The clock is ticking for NHL teams, who have only until July 17 to submit their protected lists to the NHL ahead of the Seattle expansion draft.

The rules state that teams are allowed to protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender. Players who have accrued two or fewer professional seasons (as defined in the CBA) are also exempt. All other players are left exposed to Seattle, which will choose one from each NHL team (Vegas excluded) to claim for free.

For some teams set to lose replaceable depth players, this is little more than a minor inconvenience. Other teams are in danger of losing more consequential players and therefore have some difficult choices to make. And for a few teams, the chaos may even create opportunities to add players themselves.

Here are five NHL teams with difficult decisions to make ahead of Saturday's deadline to submit their protected lists for the Seattle expansion draft.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Decision: Can the Lightning successfully incentivize Seattle into picking Tyler Johnson?

So many of the NHL's mechanisms serve to reward teams that fail and punish teams that are successful. Tampa Bay won back-to-back Stanley Cups and now is set to lose a number of players because of the limits of the salary cap.

The expansion draft is untimely for the Lightning and makes the situation worse. Depending on which type of protection scheme general manager Julien BriseBois elects to use, Seattle seems set to happily pluck away either key third-line center Yanni Gourde or one of young defensemen Mikhail Sergachev or Erik Cernak.

Any of those losses would be a substantial blow to the team's hopes for a third consecutive Cup. BriseBois has already acknowledged that he would like to discuss a potential deal with Seattle in hopes of steering them toward a different player. Perhaps useful but overpriced veteran Tyler Johnson or maybe Alex Killorn.

Seattle has all of the leverage, though. For BriseBois, the expansion draft mission is to see if there's a reasonable package of draft picks and/or prospects that will convince GM Ron Francis to stay away from the team's top players who are vulnerable to selection.

 

Nashville Predators

Decision: Should the team protect Matt Duchene?

While other teams are forced to expose interesting players by rule, the Predators may do so as a strategic play. TSN's Pierre LeBrun dropped something of a bombshell on Monday when he reported that the Nashville Predators are considering leaving forward Matt Duchene exposed in the expansion draft. It's a remarkable story when put in context. Duchene was highly regarded and considered a top player on the market just two years ago when Nashville signed him to a seven-year contract at an $8 million annual average cap hit.

There is logic to the possibility. Duchene struggled last season, producing just 13 points in 34 games. Now 30, there's a possibility his best hockey is long gone. After a mediocre season and with Viktor Arvidsson already traded to Los Angeles for draft picks, the Predators are, to some extent, hitting the reset button. It's potentially in their best interest to get out from the remaining five years of Duchene's expensive deal.

Yet while Duchene maybe isn't worth an $8 million cap hit at this juncture, he still might be a very good player. The Predators are light on offensive talent. Duchene's low production last season is at least in part the result of poor puck luck, and in 2019-20, he played to the standard of a first-liner. Furthermore, if Duchene is exposed and Seattle passes on him, it could make for an awkward situation next season if he feels unwanted.