Ron Francis is going to be the GM who makes the most impact this off-season.
A little less than three months from now, the Seattle Kraken GM will be choosing one player off each NHL roster, except the exempt Vegas Golden Knights. Every expansion rule remains the same as it was for Vegas in 2017, which means we can get an idea of the choices each team is facing, but not knowing if any side deal has been made with the Kraken.
First, the key dates (which are, of course, subject to change).
Teams will have their protection lists finalized by July 17, followed by a window in which Seattle has exclusive negotiating rights with free agents from July 18-21. If the Kraken sign a UFA in that window, that counts as their selection against the roster of that player's former team.
The expansion draft itself will be July 21, with free agency for all opening on July 28 (and the entry draft in between).
When the Golden Knights had their expansion draft, GM George McPhee made side trades with a number of teams. These would give Vegas an extra asset or two for taking a specific player instead of a more valued one who couldn't be protected.
Looking back, a few of those turned out unnecessary and with Vegas finishing well on top. For instance, Anaheim traded Shea Theodore to Vegas so that they'd take Clayton Stoner instead of, perhaps, Josh Manson. Florida dealt Reilly Smith to Vegas, who then also took Jonathan Marchessault.
GMs certainly learned some things from that 2017 expansion draft and might not be so eager to fall into similar traps. They have that experience to draw from and have been able to plan things out about this expansion draft for some time. Then again, the flat cap is a variable no one saw coming, so there will still be unavoidable situations where losing a good player is inevitable and a side deal may be appealing.
"We're certainly hoping there's a lot of different opportunities," Francis said at his post-trade deadline call with the media. "There's a lot of different ways you can look at things so we're analyzing everything and having those discussions.
"It'll be interesting to see what they do with some of their players, especially RFAs with arbitration rights this summer and managing their cap," Francis continued. "A lot of teams have some really good young players whose contracts are coming up and it's a challenge to find money to pays those guys. We're looking at all those different situations and a lot of different teams and trying to see if there's something there that makes sense for us."
With help from CapFriendly's Seattle Expansion Draft tool, we can get a sense of what the picture is for each team, and what decisions they are faced with. Some of this can still change of course. Players set to be unrestricted free agents, for example, could be re-signed and then likely account for a protection slot. That's something to watch for in Edmonton.
Players with no-movement clauses, who have to be protected by rule, could choose to waive them and thus be available to Seattle.
And side deals, which can't be made official until after the Kraken make their final entry payments, could have already been made with a handshake.
With that in mind, here are 10 teams that could be faced with a tough loss or at least an interesting decision.
What needs to happen here is for Erik Johnson to waive his no-movement clause first. But even if he does that, the Avalanche will stand to lose a good player, or be looking to make a deal.
If Johnson does waive (contract expires in 2023 with a $6 million AAV), the Avs would have a tough choice between protecting eight skaters, or seven forwards and three defencemen. The former would leave the Avs having to expose someone like Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, Tyson Jost or Valeri Nichushkin. The latter would likely expose Ryan Graves, a 25-year-old defensive blueliner with another two years left on an affordable $3.1 million contract.
Gabriel Landeskog is a pending UFA, but is counted among the protected in anticipation of the captain getting an extension. It's possible he is left unsigned, and unprotected, with a deal lined up to re-sign with Colorado afterwards. That would open up another forward protection slot in either scenario, but may be too risky of a proposition.
If Johnson doesn't waive his NMC, then things will get really murky. Along with him, Sam Girardi, Cale Makar and Devon Toews would all need to be protected as well, forcing the Avs into going the eight skater route and leaving Seattle to choose from any of the forwards mentioned above, or Graves.
There are a lot of factors at play with the Oilers.
First is Oscar Klefbom, who has not played a game this season due to a chronic shoulder injury that required surgery. Klefbom would have been an auto-protect before, but now there is at least some question about his long-term health and career viability. If he can play, he's a top-pair defenceman in Edmonton, so is exposing him a risk they can take?
“I wouldn’t be shocked," Klefbom said last week. "Obviously, I want to be here. My whole NHL career has been here in Edmonton, and I love the city, the organization, and the guys here. But it’s business. I understand Kenny is in a tough situation when it comes to protecting players for the Expansion Draft.
“But there’s nothing I can (do about that). I’m going to do everything in my power to be ready when the puck drops. Whether it’s Seattle or in Edmonton, that’s not up to me.”
