The Bruins' Role in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft

Just a couple of days ago, on Sunday June 18th, the highly anticipated list of protected players for the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft was released to the public. The lists inevitably generated a great deal of media buzz around some very controversial front office decisions that were highlighted in the lists, such as some very notable players being left unprotected from Vegas' grip. The Bruins proved to be no exception to such controversy with their decision making in the Expansion Draft protection process. 

For reference, here is the Bruins' released list of protected and unprotected players:

Protected players

 David Backes (F)
Patrice Bergeron (F)
David Krejci (F)
Brad Marchand (F)
Riley Nash (F)
David Pastrnak (F)
Ryan Spooner (F)
Zdeno Chara (D)
Torey Krug (D)
Kevan Miller (D)
Tuukka Rask (G)

Available players

Matt Beleskey (F)
Brian Ferlin (F)
Jimmy Hayes (F)
Alex Khokhlachev (F)
Dominic Moore (F)
Tyler Randell (F)
Zac Rinaldo (F)
Tim Schaller (F)
Drew Stafford (F)
Linus Arnesson (D)
Chris Casto (D)
Tommy Cross (D)
Alex Grant (D)
John-Michael Liles (D)
Adam McQuaid (D)
Colin Miller (D)
Joe Morrow (D)
Anton Khudobin (G)
Malcolm Subban (G)

If your reactions to this list are anything like mine, then you certainly may have mixed emotions about the Bruins' role in the Expansion Draft. Your initial reaction may humorously be "wow, we still have Khokhlachev under contract?" After that sudden shock subsides, you may be able to assess some of the other significant names that are on the list. For example, Joe Morrow is the Bruins' last remaining piece that was directly acquired through the Tyler Seguin trade. Morrow has been a sufficient minor league defenseman, and has gotten a chance to crack the big club a couple of times, but has not successfully made a lasting impact. John-Michael Liles was a bottom pairing defenseman for the Bruins throughout the past couple of seasons and was often either scratched or injured due largely to his increasing age and Boston's stockpile of defensemen. Zac Rinaldo is the infamous enforcer that Don Sweeney brought on board in one of his first transactions as general manager. Sweeney gave up a third round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft to acquire Rinaldo, who spent minimal time in Boston before he was buried in the AHL. 

Although those names may jump out at you, they are not necessarily the controversial names on the list. Most of the hockey world's buzz has revolved around the few names of Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Adam McQuaid, Colin Miller, and Malcolm Subban. These players are each a hot topic for discussion for varying reasons, but no matter the reasons, one player has to be picked from the Bruins by the Vegas Golden Knights, and any scenario is certainly possible in the 2017 Expansion Draft

Pictured: Malcolm Subban. Courtesy of nhl.com. https://www.nhl.com/news/malcolm-subban-injured/c-278484796

Pictured: Malcolm Subban. Courtesy of nhl.com. https://www.nhl.com/news/malcolm-subban-injured/c-278484796

Malcolm Subban is perhaps the most surprising name to be widely discussed in regards to expansion. Malcolm Subban has been touted for years as a top goalie prospect for the Boston Bruins. This past year with the Providence Bruins, his role was swept out from under him when Zane McIntyre came into the club and had an incredible campaign in a starting role throughout the season and the playoffs, rendering Subban as an AHL backup goaltender. With that being said, and with the knowledge that there are several very skilled goalies on the market (Marc-Andre Fleury, Petr Mrazek, Roberto Luongo, and Antti Raanta just to name a few), then why would the Golden Knights ever waste an acquisition on Subban? The leading theory is that goalies will be a hot commodity in the Expansion Draft because so many teams are in need of goaltenders, that they can trade the Golden Knights significant value for any viable goalie. This would mean that while the Golden Knights only need to surrender one pick in the Expansion Draft in order to secure an average goaltender, they can flip that goalie to a desperate team for several players, prospects, or draft picks. Whether or not the Golden Knights choose Subban entirely depends on the strategy that Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee decides to pursue in the Expansion Draft. If McPhee decides that he wants to stockpile goaltenders to use as trade bait down the road, then Subban could certainly be a potential target. The Bruins admittedly would not suffer greatly in this scenario, as Subban has yet to make a large impact on the Bruins organization. In that way, Subban's departure could theoretically be in the Bruins' best interest.

