From now until just before the summer solstice of 2021, Seattle’s NHL expansion draft will loom over the decisions of Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning and all of his peers.
On a date just before the regular 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the yet-to-be-named-32nd-NHL franchise from Seattle will carry out its very own NHL expansion draft and begin to take form, while one by one each NHL team will sacrifice a chosen player to help forge the brand new identity of the fledgling club. Leading up to this expansion draft, teams must decide which assets to protect or expose.
The smashing success of the inaugural season for the NHL’s most recent expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights, shows this draft process is a lot more nurturing than what Vancouver fans had to endure back in 1970 when the league added both the Buffalo Sabres and the Canucks at once.
It would take the Canucks a dozen seasons before they’d ever reach the Stanley Cup Final.
In fear of losing a key piece of their puzzle to Seattle for nothing, GMs around the league will look to make trades that would otherwise be unnecessary. A lot could happen between now and then.
In Vancouver, if Benning isn’t careful, that key piece could turn out to be his star in rookie goaltender Thatcher Demko, who would be their best asset available if exposed in the draft. Demko has consistently improved year over year and is making headlines with his solid play while backing up soon-to-be 30-year-old Canucks starter Jacob Markstrom. If Demko is left exposed, he’ll surely be Seattle’s selection as a young star to build out from.
It’s an unwelcome predicament for Vancouver fans — according to the NHL expansion draft rules — that a team is only allowed to protect one goalie in the draft. This may be the hardest decision of all for Benning, especially considering the list of other NHL goalies that might be made available. If Benning doesn’t want to risk losing value outright, he might pull off a trade beforehand to move one of his two draft-eligible goaltenders.