With the recent string of strong performances from young goaltender, Filip Gustavsson, it has sparked the debate online amongst Senators fans of which goalie the team should protect in this year’s expansion draft. Just to make sure everyone is up to speed, the following information is important to know.
This summer the NHL will be holding an expansion draft, July 21. The NHL’s 32nd franchise, the Seattle Kraken, will be filling out their roster through this draft. This draft will follow the same rules Vegas followed a few years ago. This means Seattle has to select one player from every team, except Vegas, and they must select three goaltenders. Each team is also only allowed to protect one goaltender. Players in their first or second professional season are exempt from the draft.
With this in mind, that means Gustavsson, Matt Murray, Joey Daccord and Marcus Hogberg are all eligible for the expansion draft. Hogberg and Gustvasson are both RFAs this summer so that means the Senators would need to send them a qualifying offer before submitting their protected list for the expansion draft if they wish to make these players available. Given Hogberg’s performance this season and his age, it is unlikely the team will re-sign him this summer so he’s going to be left out of this argument. So, let’s make the case for each goalie to be protected this summer.
Matt Murray, age next season: 27, 3 years x $6.25 million remaining on contract
The Senators surprised a lot of people at the 2020 NHL draft when they sent a second round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Murray, a two-time Stanley Cup champion. Then even more surprisingly the team gave Murray a four year contract with an AAV of $6.25 million. Murray was very inconsistent in his last few seasons with the Penguins and has shown much of the same so far with the Senators. Murray’s performance was very poor to start the season. He later suffered an injury which sidelined him for multiple games.
After coming back from this injury, Murray showed why he’s a two-time champion and looked solid in net. However, unfortunately after only a few games back and playing behind a much improved blue line, Murray once again sustained an injury. It’s unclear if Murray will be able to return this season for the Senators which makes him a difficult player to understand in terms of the expansion draft. Murray has shown flashes of brilliance this season and brings championship pedigree to a very young and inexperienced Senators team. Murray is also young for a goaltender as he will only be 27 at the start of next season. The problem with Murray is he has also had stretches of horrible play multiple times the past three seasons. He now also saddles the Senators with a massive contract that essentially makes him unmovable unless his quality of play consistently improves. If Murray is left exposed it is unlikely Seattle would want to take on that contract. However, they do need to reach the cap floor and could look to try and replicate the success Vegas had with a former Penguins Stanley Cup goaltender.
Joey Daccord, age next season: 25, 2 years x $750,000 remaining on contract, waivers exempt
Daccord was a seventh round pick of the Senators in 2015 and fans have fallen in love with him as a prospect. Daccord comes across as a very likeable person in interviews. He also fits the underdog profile, having been a seventh round pick and carrying a new hockey program at Arizona State University on his back during his collegiate career. For these reasons it’s easy to understand why fans are so fond of Daccord, he’s an easy person to root for. His goaltending style is sometimes sporadic and not positionally sound, but it’s worked for him so far and if it’s not broken then don’t fix it.
Daccord still needs to develop his game further, but it is very possible he can be a quality NHL starting goalie in the near future. It’s very hard to project potential for goaltenders as the position can be so turbulent, but it doesn’t appear that Daccord has as high of a ceiling as other goaltending prospects the Senators have in the system. Seattle could be tempted to take Daccord as a developmental option in the expansion draft. His low cap hit and waiver exemption could be tempting for them. However, it’s also possible he’s not viewed as highly around the league as he is by Senators fans. Daccord is still pretty unproven at the pro level, having only played 47 games since signing his entry-level contract during the 2018-19 season.
Filip Gustavsson, age next season: 23, RFA this summer, waivers exempt
Along with a first round pick, Gustavsson was the key piece acquired by the Senators in the trade that sent Derick Brassard to Pittsburgh. Brassard was of course acquired in the infamous Mika Zibanejad trade. The history of how Gustavsson made his way to the Senators organization can’t influence their decision this summer though. These trades are now a sunk cost and there’s nothing the Senators can do to change that, they must look towards the future not the past.
Gustavsson was a highly regarded prospect when the Senators traded for him and in his first season in the organization he proved why. However, Gustvasson struggled the next couple of seasons and many fans were starting to write him off as a prospect because it appeared other goalies in the organization were starting to pass him. After starting this season in Sweden though, until the NHL resumed play, Gustavsson looked to regain his previous form and carried that momentum into Belleville and now Ottawa. Strong play from Gustavsson this season has fans excited about him again as a prospect and clamoring for the organization to protect him this summer. However, the problem with goaltenders is how difficult it is to predict how their play will be from one season to the next. Some are skeptical Gustvasson can maintain this level of play, as Bruce Garrioch said on a recent TSN broadcast that he believes Gustavsson has “caught lightning in a bottle.” If left unprotected, Seattle could claim Gustavsson to try and groom him to be their goalie of the future and iron out the inconsistencies in his game.
Who to protect?
With the case now laid out for why each player could be selected, it’s time to determine who the team should protect. I think the best way to do this is by process of elimination. Starting with Murray, there’s clear reasons why Seattle would want to select him. Having a two-time Stanley Cup goalie on your team no doubt sells tickets. However, if that’s the case and Seattle wants to select a proven goaltender, I think players who could be available like Braden Holtby, Cam Talbot, Pekka Rinne or Devan Dubnyk would be more likely to be selected than Murray. They also carry more reasonable contracts than Murray so if the Senators exposed him he likely wouldn’t get selected, like what they should’ve done with Dion Phaneuf during the Vegas draft. Also if Murray gets selected it helps alleviate the logjam the Senators have in net anyways.
If the Senators exposed Daccord I also don’t think he’d get selected. Daccord has become a fan favourite in Ottawa, but Seattle isn’t looking to draft fan favourites they’re looking to win hockey games. With that said, players who could be available like Vitek Vanecek, Casey DeSmith, Chris Diedger and Alex Nedeljkovic have all proven more at the NHL level than Daccord. I think this is another case of Senators fans overvaluing a player because of personal attachments. I would love for the Senators to be able to keep Daccord and would even be willing to trade Seattle a draft pick not to take him, but I really don’t think they’d select him based on the other options available.
So, that leaves the goalie I would protect and that’s Gustavsson. I think Gustavsson has the highest chance of getting picked by Seattle if he’s left exposed in the expansion draft. Players similar to Gustavsson who could be available are Stuart Skinner and Dan Vladar. I think all three of these goalies have high potential which means it would come down to the personal preference of the Seattle scouting staff and that’s not a chance I’m willing to take. Gustavsson is a very young goalie still and has shown great potential. He’s also very technically sound and doesn’t rely as much on luck to make a big save. I would protect him as I think he has the highest chance of getting chosen out of these three goalies.
Ultimately what I think the Senators will do is protect Murray just because the Senators have conditioned me to think this way over the past decade. I could see an argument for protecting any of these three, but this is what I would do. If you were the Senators who would you protect and would you be willing to trade a draft pick to ensure you keep all three players?