As new blood continue to stand out, Bruins have some tough decisions to make with looming Seattle expansion draft

(Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

With a quarter of the 2021 NHL season in the books, let's revisit one of our most-discussed topics on this site:  the impending challenge that awaits in the 2021 Seattle Kraken expansion draft — which is set to be held on July 21.

Even though we still have a couple of months to go before Don Sweeney and Co. have to start taking a long look at this roster, it's fair to assume that some of our previous projections and mock drafts have become a little dated, especially with a number of younger players significantly raising their stock on this B's roster over the first month of the season.

So are the Bruins going to have to potentially re-think how they go about protecting their top assets from the NHL's 32nd franchise? Here are a few questions worth pondering.

Also, in case you need a bit of a refresher on some of the parameters of the Seattle Expansion Draft...

Seattle will select one player from each team — except for the Golden Knights — for a total of 30 (14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies). The team must choose a minimum of 20 players under contract for the 2021-22 regular season and those with an aggregate Expansion Draft value that is between 60-100% of the prior season’s upper limit for the salary cap. Seattle also cannot buy out players that it selected in the Expansion Draft earlier than the summer following its first season.

  • The teams forced to participate in the Expansion Draft will have two options when it comes to protecting players:
  1. Protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie
  2. Protect eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie
  • All players with no-movement clauses at the time of the draft, and who decline to waive those clauses, must be protected by their teams and will be counted toward their team’s applicable protection limits.
  • All first- and second-year professional players, and all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward protection limits.)
  • All NHL teams must meet the following minimum requirements regarding players exposed for selection in the draft:
  1. One defenseman who is a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played in at least 40 NHL games the prior season or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons.
  2. Two forwards who are a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played at least 40 NHL games the prior season or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons.
  3. One goalie who is under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent at the end of his current contract immediately prior to 2021-22. If a team elects to make a restricted free agent goalie available to meet this requirement, that goalie must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the team’s protected list.

Now let's get into it.

1. Do the Bruins protect another defenseman other than the big three? 

When we've done previous mock drafts involving the expansion draft, all have featured Boston sticking with the 7-3-1 format, with the B's preferences on the blue line remaining unchanged.

Here were our final 7-3-1 picks in our last breakdown...

Forwards: Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Charlie Coyle, Jake DeBrusk, Craig Smith, Ondrej Kase/Anders Bjork

Defenseman: Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk

Goaltender: ??? (We had Tuukka Rask listed on the provision that he re-upped on a new contract ahead of the draft, but if both he and Jaroslav Halak are UFAs come July 21, Dan Vladar would likely get protected.)

Entering the 2021 season, this seemed like a pretty sound list, especially given that guys like Nick Ritchie weren't exactly high on the list of players expected to break out in this shortened season.

But clearly, some of that sentiment has changed, especially on the blue line.

Even though McAvoy, Carlo and Grzelcyk stand as the most talented regulars on Boston's D corps, a few younger skaters are also making a pretty good case for themselves when it comes warranting a look at one of those covered protected spots.

Jeremy Lauzon in particular would be awfully enticing to the Kraken if he was available, given both his age (23), his ability to eat up minutes (19:45 ATOI) and his cheap contract ($850,000 cap hit in 2021-22 before becoming an RFA ahead of 2022-23 season). But is Lauzon's play enough to entice Boston to protect him over another defenseman?

IF Boston sticks with the 7-3-1 format and opts for Lauzon as the last blueliner, it seems like a given that Grzelcyk would be the one left unprotected in the draft, as both McAvoy and Carlo aren't going anywhere.

While the prospect of losing Grzelcyk for nothing to Ron Francis and the Kraken would seem like an unthinkable scenario months prior, it does seem that recently — based on commentary from some Bruins fans on social media — a scenario in which Boston loses the playmaking defenseman has become a bit more palatable.

Most of that sentiment stems from both Grzelcyk's repeated run-ins with the injury bug this season (six games played) and Boston's ability to still deploy a structured and stingy defense in 2021 without the likes of Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug (and Grzelcyk for extended stretches) this season.

As a straight pitch, I can see where some of the reasoning is when it comes to cutting ties with Grzelcyk and protecting Lauzon instead. Grzelcyk is older (27) and costs more ($3.67 million AAV through 2024) — while Lauzon, even when it comes to predicting his floor as a player in this league, is still a dependable regular in this lineup.

Still, I'd need to see a bit more from Lauzon and get a longer look at a healthy Grzelcyk before fully committing to protecting Lauzon in this draft.

Yes, Grzelcyk has had some horrid luck this season when it comes to injuries, but he's still expected to be a key cog on this B's blue line this season, and his value as a transition-game cheat code and potential PP1 QB shouldn't be knocked or minimized just because he's been knocked around this year.

When he has been healthy this season, Grzelcyk was steady as the fifth option up on the blue line on Boston's top power-play unit, with his ability to draw PKers up high and move the puck down to options like Marchand and Pastrnak along the boards certainly missed during this current slump on the man advantage.

And even though Grzelcyk has built a reputation as an undersized, playmaking defenseman — he has been deployed in much more taxing situations than the ones granted to Krug in previous years, with just 35.29% of a Grzelcyk-Carlo pairing's faceoffs set in the offensive zone this season -- are highly valued. Once Grzelcyk returns, that second pairing could function as an awfully effective shutdown pairing, given the steady amount of D-zone starts handed to them and Grzelcyk's ability to move the puck in a hurry. Boston's most recent loss to the Islanders was perhaps the first time this season that Grzelcyk's absence was very noticeable — as the Charlestown native's proficiency when it comes to breakouts was missed against the forechecking performance that New York put forth this past weekend.

At this point, I will say, the gap between protecting Grzelcyk or Lauzon has definitely narrowed, and will continue to do so if Lauzon continues to get his feet under him and Grzelcyk remains on the shelf. You factor in that a playmaking defenseman like Jack Ahcan could be pushing for spots on the roster down the road, and losing Grzelcyk does seem like a tangible scenario.

Still, at this point, I'm not moving on from a guy in Grzelcyk who has been proven to drive offense and hold his own defensively for years now, and could still be scratching the surface of his potential given the amount of reps and responsibilities he was expected to handle this year. Lauzon has definitely improved as the year has gone on, and adds a hard-nosed, physical element to this D corps. Still, you wonder how much of Lauzon's play has also been drawn from skating alongside a guy like McAvoy, because Lauzon's numbers when he's not skating with No. 73 are .... rough.

But let's be candid here — it's shaping up to be a situation in which Boston is going to lose at least one talented, young blueliner to Seattle. Unless, of course. ...

2. Does Boston go with the 8-1 format?