The other factor is how Ken Holland will handle his key UFAs. Adam Larsson, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Tyson Barrie are all up and if any of them re-signs before the expansion draft, they'd likely be protected. If Nugent-Hopkins re-signs the Oilers will have to be a 7-3-1 team or else they'd be leaving Jesse Puljujarvi or Kailer Yamamoto unprotected. Leaving him unsigned would give Edmonton flexibility to protect more defencemen, but that brings big risk Nugent-Hopkins doesn't return.
If the Oilers take the most likely course and do use the 7-3-1 protection method, the decision on Klefbom looms large. Darnell Nurse will take up one slot and Ethan Bear could fill another. But if Larsson or Barrie re-signs, and Klefbom takes up a slot, suddenly Bear is the one who gets left unprotected. And then there is Caleb Jones, who seemingly could only be protected if the UFA defencemen don't re-sign and Klefbom is exposed.
The potential waiving of no-movement clauses is a huge factor in Minnesota's plans.
Zach Parise, Mats Zuccarello, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin all have them and must be protected. Most of them would be players you'd choose to protect anyway but would, say, Parise waive his clause to give them team more flexibility?
If not, the Wild find themselves in a spot where they'll have to make a side deal or else lose a solid player.
Without any waived clauses, the Wild could make Matt Dumba their fourth protected defenceman and be able to protect two more forwards between Kevin Fiala, Joel Eriksson Ek and Jordan Greenway. However, those are three of their top-five scorers this season and all are under 25 years of age.
Or the Wild could protect each of those three plus another couple of forwards (maybe a re-signed Nick Bonino) and leave Matt Dumba unprotected. In this scenario, perhaps they look to trade Dumba elsewhere before protected lists are due.
And there is a goalie to consider here, too. With Kaapo Kahkonen protected, Cam Talbot could be a goalie option after his strong season. He is signed through 2023 with a $3.66 million cap hit.
All of this seems to suggest that the Wild are an excellent candidate to make a side deal with the Kraken, just as they did with the Golden Knights. In that expansion draft, the Wild sent Alex Tuch to Vegas (for a third-rounder) so they would then take Erik Haula in the expansion draft instead of someone like Dumba. Tuch remains a solid goal-scorer for Vegas, while Haula scored 29 in his first season with the team, but has since moved on.
Here is another situation where the handling of a pending UFA will have a huge impact on the expansion draft outlook.
As Dougie Hamilton makes his case for the Norris Trophy, he's also setting up to get a nice pay day as a UFA this off-season, even in a tough market. If he's unsigned and unprotected, you have to envision a huge push being made by the Kraken to get him.
Whatever happens, the Hurricanes are likely to go the 7-3-1 protection route with the number of forwards they have and the fact Jordan Staal takes up one spot with his NMC. So if Hamilton is re-signed, 22-year-old defenceman Jake Bean, an RFA this summer, would likely shake available and that's a player Francis chose in the first round when he was the GM in Carolina.
If Hamilton is left unprotected and the Kraken don't work out a deal with him, Seattle likely would have a choice between Warren Foegele, Jesper Fast, or defenceman Brady Skjei.
The last wrinkle here is in net. James Reimer and Petr Mrazek are both set to be UFAs this off-season, leaving Alex Nedeljkovic as the one to protect. But should Mrazek ink an extension before the expansion draft, suddenly Nedeljkovic could be an option for the Kraken if Mrazek is then protected.
“I think everyone has learned a lesson on what Vegas — and I say that with the utmost respect for George McPhee at that time of sort of manipulating the NHL to work under as the puppet master — I think teams are less likely to have that happen again," Blues GM Doug Armstrong said after the 2021 trade deadline. "I think everyone was a little more cautious of what was coming up at the expansion draft.”
The Blues stood pat at this year's deadline, which didn't make their expansion draft situation any more clear.
The question here revolves around one big decision on the blue line. Assuming Colton Parayko, Torey Krug and Justin Faulk will be protected, that leaves Vince Dunn hanging in the balance. Protect him and you're going to expose a few forwards who would provide the Kraken with a range of choice. Leave him unprotected, and you're surrendering a 24-year-old quality puck mover who is an RFA this off-season.
Dunn has been in the trade rumour mill for over a year now, so seeing that wrap up in a freebie loss to Seattle would be underwhelming asset management and not what we'd expect to happen under Armstrong. But keeping him and the other three defencemen protected would leave Seattle to choose from 32-year-old David Perron (45 points in 46 games) who was Vegas' second-leading scorer in their inaugural season, 21-year-old Robert Thomas, or perhaps pending UFA Jaden Schwartz (who would seem more likely to re-sign with the Blues).
