Now that the Cup has been lifted, it’s time to delve into the next thing to come for hockey fans — the Expansion Draft.

The Concept

It’s been a few years, so it’s time to review how this new form of Expansion Draft actually works. The Seattle draft will follow the same process as the Vegas draft, so it all should feel a little familiar.

Each NHL team (except the Vegas Golden Knights) must do two things prior to the draft: compile a list of players they are protecting that fit within the protection rules, and expose the required number of players under the exposure rules.

Seattle then chooses at least 20 players under contract for 2021-2022 as they select a player from each of the 30 other teams’ list of exposed players. They must pick 14 forwards, nine defenders and three goalies, with only four other selections as free choices. Seattle has to select players between 60 and 100 per cent of the salary cap ceiling.

Teams may protect either seven forwards, three defencemen and one goalie, or choose eight skaters and one goalie to protect. They are required to protect players with no-movement clauses (for both 2020-2021 and 2021-2022). First- and second-year pros and unsigned draft picks are exempt.

The exposure requirements are one defenceman, two forwards and one goalie. They all must be under contract for 2021-2022, so no RFAs or UFAs that are unsigned, and they must meet the games-played requirements.

For a one-stop shop on who is eligible for protection/exposure, Cap Friendly’s simulator is a good place to go. The rules are available there in detail as well. One thing to remember is that “meets the exposure requirements” is not the same thing as “on the exposure list”. Many players will be exposed who don’t meet those requirements.

The NHL has already issued the list of players who are effectively retired or have career-ending injuries who are exempt from this draft.

The Timeline

The Expansion Draft is actually on July 21, but the process begins early and moves through stages designed to allow teams to assemble their protection lists and for Seattle to make their choices.

July 13: Deadline for asking players to waive their no-move clause for the Expansion Draft. If the player agrees, the team is not required to protect the player in the draft.

July 16: Last day to put a player on waivers prior to the Expansion Draft, and the deadline for players to agree to waive their no-move clauses. Waivers are required prior to a buyout, and teams may wish to buy out players prior to the draft, so they would need to do it by this date. The buyout window opens 24 hrs after the Stanley Cup Final.

July 17: At 3 p.m. the Expansion Draft trade and waiver freeze begins. No NHL SPCs can be signed in this period except by Seattle in relation to the draft. All other teams must live with their roster as it exists during the freeze. Seattle is able to sign pending UFAs and RFAs to SPCs (see below) and also to make trades with teams that will be finalized by the league when the freeze is lifted. But two other teams cannot make side deals, nor can they re-sign their own UFAs or RFAs during this period.

July 17: By 5 p.m., teams must submit protection lists for the Expansion Draft to the league.

July 18: The NHL must approve and distribute the protection lists to all NHL teams by 10 a.m. They will likely be made public at about that time.  At that time Seattle may begin interviewing UFAs and RFAs who are available for selection (on the exposure list), and they may sign them to contracts if they reach agreement. That signing counts as their selection from that team.

For example: if Seattle were to sign Frederik Andersen to a contract in this period, he would become their selection from the Toronto Maple Leafs. They may only speak to players who are exposed, not anyone on a protection list. And by default, they can only sign one player per team.

July 21: Seattle must submit their Expansion Draft choices to the NHL by 10 a.m. They must also submit any SPCs for signed players, and the distribution of the list of choices to the public will take place by 8 p.m. No details have been provided yet as to what form this will take.

July 22: The trade and waiver freeze and signing moratorium are lifted at 1 p.m.

Once the freeze is lifted, all the teams are operating under the same rules and will proceed to the entry draft portion of this July offseason on July 23.

Clever Schemes

Most of the very clever ideas around gaming the draft are not permitted. Seattle may not immediately buy out a player selected — they have to wait until next offseason.

Teams can trade with Seattle for the players Seattle has taken, including their own, but they can’t move a player to a third team to hide them in that team’s protection list and then get them back. At least not right away:

Any Player who is transferred (via Waivers or Trade) from one NHL Club’s Reserve List to another NHL Club’s Reserve List from February 1, 2021 through the date of the Expansion Draft (both dates inclusive) may not be reacquired via Trade by his prior NHL Club during the period following the Expansion Draft through January 31, 2022 (both dates inclusive). For the purpose of this provision, the “date of the Expansion Draft” shall be tentatively set as July 21, 2021, but remains subject to change as may be agreed upon between the parties

NHL 2020-2021 Transition Rules

Seattle is allowed to make deals for “future considerations” where that consideration is who they will or will not select in the draft.

When we have some details on how the draft will be announced, we’ll pass that along, but until then, expect to see some signings by teams aimed at meeting exposure requirements, and some trades as well, as teams look to gain something from players they would otherwise lose.