It was a wild couple of days in the NHL, with a flurry of action before Saturday’s roster freeze, followed by Sunday’s news of each team’s protection list for the expansion lists being revealed.
With that trade freeze in effect through Wednesday’s expansion draft, the next couple of days could be a little quieter on the news front, but there is a lot of space for speculation now. Who will the Seattle Kraken choose? Can they be as competitive out of the gate as Vegas? Will they even try to be, or will saving cap space be more of a priority and a long-term build be the plan?
There are some important, and different, factors at play this time.
One is that the $81.5 million salary cap is expected to remain flat for a while, which has forced even tougher decisions for a lot of teams. Some big names were left unprotected to Seattle and, in some of those cases, it might be best for that team to lose the player and open more space. But the Kraken won’t want to just throw away their own valuable room.
Seattle also holds the second overall pick in this draft, which seems likely to wind up being centre Matthew Beniers, or perhaps one of the many defencemen at the top of the rankings. Vegas had to wait for the sixth overall pick to make their first selection.
There are a million different ways the Kraken could build this team, and we took a crack at building out one version of it. First, a few notes:
• Made an effort to not pick any UFAs on this team. The Kraken now have an exclusive negotiating window with any unprotected UFA, so they could use that to pick and sign the likes of Gabriel Landeskog or Dougie Hamilton. We’ll avoid that level of speculation. However, there is one UFA we did put in this mock draft because reports indicate there may be a deal in place.
• We don’t know what the Kraken’s philosophy will be, but ours was to try and find a middle ground of icing a competitive team, finding value, and mixing in some youth. Kraken GM Ron Francis said this weekend he has the green light to spend to the cap if he wants, so we’re not building a budget team.
• We don’t know if the Kraken have struck any side deals with teams that would influence their expansion draft.
• Expansion rules dictate the Kraken must choose at least 20 players who are under contract for next season. They must also choose at least three goalies, 14 forwards and nine defencemen.
• We have to be mindful of the $81.5 million cap ceiling, but also of the $60.2 million cap floor.
• Trades could immediately follow the expansion draft. The Kraken could choose some players they don’t have any plans for except to flip.
On Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. ET you can watch the results of Seattle’s expansion draft live on Sportsnet and also follow along live on Sportsnet.ca where we’ll run a live blog. Until then, we can play armchair GM and argue over who to choose and stay away from.
With help from CapFriendly’s extremely valuable expansion draft simulator, here is how our mock draft shaped up, followed by the explanation for each pick:
In Consideration: Adam Henrique, Alexander Volkov, Kevin Shattenkirk, Haydn Fleury, Jacob Larsson, Derek Grant, Danton Heinen
The Pick: Haydn Fleury
A draft pick of Francis’ from his Carolina days, Fleury played over 20 minutes a game for Anaheim when the Canes traded him there this season, and led all Ducks blueliners in shorthanded time on ice. He has a $1.3-million cap hit through next season, after which the 25-year-old will be an RFA.
In Consideration: Michael Bunting (UFA), Dryden Hunt, Christian Fischer, Tyler Pitlick
The Pick: Christian Fischer
Not a lot to choose form here, so we’re taking a cheap ($1 million AAV), young (24 years old), and capable NHLer who has scored 15 goals in a season before.
In Consideration: Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie, Mike Reilly, Connor Clifton, Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril
The Pick: Connor Clifton
It really comes down to which mid-20s defenceman you want. Clifton has one year left on a deal paying a $1 million AAV, worked his way up the depth chart and brings a lot of energy.
In Consideration: Cody Eakin, Zemgus Girgensons, Colin Miller, William Borgen
The Pick: William Borgen
Had a broken arm not interrupted his season, Borgen would have had an opportunity to solidify a spot on Buffalo’s blue line. At 24 he’s an unproven (at the NHL level) defenceman who is cheap with upside. We have to find ways to save money and buy into potential where it makes sense so that we can take bigger cuts elsewhere. This is one of those choices.
