Could Seattle have done better in the expansion draft?

Justin Bourne joins Sportsnet Central to discuss the Seattle Kraken's expansion draft picks and some players he thought should have been taken.

I’m of the belief that if you took every current NHL GM and went back in time to put them in Ron Francis’ shoes leading up to the expansion draft, the end result of leveraging zero assets from an opposing team and making one trade (Tyler Pitlick for a fourth rounder) in its wake would not be replicated a single time.

I note this out of sheer bafflement, as it’s part of what we all imagined Francis and his staff spent the previous weeks and months trying to make happen – how do we utilize our advantage when we start building our team? It just seems so unlikely, presuming there were hundreds of phone calls discussing seemingly endless options with 30 GMs around the league. I’m surprised others didn’t press something on Francis that would’ve brought them assets.

The conclusion, and they’ve explicitly said as much, is that they valued cap space above all. Yet still, there have been a couple notes that let us know Seattle left assets on the table because they asked too much in return and were inflexible. It feels like ample cap space and some additional picks/prospects was pretty attainable.

Pierre LeBrun reported that if Montreal was to expose Jake Allen, Seattle wanted two picks and a prospect to not select him. Presumably, GMs don’t like to set a price and waffle on it (as Brian Burke explained to me many times), or others will try to wait you out in the future. So when Francis wouldn’t budge, Marc Bergevin got creative, and managed to keep his guys and give Seattle nothing. I’m sure had Seattle lowered the ask to skip on a protected Allen, they could’ve reached an agreement and added an asset or two while still getting Cale Fleury.

Arizona traded for Shayne Gostisbehere, taking on two more seasons of his salary cap hit ($4.5 million) for the sweetener of a second-round pick and a seventh-rounder. He’s also not a write-off of as a player – there may be value in him yet – and he seems like the type of guy who could use a fresh start. Presumably, Seattle passed on accepting at least that pick package to select Gostisbehere, as getting the Kraken to take the Ghost Bear would’ve also kept Carsen Twarynski on Philly’s roster. Seattle valued cap space more than draft pick capital, but Gostisbehere’s cap hit dries up in just two seasons.

So, that leads me to where we’re left when reflecting on what Seattle has done here: they’ve protected that cap space, which can be weaponized in a number of ways, but now it’s on them to make it happen. It’s only useful if you can use it, and in some cases, things get harder now.

Seattle had leverage on every team in the league over the past few days, having free access to a decent player from every group. But now they have 30 players, including a whack of left-shot defencemen, and teams know they have to move on from a couple. So there’s a swing in the power dynamic there.

If I had to guess, Seattle has projected their future far beyond yesterday and today, and wants to be there to cash in when teams are desperate to make moves down the road. They’re almost banking on the desperation of other teams coming to fruition. Yes, in the short term they can grab UFAs, and they’ve been tied to at least Jaden Schwartz so far. He could still come over. Gabriel Landeskog and Dougie Hamilton are still out there too, and both would be great top line/pair additions.

But in zooming out, Seattle seems to recognize they’re unlikely to win the Cup in year one or two (which again makes me wonder why they wouldn’t do the Gostisbehere thing), and so are aiming beyond that. This year, every team in the NHL will once again get themselves back to being smashed up against the salary cap. And as the trade deadline comes, some teams will recognize that they need to add, and will look to a team like Seattle to be a third-party facilitator of trades (in exchange for assets), or maybe even to take someone like Mark Giordano off their hands for something great. It seems to me Seattle are positioning themselves for more, and that they recognize they don’t need to assemble a Cup favourite by August.

It all comes down to other teams needing help later and offering up great deals, which can certainly — and may likely — happen, but isn’t promised. They’ve operated in such a conservative fashion it’s all swung around somehow to become a gamble.

The group Seattle selected is, at least to my eye, better than some of the doubt I’ve seen expressed on social media in the hours that have passed. I don’t think it’s a bad team. They’ve got four or five guys I’d qualify as top-six, and Yanni Gourde/Jared McCann have a shot at being a decent pair of centres for an expansion team. Their D is really solid, particularly with the UFA adds of Adam Larsson and Jamie Oleksiak, and that questionable strength in the Pacific Division should be more than enough to win them hockey games.

Dom Luszczyszyn of the Athletic has a quality model that projects the team Seattle drafted is actually better than the one Vegas originally did (though narrowly), but that brings us back to the point I led this all off with.

Vegas also left the expansion draft with Shea Theodore. And Alex Tuch. And Reilly Smith. They also left the draft with seven additional draft picks. They had three picks in the top-15, which they leveraged for some of their current big named players like Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. So that’s where we’re left wanting with Seattle – OK, you got 30 players, but what else? It’s just hard to see right now how they turn what they’re left with into better players, which I assume they still intend to do.

I don’t have a ton of direct quibbles with their selections, but some complaints may include: Morgan Geekie instead of Jake Bean or Nino Niederreiter, Kurtis MacDermid instead of Blake Lizotte, passing on Max Domi or Kevin Stenlund, the John Quenneville pick, or a handful of others (maybe they should’ve been given something to take on the Jordan Eberle contract?). More often than not though, these decisions come to straight up player opinions, and I don’t expect any teams’ opinions to line up directly with mine.

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The complaint you’ll hear from most is simply that Ron Francis overplayed his hand and set the prices too high. We heard him say after the draft that teams learned from the Vegas expansion process, and weren’t willing to burn themselves again by giving up too much. Which says to me, maybe asking for the same exorbitant prices and not wavering from them wasn’t the smartest means of extracting anything from them. Teams didn’t want to get burned, sure, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t willing to do deals.

If you’re gonna dig in as Francis did, you’re banking on that “inflexible negotiator” reputation paying off down the line, and maybe it will. Maybe.

The Seattle Kraken are OK, and have the cap space to get better. We don’t know what they’ve got up their sleeves next. But we do know that it seems they failed to take advantage of their opening opportunity, and now the pressure’s on.

But hey, pressure is fun, and represents that things matter, and only comes to teams who get to be in the thick of it. They’re a real team now, and the judgements begin. Welcome to the league, Seattle Kraken.


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