Thursday, May 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Few surprises in Lightning expansion-draft protection list

TAMPA — There weren't many surprises when the Lightning's expansion-draft protection list was revealed Sunday.

Well, except maybe one.

Tampa Bay, as expected, chose the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie from selection by the Vegas Golden Knights. The forwards were predictable, led by captain Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Ryan Callahan (automatic with his no-move contract clause), Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov were also on the list, a spot freed up because of Thursday's trade of Jonathan Drouin.

It was the blue line that likely involved the most difficult decisions. And the result was interesting. The Lightning protected veteran Braydon Coburn, along with givens Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman.

That means promising rookie Jake Dotchin was left unprotected and 2012 first-round draft pick Slater Koekkoek. Veterans Andrej Sustr and Jason Garrison were also exposed for the Golden Knights, who will select one player from each of the other 30 teams. So the Lightning, which is still looking to improve its blue line, could lose a regular.

Vegas' selections will be announced during the NHL awards show Wednesday (8 p.m., NBCSN).

RELATED: List of all teams' players made available for the NHL expansion draft.

It's not a complete shock that the Lightning protected Coburn. Coburn, 32, is a steady, experienced player who just more than a year ago got a three-year contract extension (with a $3.7 million salary cap hit each of the next two seasons). And Dotchin, a 2012 sixth-round pick, has played in just 35 NHL games. But the way Dotchin, 23, emerged last season, balancing out the blue line as a strong partner for Hedman, you would think he had put himself in the Lightning's plans. Teammates and coaches raved about Dotchin, trusting him with big, important minutes, including overtime. The 6-foot-3 right-shot brought size and grit the Lightning had lacked.

Koekkoek, 23, the 10th overall pick in 2012, still has high upside, even though he hasn't stuck in the league for a full season.

Koekkoek and Dotchin can be restricted free agents July 1. Vegas has an exclusive negotiating window with teams' unprotected restricted and unrestricted free agents until Wednesday. If a player is signed, that counts as the expansion-draft pick of the team he leaves.

But before Lightning fans freak out, there's one big caveat. Teams can make side deals with Vegas that can help them control what players they lose. So the Lightning, for example, could offer a draft pick or prospect to Vegas to make it steer away from the likes of Dotchin & Co. Vegas general manager George McPhee's message Sunday to his colleagues: "You can negotiate your way out of this if you wish. Every team in this league has a chance to protect their roster."

Lightning GM Steve Yzerman talked Thursday about how those types of deals can be complicated.

"You measure what it's going to cost you for that certainty versus the risk of the unknown, what you're going to lose," Yzerman said. "At some point, it makes sense, and some point, it doesn't."

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