Both Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes have been propelled into the Expansion Draft conversation for one crucial reason: their gargantuan contracts. Beleskey belongs to the Bruins via a $3.8 million cap hit through the 2019-2020 season and Hayes has 1 season left on his $2.3 million contract. Those are the kind of cap hits that you would reasonably expect to see for consistently producing middle six forwards. The problem is that Beleskey and Hayes cannot seem to consistently produce, and thus cannot maintain a middle six role. Beleskey and Hayes both found themselves sitting in the press box for a remarkable number of games this season, while still costing the Bruins a ton of money. Because of this dilemma, there is a lot of conversation that is circulating about whether or not Beleskey of Hayes could possibly be involved in a deal with Vegas in order to alleviate the Bruins' cap space. For example, the Bruins could trade a pick or another player to Vegas in turn for a guarantee that the Golden Knights will pick one of the two struggling forwards. This scenario ensures that the Bruins hold their fate in their own hands. The trade would allow them to directly dictate what player Vegas receives from the Bruins in the Expansion Draft, and the Bruins would successfully alleviate cap space. The extra cap space could help Boston's upcoming contract negotiations with big-name restricted free agent David Pastrnak, or maybe even help the Bruins sign a free agent in the offseason market. Even though the Bruins do lose an extra pick or player in this scenario, moving either Beleskey or Hayes in the Expansion Draft could provide the Bruins with some flexibility in their roster that can really pay off down the road.

Pictured: Colin Miller. Courtesy of CSNNE.com. http://www.csnne.com/boston-bruins/colin-miller-returns-bruins-practice

Pictured: Colin Miller. Courtesy of CSNNE.com. http://www.csnne.com/boston-bruins/colin-miller-returns-bruins-practice

Finally, Colin Miller and Adam McQuaid are perhaps the most talked about Bruins players to be exposed in the Expansion Draft. Although they embody two vastly different playing styles of hockey, Miller and McQuaid are both mid to bottom pairing defensemen that, in my humble opinion, are the most coveted Bruins' players in the Expansion Draft. Many Bruins fans are dumbfounded as to why the club chose to protect Kevan Miller over Colin Miller. After weathering a significant slump in the 2015-2016 season, Kevan Miller came back in the 2016-2017 season in a perfectly fit, bottom-pairing role that saw him flourish, as he played a very defensively solid season. The 24 year old Colin Miller is much younger than the 29 year old Kevan Miller, and Colin is also much more agile with the puck, whereas Kevan is much better suited as a hard-hitting stay-at-home defenseman. Honestly, Bruins fans may argue for decades about which Miller should have been protected in the Expansion Draft and which one should have been exposed. As for my take, I have been a big fan of Colin Miller ever since he was acquired in the Milan Lucic trade with the Los Angeles Kings, and I love Miller's style of play. I think that his skill for his age is well-developed for a puck-moving bottom pairing defenseman that can easily transition to a mid-pairing defenseman when given a couple more years for growth. I also personally think that there is something to be said for how the NHL's style of defense is trending more toward puck-moving defenseman and away from heavy-bodied defensemen, but I digress on that point, as it leads to an entirely different debate. That all being said, I understand that the Bruins' front office elected to protect Kevan Miller probably to maintain a hard-hitting, stay-at-home defenseman on the roster. Ultimately, neither the loss of Kevan nor Colin Miller will prove to be absolutely detrimental to the Bruins' current rebuild and development as an organization. Kevan Miller will inevitably provide a gritty bottom-pairing presence on the right side of the Bruins' defense behind promising young guns Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. The question then turns to whether or not Vegas will choose McQuaid or Colin Miller. I personally believe the most realistic option is that Vegas chooses Colin Miller. As I mentioned previously, I have always been a big fan of Colin Miller, so perhaps I am biased, but I believe that he has a lot of upside for a young, light-footed defenseman, and Vegas will certainly be on the lookout for defensemen who fit that current trend. Alternatively, my biggest hope would be that Vegas chooses to take Adam McQuaid, because frankly, I feel as though he is the best option for both organizations. If Vegas takes McQuaid, they get the veteran, gritty presence of a defenseman who can hold his own, and who has the 2011 Stanley Cup under his belt. McQuaid can bring a type of morale and leadership to the Golden Knights' locker room that may not be found in many other players. All the while, the Bruins alleviate their cap space and ease the gridlock in their defensive roster. McQuaid being taken is most certainly my preferred scenario for the outcome of the Expansion Draft, come the announcement of the Vegas roster on Wednesday June 21st. 

Regardless of who all of the latest gossip has revolved around in the hockey community, the Vegas Golden Knights are required to choose one player from each NHL organization. That guarantees that the Bruins are out at least someone on their roster. We will soon find out how this expansion saga will end, but for Boston fans, the hope is most certainly that the Bruins don't give up a player without having some influence on the outcome.  

The opinions expressed in this piece are my own. Above all, I believe the best way to learn is discussion, so please feel free to comment your own opinions, ideas, and feedback!