NHL expansion: In a hypothetical expansion draft, who would Flyers protect?

USA TODAY Sports

What if the NHL expanded to 31 teams this summer? There would be an expansion draft, and the Flyers would lose one player. Who would they protect from the draft, and who would they ultimately lose?

Over at Arctic Ice Hockey, they've been running a Mock Expansion Draft, going team-by-team in an attempt to figure out what would happen should the NHL add a 31st team in Seattle.

It's been 13 years since the NHL has held an expansion draft -- Minnesota and Columbus joined the league in 2000 -- but the rules would likely stay the same. Each of the league's 30 teams would get the chance to protect a set number of players, and the rest of their team would be up for grabs. The specifics, via AIH:

They had the option of protecting 1 goalie, 5 defenders and 9 forwards, or they could protect 2 goalies but that would mean they could only protect 3 defenders and 7 forwards. There were also stipulations on ensuring that some players with experience were left open to be chosen, such as a defender per team that had played 40 NHL games the previous season, or 70 in the previous 2.

In their mock, Arctic Ice Hockey has the Flyers doing this:

Protected

Unprotected

Ray Emery Steve Mason
Kimmo Timonen D Mark Streit
Andrej Meszaros Chris Pronger
Luke Schenn Nicklas Grossmann
Braydon Coburn Bruno Gervais
D Erik Gustafsson Marc-Andre Bourdon
Scott Hartnell Adam Hall
Vincent Lecavalier Zac Rinaldo
Jakub Voracek Jay Rosehill
Wayne Simmonds
Claude Giroux
Brayden Schenn
Sean Couturier
Matt Read
Maxime Talbot

Most of this is pretty obvious, but let's go through and see what we'd change.

In goal

I'd absolutely go the "one goalie" route, protecting Emery and not Mason. Again, as we've said a million times in analyzing Mason, we hope the change of scenery is good for him and we hope he's able to turn his career around. But if the Flyers had the option today of picking either Mason or Emery, I'd go with Emery in a heartbeat.

Up front

So, nine forwards then. AIH's list looks pretty good to me. Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Couturier, Lecavalier, Read, Talbot and Hartnell are basically no-brainers -- even if you don't like a contract like Hartnell's, for example, it doesn't make much sense to rid yourself of him in an expansion draft situation given the other options.

I could see the Flyers wanting to protect Rinaldo because of how much they like him, but remember, only one player from each team is taken by the expansion team. The Flyers would likely retain Rinaldo because of the plethora of defensemen they'll be forced to leave unprotected. Plus, this is hypothetical and I'm calling the shots, not the Flyers. Rinaldo stays unprotected because he's not better than any other forward on that list.

On defense

Let's get to that, then. AIH has the Flyers leaving Mark Streit, Nicklas Grossmann, Marc-Andre Bourdon and Bruno Gervais unprotected. You can only keep five defensemen and there are some decisions to be made here, but I'd say it's an easy decision to leave Andrej Meszaros unprotected.

From there, you have a decision to make. Do you leave Grossmann up for grabs, or Streit? Or somebody else?

It's a tough call. Grossmann is probably my first instinct, but maybe you leave somebody like Erik Gustafsson out there in hopes that the new Seattle management hasn't completely done their homework on him. He's only played 60 NHL games, so maybe they're not willing to take the risk on a relative unknown and would instead grab Meszaros, who is still a capable NHL defenseman despite some injury concerns and a high salary.

I can't imagine the Flyers would leave Streit unprotected, especially since they just signed him this summer. I'd keep Streit too, because despite a lengthy contract that could get bad towards the end, he's going to be a really valuable piece for hopefully at least three seasons.

The wild card

We all know that Kimmo Timonen is just about done with NHL hockey, and frankly I'd be shocked if 2013-14 wasn't his final season in the league. If an expansion draft happened this offseason, there's a case to be made for leaving Timonen unprotected -- even if it feels sacrilegious. If he's lost, the Flyers would hurt for a season, but it's just one season. Losing Streit or Grossmann or even Meszaros would theoretically hurt the Flyers for longer in this scenario.

And since the whole league knows that Timonen is just about done, there's always the chance that the Seattle expansion team would go a different route. After all, they're trying to build a team. They want guys who are going to be around for longer then a calendar year.

As much as I love Kimmo Timonen and want to be his Best Friend Forever, I think I'd take the risk leave him unprotected. That would leave us with lists that look like this, with changes from AIH's list in italics.

Protected

Unprotected

G Ray Emery G Steve Mason
D Mark Streit D Kimmo Timonen
D Nicklas Grossmann D Chris Pronger
D Luke Schenn D Andrej Meszaros
D Braydon Coburn D Bruno Gervais
D Erik Gustafsson D Marc-Andre Bourdon
F Scott Hartnell F Adam Hall
F Vincent Lecavalier F Zac Rinaldo
F Jakub Voracek F Jay Rosehill
F Wayne Simmonds
F Claude Giroux
F Brayden Schenn
F Sean Couturier
F Matt Read
F Maxime Talbot

Again, I'm not fully comfortable or happy leaving Timonen unprotected, but part of me can see the Seattle regime passing on an aging, soon-to-be-retired player in favor of a younger, still-capable Meszaros.

And if they don't pass, it's not like the Flyers will have him in 2014 and beyond anyway, because he's going to have his feet up on a houseboat in Helsinki or whatever.

What would you do in the event of an expansion draft?

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