NHL Expansion Draft: Sharks Must Decide Which Goalies to Protect, Expose

Editor's note: This week, NBC Sports California will look ahead to the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, at which time the Seattle franchise officially will join the league as its 32nd team. Every team in the league will be affected, as players from (nearly) every roster will be made available to Seattle for its inaugural roster. We continue with an examination of which goalies the Sharks likely are to protect and expose.

Two summers from now, the Sharks will have a new Pacific Division rival.

The expansion franchise in Seattle is set to officially join the NHL for the 2021-22 regular season, but before it can take the ice, it needs players to do so.

As described in the rules that will govern the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft prior to the start of the 2021-22 season, the rest of the teams in the league (except for the Vegas Golden Knights) will be forced to expose a certain number of players, making them eligible to be selected by Seattle. Each team has the ability to protect a limited number of players on its roster, making those players exempt from selection in the expansion draft.

Those protections are specific to position, and when it comes to goalies, each team will only be able to protect one on its roster. However, all players with no-movement clauses are automatically protected (unless they waive those clauses), and all first- and second-year players -- as well as all unsigned draft picks -- are exempt from inclusion in the expansion draft. 

Based on those restrictions, we can begin to zero in on who the Sharks might expose to the 2021 Expansion Draft, since they (and 28 other teams) will be obligated to expose at least one goalie who is either a) under contract in 2021-22, or b) will be a restricted free agent immediately prior to 2021-22.

Martin Jones enters next season as the unquestioned starter, and he's under contract through the 2023-24 season. He has a modified no-trade clause, but that doesn't afford the same automatic protections as a no-movement clause, so he is eligible to be exposed in the expansion draft. However, with very little in the way of tested netminders behind him in the organization, San Jose might be inclined to protect Jones, assuming he shows further evidence of 'Playoff Jones' between now and then.

Outside of Jones, Aaron Dell is the only other Sharks goalie currently signed to an NHL contract. However, Dell is entering the final year of his deal, and he's due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the upcoming season. If the Sharks decide they want to expose Dell to the expansion draft, they must first re-sign him so that he fills the contract requirement.

In fact, in theory, any goalie who plays for the Sharks this coming season would be eligible to be exposed to the expansion draft, assuming they fulfill both the contract and experience requirements. 

[RELATED: Sharks will miss Pavelski's leadership more than his goals]

The Sharks have multiple netminders in lower levels of the organization that they're high on, and if they're thinking ahead and want to ensure that none of them are made available in the expansion draft, you could see some clever maneuvering on San Jose's part this coming season or next. For instance, they conceivably could sign a backup goaltender with NHL experience to a contract through at least the end of the 2020-21 season, and then expose that player.

If Jones regresses, he's a natural candidate to be exposed, considering he'll still be under contract at that time. Similarly, if Dell gets re-signed to a short-term deal, that's an obvious sign he's destined to be exposed. Regardless of how the Sharks approach their goaltending situation moving forward, clearly they will need to think long and hard about the ramifications of their decisions.

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