So far, I’ve previewed the North, East and Central Division teams for the 2021 expansion draft. You can read those breakdowns here:
The mini previews continue with the West Division. Which teams should we expect each franchise to expose and protect? Which players are most likely to attract the Kraken’s tentacles?
First, here’s a quick refresher of some particularly important expansion draft rules:
The 2021 NHL Expansion Draft will be under the same rules for Seattle as the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017. Seattle will select one player from each team excluding the Golden Knights for a total of 30 (min. 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies) not including additional players who may be acquired as the result of violations of the Expansion Draft rules.
Seattle must choose a minimum of 20 players under contract for the 2021-22 regular season and those with an aggregate Expansion Draft value that is between 60-100 percent of the prior season’s upper limit for the salary cap. Seattle cannot buy out players chosen in the Expansion Draft earlier than the summer following its first season.
Current NHL teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie, under the following conditions.
* All players with no movement clauses at the time of the draft, and who decline to waive those clauses, must be protected and will be counted toward their team’s applicable protection limits.
* All first- and second-year NHL players, and all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward protection limits.
In addition, all NHL teams must meet the following minimum requirements regarding players exposed for selection in the draft (games likely pro-rated for a shortened season):
* One defenseman who is a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played in at least 40 NHL games the prior season or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons.
* Two forwards who are a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played at least 40 NHL games the prior season or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons.
* One goalie who is under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent at the end of his current contract immediately prior to 2021-22. If a team elects to make a restricted free agent goalie available to meet this requirement, that goalie must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the team’s protected list.
* Players with potential career-ending injuries who have missed more than the previous 60 consecutive games (or who otherwise have been confirmed to have a career-threatening injury) may not be used to satisfy a team’s player exposure requirements unless approval is received from the NHL. Such players also may be deemed exempt from selection.
One more tidbit to remember: the Kraken get a three-day early negotiation window for UFAs from July 18 to 20 and are the only team receiving an early window before free agency begins July 28. Any UFA Seattle signs during that period will count as the expansion-draft selection for that player’s previous team. In 2017, the Golden Knights only signed one UFA, but it’s a different landscape now. Multiple prominent player agents have told me within the last month that their clients consider Seattle a legitimately attractive destination.
Key UFAs: Ryan Getzlaf (C), David Backes (RW), Carter Rowney (C), Andy Welinski (D)
Key RFAs: Max Comtois (LW), Sam Steel (C), Max Jones (LW), Isac Lundestrom (C), Alexander Volkov (RW), Danton Heinen (RW)
No-movement clauses: None
Help us, Seattle: The decline in right winger Jakob Silfverberg’s scoring hasn’t completely killed his value to the Ducks, as he’s an effective two-way player. But what he brings these days simply isn’t worth $5.25 million annually for three more seasons. The Ducks could use some relief, but it may require a side deal for Seattle to take him. Might GM Bob Murray be loathe to make one this time after his last foray into expansion-draft side dealing cost him Shea Theodore?
Toughest decision: Since the Ducks immediately increased defenseman Haydn Fleury’s responsibility after acquiring him in the Jani Hakanpaa swap at the trade deadline, it would be a mild surprise if Murray exposed Fleury. Since Murray is also unlikely to expose top defensemen Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler and Josh Manson, we’re looking at an 8-1 protection scheme, meaning Anaheim will have to make at least one tough decision at forward. If we accept that left winger Rickard Rakell, right winger Troy Terry and center Isac Lundestrom are safe, Murray must choose between center Sam Steel and left winger Max Jones. Both have underachieved since the Ducks selected them six picks apart in the 2016 draft’s first round, but does the tie go to the center? With Ryan Getzlaf’s Ducks career entering the Joe Thornton zone, possibly with a series of one-year deals, and Adam Henrique a trade candidate, the Ducks may want to maintain their depth up the middle. In that case, they’ll protect Steel over Jones
Top candidates to crack the Kraken: The Kraken should get a shot at a young top-nine forward, be it Jones or Steel or right winger Danton Heinen. They could also pivot to blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk if they want a veteran to jumpstart their power play, and he’d have mild trade value in 2022-23, the last season of his deal. Defenseman Josh Mahura offers some mobility with a bit of upside and won’t cost much to re-sign as an RFA given he’s played just 41 career NHL games.
