Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Calvin DeHaan, Connor Murphy, Nikita Zadorov, and Riley Stillman are all eligible for exposure in the Expansion Draft. Keith and Seabrook both have Full No-Movement Clauses in their contract, so they are required to be protected.
The only exception would be if one of them were to waive their NMC, which I do not foresee happening. Depending on which method the Hawks choose, they can either protect 3 D, or 8 Skaters. For the purposes of this exercise, we will assume the Hawks are protecting 3 D and 7 F. Let’s take a look at the group on the hook:
Duncan Keith: Unless he chooses to, Keith isn’t going anywhere. He has been the top defenseman on the Hawks for several years, and still logs heavy minutes every night. He is still a solid D-man, capable of contributing in his own zone, on the power play, and on offense. However, going on 38 years old (and having 16 years in the league), Keith inevitably is going to start wearing down, and I think you could see glimpses of that this season. He deserves to be a Hawk for life, but they can make his final years more effective by reducing the number of minutes he plays nightly, and spelling him on special teams occasionally with younger legs.
Brent Seabrook: We can talk about his play in recent years, and his struggle with injuries, but the fact remains that Seabs put it all on the line for the team for a lot longer than he should have. He is another who earned his “Hawk for life” status. He is likely never playing again, and if he were able to come back, it is unknown what he could provide. The Seabrook of old is not coming back. However, he is still under contract, with a Full No-Movement Clause, so he is on the protected list.
Calvin DeHaan: DeHaan is a versatile defenseman with decent size, and is well-rounded in all areas of his game. If not for his shoulder issues over the years, I believe he would be discussed among the top half of defensemen in the league. And would be a fixture in a team’s top 4. However, he hasn’t played a full season since 2016 with the Islanders, and that is not likely to change moving forward. He is a second or third pairing guy on a good team, but on a young or developing team, he can be a steadying influence on the 1st or 2nd pairing.
Connor Murphy: Murph is the only defensive-minded player the Hawks have on the right side. He has become their strongest shutdown defenseman, and was named as Assistant Captain this past season in Toews’ absence. He has great size at 6’4, and can play a physical style as well as move the puck out of the zone. Doesn’t offer a ton of offensive ability, but is average for the style of player he is. He is clearly the Hawks’ most valuable defenseman, and at 28 years old, still has multiple prime years ahead of him.
Nikita Zadorov: Zadorov was brought over in the Saad deal to be a physical presence, and with elite size and checking ability, he did that. However, he does not offer a lot on the offensive side, and his physical style and aggressiveness leaves him out of position and hangs his partner out to dry a lot more frequently than I would prefer. Sometimes in this league, especially in the playoffs, you need to be able to play a physical style, but not at the expense of increased high-danger chances. For that reason, I do not think Big Z has a place on this team long-term.
Riley Stillman: Stillman is an interesting case. He is more physical than any of the other young D the Hawks used this season, and has shown a surprising level of composure in his own zone that I did not expect to see from him. The Hawks just signed him to a 3 year extension, which would lead you to think they view him in their long-term plans, but the numbers don’t favor him being protected in the expansion draft, unless the Hawks go the 8 Skater route, which leaves more forwards unprotected.
Verdict: If the Hawks stay with the 7F/3D model, the verdict is pretty straightforward in my opinion. You are required to protect Keith and Seabrook, unless Seabrook waives his NMC. So as it stands today, the Hawks protect Keith, Seabrook, and Murphy, and expose Zadorov, DeHaan, and Stillman. If they go 8 Skaters, I would add Stillman to the protected list.
Risk: The Hawks will only lose one player, but it is a pretty solid chance that the player they lose comes from this group. DeHaan is a solid choice for a young team, but they could gamble on the still-developing upside of Stillman and take him. I would call this mild to moderate risk.