The Sabres' Expansion Draft protection plan

Goalie will be the only challenging decision

Howard Simon
June 15, 2017 - 11:22 am

The Sabres have until 5 p.m. Saturday to submit their Expansion Draft protection list to the NHL. It shouldn't take much time to come up with that list. The Sabres will likely go with the 7-3-1 plan meaning they will protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie.

If you put together your own list, you'll end up with spaces left over, trust me. As far as forwards, Kyle Okposo has to be protected because he has a no move clause. I'd add Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane for sure and I'd put Marcus Foligno on the list too.

That still leaves me three spots to fill and I'd probably go with Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and William Carrier.

On defense, the no-brainers are Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe. The final spot is up for discussion. I don't think Zach Bogosian should be a part of the revamped defensive corps so I'd probably protect Josh Gorges at that point.

We had quite a debate on the show this week about what to do with the goalies. I'd protect Robin Lehner and leave Linus Ullmark unprotected. Lehner played well last season and I consider him the number one goalie next season. If he is left unprotected and taken by Vegas, that opens up a hole general manager Jason Botterill has to fill.

I didn't see enough of Ullmark to be comfortable handing him the starting job, so Botterill would have another hole to fill.

Perhaps you think this is how to convince Cal Peterson to sign with the Sabres, but for a team I expect to compete for a playoff spot next season, I would not go with a pair of young net minders in Ullmark and Peterson.

I'd prefer a more experienced NHL goalie in net more often than not and I wouldn't even run the risk of exposing Lehner.

There are two possible wrinkles to my plan. The first is Bottterill and whether or not he believes in Lehner. The guy who used to hold down that job clearly did and gave up a first round pick to get him. I don't know if Botterill is that sold on the Swedish goalie, and he might not see Lehner in the long-term plan.

Lehner is also a restricted free agent. That means the Sabres have more leverage here than Lehner, but if Lehner is looking for big money at this point, that could lead to a trade out of town.

Lehner is coming of a three-year contract that had an average value of $2.225 million. While I liked his play last season, I'd only be willing to go with a one or two-year deal and no more than $3 million on the average.

In my perfect world: Protect Lehner, get him to sign a short-term deal, Ullmark is not selected by Vegas, Peterson agrees to sign with the Sabres and gets tons of playing time in the AHL next season.

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