Either way, the Blues will stand to lose someone very notable if Armstrong doesn't work out a side deal in advance.
Barring a trade to set them up differently, the Preds are as locked in as an eight-skater protection team as you can be. Defencemen Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis and Dante Fabbro all need to be protected from the Kraken.
Up front, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson are locks to be protected, but after that, there are many possibilities. Luke Kunin, 23, would seem to be a candidate for one of the last two spots. David Poile said he was open to re-signing pending UFA Mikael Granlund, so if that happens he'd account for the other.
How likely is it that both of Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen are left unprotected? Both have struggled this season and both are signed with an $8 million AAV through 2026 and 2025, respectively. No doubt Poile wouldn't mind shedding one of those deals off his cap and giving him some flexibility to change the roster around a little bit, but the Kraken might still need a sweetener to take either of those contracts. What would Poile be willing to do to make that happen?
Cap space is one of the best weapons you can have right now, so Seattle starting fresh can leverage theirs, but also must be careful where they do put those dollars down, and what they get in trade for taking a bad contract.
"It's a situation by situation, it's gonna depend on the player, it's gonna depend on the AAV, it's gonna depend on the term of the contract," Francis said. "We're certainly open to having those discussions, but it's a case by case evaluation as to whether it makes sense to us short term or long term."
It's very likely that Travis Dermott will be Seattle's pick off the Maple Leafs roster, and that Toronto will protect eight skaters. Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nylander and Mitch Marner are the forwards to protect, while Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, T.J. Brodie and Justin Holl would be the four defencemen.
Not so fast.
Every Leafs fan is wondering what the future holds for pending UFA Zach Hyman, a critical piece of this team, but one who has earned a raise that just might price him out of Toronto anyway. If there is a compromise to be had here and Hyman is able to stay, suddenly the Leafs would have to go the 7-3-1 protection route instead. The Leafs would end up protecting more forwards than they really need to, and would be left exposing one of the four defencemen mentioned above.
It's of course possible Hyman is left unsigned and unprotected and then comes back to re-sign with the Leafs after expansion, but that close to free agency and knowing there would be a number of suitors for him, it's a risk the Leafs may not want to take. Heck, Seattle may even be able to offer him a competitive and attractive contract in their negotiating window.
Hyman's pending contract is an issue that looms over Toronto's off-season for plenty of on-ice reasons, but how the negotiation plays out will also impact the Leafs' plans for the expansion draft.
Take one look at Calgary's roster and you can see they have to go the 7-3-1 protection route -- just too many forwards need it. One forward who has to be protected is Milan Lucic unless, as expected, he waives his no-movement clause. The intrigue is on defence, where Mark Giordano could be left available, with Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson and Chris Tanev all in need of protection.
Even if Lucic does waive, the Flames might still elect to protect another younger forward such as Dillon Dube or Glenn Gawdin.
Would Seattle take a soon-to-be 38-year-old Giordano heading into the final season of his contract? That might depend on what else is available around the league and what they're trying to accomplish with this roster build in the short term. If they have designs on shooting out of the gate fast like Vegas, having the leadership and minutes you'd get from Giordano, if only for one guaranteed season, might be nice to think about.
But the biggest thing to watch around the Flames is how much of this will even apply to them come late-July. A roster upheaval is anticipated -- there is no way you can go into a new season with this exact same core and expect a different outcome, or one remotely close to contending for a Cup. Changes are going to happen, so how different will the roster look by the time protected lists are due?
Jamie Oleksiak is a pending UFA, but he was not dealt at the trade deadline despite lots of interest and there is a desire to re-sign him in Dallas. That would leave the Stars having to protect eight skaters, with Oleksiak, Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg and Esa Lindell all taking up a slot on the blue line.
It would also leave them with some tough decisions up front.
Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov all have no-movement clauses, so we're already left with only one more protection slot. Roope Hintz and his breakout offensive explosion at 24 years old would be our choice to protect, but that leaves available the likes of defensive centre Radek Faksa, 23-year-old Denis Gurianov with tons of upside, and soon-to-be 37-year-old heart-and-soul player Joe Pavelski.
You might look at Pavelski's age and think he'd be easy to let go of in any scenario with one year left on his contract, but he's their leading scorer and an x-factor come playoff time. Plus, take a look at how the bottom fell out of San Jose when he left that dressing room, despite the fact he left a pretty good roster behind.
If Oleksiak doesn't need to be protected, or a side deal is worked out, it gets a lot easier for the Stars, who would then likely lose Jason Dickinson or a goalie -- unless they're going to take the chance of leaving Pavelski exposed anyway.