In Consideration: Matthew Phillips, Glenn Gawdin, Dominik Simon, Mark Giordano, Oliver Kylington, Tyler Parsons
The Pick: Mark Giordano
Not overthinking it. Giordano starts as your No. 1 defence to anchor the blue line, play big minutes and be a leader. With one year left on his contract, if it works out perhaps Giordano would sign a short-term extension. That, or the Kraken trade him now or at the deadline and retain part of his $6.75 million AAV to maximize trade value.
In Consideration: Nino Niederreiter, Morgan Geekie, Dougie Hamilton (UFA), Jake Gardiner, Jake Bean
The Pick: Jake Bean
Another of Francis’ draft picks when he was GM in Carolina, Bean took a while to crack Carolina’s deep defence but still didn’t carve out much of a role. He’s ready for more and should get it in Seattle.
In Consideration: Adam Gaudette, Josh Dickinson, Calvin De Haan, Nikita Zadorov
The Pick: Adam Gaudette
The Kraken will have options for top-six wingers, top-four defencemen and in net, but centres are going to be harder to come by. Here they could get a 24-year-old RFA whose AAV won’t be prohibitive. Depth add.
In Consideration: Gabriel Landeskog (UFA), Joonas Donskoi, J.T. Compher, Erik Johnson
The Pick: Joonas Donskoi
Solid, consistent middle-six winger, Donskoi adds a level of proven, affordable offence ($3.9 million for another two years) that will be in relatively short supply.
In Consideration: Max Domi, Kevin Stenlund, Kole Sherwood, Dean Kukan, Gabriel Carlsson
The Pick: Kevin Stenlund
Domi is the popular choice here (and maybe the one the Kraken go with), but he’s going to miss the first month or two at least of next season, makes $5.3 million against the cap, is one year away from unrestricted free agency, and just hasn’t worked out at centre in Columbus or Montreal. If he’s chosen he becomes a possible trade asset, but I’m going to spend my cap money elsewhere.
Stenlund has an $874,125 cap hit, is six-foot-four, 215 pounds, can be a centre and has 11 goals in his past 64 regular season games. He’ll turn 25 in September and you can take time to see how he keeps coming along.
In Consideration: Blake Comeau, Adam Mascherin, Tanner Kero, Julius Honka, Ben Bishop, Colton Point
The Pick: Adam Mascherin
Hasn’t played an NHL game yet, so building out a little organizational depth and potential here. Mascherin scored 34 points in 37 AHL games this season and might be worth the flyer from this thin group. He’s an inexpensive, 23-year-old RFA.
In Consideration: Vladislav Namestnikov, Evgeny Svechnikov, Taro Hirose, Danny DeKeyser, Troy Stecher, Dennis Cholowski
The Pick: Troy Stecher
West coast guy who played four years with the Canucks before going to Detroit. Can fill a second or third pair role for just $1.7 million and has one year left on his contract.
In Consideration: Jujhar, Khaira, Dominik Kahun, Tyler Benson, Devin Shore, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson (UFA), Kris Russell
The Pick: Tyler Benson
The 23-year-old is all upside right now, with only seven NHL games of experience. He was a point-per-game AHL player this season and seems about ready for more of a shot in the NHL. With Klefbom’s career in jeopardy, Benson is at least a good addition to Seattle’s AHL squad, but could surprise with more.
In Consideration: Frank Vatrano, Noel Acciardi, Lucas Wallmark, Anton Stralman, Markus Nutivaara, Radko Gudas, Chris Driedger (UFA)
The Pick: Chris Driedger
The only UFA being picked in this exercise only because indications are that the Kraken have an agreement with the goalie, though it has not been confirmed by the team. He outplayed Sergei Bobrovsky, posting a .927 save percentage this season, and got some playoff experience. The 27-year-old is good support for the other goalies we’re picking here, and we’d estimate a new AAV around the $3-3.5 million range. Very tempted to pick Nutivaara here, though.
