vs. Niclas Wallin (!!!)

Team GP Qualcomp GFON/60 GAON/60 GFOFF/60 GAOFF/60 PK TOI PK GAON/60 PK GAOFF/60
Niclas Wallin
1:56 6.49
Kent Huskins

A note before we get into this-- Niclas Wallin played for the Hurricanes last season before coming to the Sharks, which means the statistics you see here are a combination of his time spent in San Jose as well as Carolina. For a closer look at Wallin, follow this pretty blue set of text.

Wallin goes up against tougher competition, but is a minus player at that level-- Huskins is a stretch to play the four role, but does quite well when thrown on the third line. As for the shorthanded unit, they're pretty comparable on many levels. Wallin's team hurt a little more when he was on the bench, but their TOI is pretty similar.

In all honesty, this is a tough one-- not that I'm emotionally attached to any of these players (at least in terms of positive emotions), but there are upsides to both. Huskins is a much more efficient puck mover than Wallin, can skate better, and is cheaper. Wallin has had more experience in the top four during his time in the NHL, and probably gets you a little more pop shorthanded.

It's a tough one, but I stick with Huskins despite all his faults. Wallin is basically Douglas Murray without the bruising physicality we all love, and opens up $2.5MM worth of cap space to work with. I can bring in Paul Mara or Mike Mottau with that type of money, or use the cash to aggressively target some higher-priced defenseman who are available via trade.

It's one I really could go either way on-- ask me next week and I just might say leave Huskins unprotected.

Huskins: You start cutting me and you're gonna lose all your top guys. You gotta separate the wheat from the chaff somehow.

Wallin: Yeah, and these guys are all chaff.

Huskins: Yeah! Well no, we're all wheat.

Wallin: No, we're chaff.

Huskins: No, no we're not. We're wheat.

Wallin: Why would you want to be wheat?

Huskins: Who the hell would want to be chaff?!?

Wallin: Okay, you be wheat and I'll be chaff.

Plank: You two have no sense of talent whatsoever.

* Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Douglas Murray, Jason Demers, and Kent Huskins protected.

* Niclas Wallin and Jay Leach unprotected.


Let me know in the comments what you think of my selections-- if there's enough debate, we'll hold a poll to determine who will be left unprotected when the mock expansion draft is held.

Go Sharks.