In Consideration: Brendan Lemieux, Andreas Athanasiou, Blake Lizotte, Austin Wagner, Olli Maatta, Kale Clague, Jonathan Quick
The Pick: Kale Clague
Lizotte is intriguing, but we’ll go with 23-year-old Clague, who had six points in 18 NHL games this season, but has spent most of his time in the AHL so far. Building out organizational depth on the blue line and doing it here with a player who hasn’t hit his peak yet.
In Consideration: Victor Rask, Nick Bjugstad, Carson Soucy, Kaapo Kahkonen
The Pick: Kaapo Kahkonen
Former WJC gold medal-winner and AHL goalie of the year, the 24-year-old Kahkonen is a surprising player left exposed by Minnesota after waiting seven years for him after his draft season. He’s our goalie of the future who could be a factor sooner than that. Has a $725,000 cap hit and will be an RFA next summer.
In Consideration: Jonathan Drouin, Paul Byron, Shea Weber, Brett Kulak, Cale Fleury, Carey Price
The Pick: Cale Fleury
So badly want Price to be the pick here to see the fall out it would lead to on both sides — Seattle gets a Marc-Andre Fleury-esque face of the franchise and the Canadiens get a chance to build out their defence and forwards with plenty of cap space. Price was the pick here in the first draft.
But the injury situation muddies the waters too much for a $10.5 million price tag and another five years. It’s a nice thought, but with the other goalie options out there Seattle can manage its cap a bit better. So we’re going with Cale Fleury, who would join his brother Haydn.
In Consideration: Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, Colton Sissons, Calle Jarnkrok
The Pick: Calle Jarnkrok
This is not the place to spend a bunch of cap space — Jarnkrok was third in Nashville scoring this season with 13 goals and 28 points in 49 games and you can expect him to give you that sort of pace going forward. Likely a winger, but possibly a centre, Jarnkork gives you a little roster flexibility, offensive depth, and costs only $2 million for one year before he could become a UFA.
In Consideration: Andreas Johnsson, Nick Merkley, P.K. Subban, Will Butcher
The Pick: Andreas Johnsson
Wasn’t able to keep up a 20-goal, 40-point level in New Jersey that he managed for a season in Toronto, but the potential is there. The Kraken’s biggest challenge is going to be finding offence and Johnsson could be a contributor on the right line. He makes $3.4 million against the cap with two years left on his contract, so you don’t lock into anything egregious here if he doesn’t work out.
In Consideration: Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey, Leo Komarov, Kieffer Bellows, Sebastian Aho
The Pick: Kieffer Bellows
Bailey or Eberle are appealing if this is where you want to spend some of the limited cap space, but I’m instead going to save it and choose Bellows instead. Has just five goals in 22 NHL games since being the 19th overall pick in 2016 so he hasn’t shown signs of hitting on his potential yet, and time for that is running thin. Still, he’s a cheap RFA at only 23 years old and has the pedigree that’s worth taking a low-risk shot on here so that we can take bigger swings elsewhere.
In Consideration: Julien Gauthier, Ty Ronning, Colin Blackwell
The Pick: Colin Blackwell
Finished the season a little quietly, but Blackwell had a quiet breakout season with 12 goals and 22 points in 47 games. The 28-year-old doesn’t have a huge ceiling, but has centre potential and showed more than the other options here.
In Consideration: Evgeni Dadonov, Chris Tierney, Matt Murray, Joey Daccord
The Pick: Joey Daccord
Depth addition here. The 24-year-old could be an AHL goalie again and has shown some promise in limited minor-league action since leaving college in 2019. Had a .915 save percentage in the AHL last season before the pandemic complicated the picture.
In Consideration: Jakub Voracek, James van Riemsdyk, Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Justin Braun
The Pick: James van Riemsdyk
The Flyers will present an interesting choice: take one of their big contracts and a player who could help on offence, or save money with Hagg? I’m choosing to spend up on the Flyers and go with van Riemsdyk, who has higher goal-scoring upside and comes at a cheaper cap hit ($7 million) and less term (two years) than Voracek. JVR isn’t a $7-million contributor, but his deal won’t burn the Kraken long-term and if they decide to flip him they could probably get a decent return if they retained some of that salary.
In Consideration: Jason Zucker, Brandon Tanev, Marcus Pettersson, Casey DeSmith
The Pick: Marcus Pettersson
Zucker is appealing and comes with only one year of contract commitment, but the 25-year-old Pettersson is a good defender that Seattle could hang its hat on for a while. His $4.025 million cap hit is maybe not ideal, but while some of our blue line picks are developing, or more short-term fixes, Pettersson will give us top-four minutes for a while.
In Consideration: Alex True, Dylan Gambrell, Ryan Donato, Martin Jones
The Pick: Dylan Gambrell
Born in Washington State not far from Seattle, Gambrell would be an interesting hometown choice. The 24-year-old counts for just $700,000 against the cap, will be an RFA when that expires next year, can play centre and is a physical presence.
In Consideration: Vladimir Tarasenko, Vince Dunn
The Pick: Vladimir Tarasenko
This choice doesn’t come without risk as Tarasenko’s shoulder injury has slowed him considerably the past couple of years. But by all accounts there was trade interest in him around the league and, if his most recent surgery fixes the issue, Tarasenko’s upside is mouth-watering. He was one of the best goal scorers in the game for a five-year period. His $7.5 million cap hit makes that risk tough on some teams, but the Kraken are starting fresh and can maybe afford to take it on. His deal expires in just two years anyway, so it’s escapable. Maybe he even becomes a trade asset. Making this choice harder is that 23-year-old Vince Dunn would be a very nice pick up for the blue line. But it’s Tarasenko.
In Consideration: Ondrej Palat, Yani Gourde, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Mathieu Joseph
The Pick: Yanni Gourde
Lots of great choices here. That Gourde is productive and can be one of our top two centres is key in this choice since that position was harder to come by. Unless you pick Joseph — who has untapped potential of his own — any other choice you’re making off Tampa Bay comes with a decent-sized cap hit. Gourde’s is $5.166 million for another four years — making this pick locks in a centre to build with.
In Consideration: Alexander Kerfoot, Jared McCann, Travis Dermott
The Pick: Jared McCann
By choosing our defencemen elsewhere, we’re passing on Dermott here to keep filling out our relatively weaker collection of centres. Had the Penguins not traded McCann to Toronto on Saturday, the Kraken may have been able to get both him and Kerfoot, but now will have to make a choice. To me, it’s McCann, who has been the more productive pivot the past two seasons, comes about $500,000 cheaper against the cap and will still be RFA age next summer. Kerfoot is from out west and had a good — if brief — showing in the playoffs. It’s just a matter of who you personally prefer.
In Consideration: Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich, Braden Holtby
The Pick: Kole Lind
Though there are some reports the Kraken are interested in Holtby if they work out a side deal where the Canucks retain some salary, my choices in net above preclude a Holtby pick here. Instead, Lind is a 22-year-old RFA who was an early second-round pick in 2017 and is on the cusp of pushing for an NHL roster spot. Another addition of youth and a cheap contract situation that could hit.
In Consideration: Carl Hagelin, Conor Sheary, Justin Schultz, Brenden Dillon, Nick Jensen, Vitek Vanecek
The Pick: Vitek Vanecek
Between Driedger, Kahkonen and Vanecek, someone is bound to step up this season and you’d feel pretty good that one of them would take the long-term lead job. Or, you could flip one of them in a trade, because none will be all that expensive. Vanecek, 25, makes $716,667 against the cap and will still be an RFA next summer. He showed pretty well in 37 games as a rookie this season, when he originally did not factor into Washington’s plans.
In Consideration: Mason Appleton, Dylan DeMelo
The Pick: Dylan DeMelo
A versatile defenceman, DeMelo is responsible defensively and logged a lot of PK minutes in Winnipeg, and is a decent play driver as well. Was surprising to see Winnipeg, a team that needs to add defence, leave DeMelo exposed so they could protect Logan Stanley. A top-four fit for the right side, DeMelo makes a manageable $3 million against the cap for another three seasons, which could also make him a trade asset if the Kraken ever wanted to flip him.