Projected protected list (8-1):
F – Isac Lundestrom
F – Rickard Rakell
F – Sam Steel
F – Troy Terry
D – Haydn Fleury
D – Cam Fowler
D – Hampus Lindholm
D – Josh Manson
G – John Gibson
Key UFAs: Alex Goligoski (D), Antti Raanta (G), Niklas Hjalmarsson (D), Jason Demers (D), Michael Bunting (LW), Jordan Oesterle (D), Derick Brassard (C), Jordan Gross (D)
Key RFAs: Conor Garland (RW), Adin Hill (G), Dryden Hunt (LW), John Hayden (RW), Lane Pederson (C),
No-movement clauses: Oliver Ekman-Larsson (D), Phil Kessel (RW)
Help us, Seattle: There are worse “bad contracts” for Seattle to take on than right winger Phil Kessel’s. In the final year of his deal, he has rental-trade value given his history of delivering in the playoffs. A change of environment plus 50 percent salary retention would make Kessel a reasonable proposition at $3.4 million. Kessel would have to waive his NMC for the trade to work, of course. His contract also includes a modified no-trade clause with an eight-team trade list.
Toughest decision: To put it bluntly, the Coyotes have one of the least talented rosters in the NHL, so their harder choices are less, “How can we lose one of these great players?” and more, “How can we know which one of these depth players is the best to keep?” Right winger Christian Fischer and center Johan Larsson are on the outside looking in according to my projection, but it’s not like left winger Lawson Crouse and right winger Tyler Pitlick are worlds better. Perhaps the biggest conundrum for GM Bill Armstrong is whether, or when, to re-sign surprise breakout left winger and pending UFA Michael Bunting, who scored 10 goals in 21 games and earned himself a spot on Canada’s World Championship team. If the Kraken believe his sudden explosion was real, they could kick the tires on him as a cheap free-agent signing with upside.
Top candidates to crack the Kraken: If the Desert Dogs’ depth forwards don’t interest the Kraken, it appears a decent defenseman will shake lose if Arizona uses a 7-3-1 scheme. Protecting the freshly re-signed Ilya Lyubushkin would mean no available Coyotes defensemen meet the games-played quota required for exposure, so that all but guarantees Lyubushkin will be exposed. He’d be a perfectly acceptable third-pair option for Seattle.
Projected protected list (7-3-1):
F – Lawson Crouse
F – Christian Dvorak
F – Conor Garland
F – Clayton Keller
F – Phil Kessel
F – Tyler Pitlick
F – Nick Schmaltz
D – Kyle Capobianco
D – Jakob Chychrun
D – Oliver Ekman-Larsson
G – Darcy Kuemper
Key UFAs: Gabriel Landeskog (LW), Philipp Grubauer (G), Brandon Saad (LW), Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (C), Patrik Nemeth (D), Devan Dubnyk (G), Matt Calvert (LW)
Key RFAs: Cale Makar (D), Tyson Jost (C), Kiefer Sherwood (RW)
No-movement clauses: Erik Johnson (D)
Help us, Seattle: Defenseman Erik Johnson is expected to waive his no-movement clause and do the Avs a solid, but that doesn’t mean Seattle will take the injury-prone defenseman and his $6-million AAV for two seasons. Few if any teams have a deeper prospect pool than Colorado’s, however, so GM Joe Sakic does have the assets required to make a sweet side-deal pitch. While the Avs obviously fashion themselves top-flight Stanley Cup contenders and thus probably want to “keep the band together,” they probably wouldn’t mind shedding a chunky mid-tier contract to help clear room to re-sign UFA left winger Gabriel Landeskog, RFA defenseman Cale Makar and UFA goaltender Philipp Grubauer. Relief from right winger Joonas Donskoi’s $3.9-million AAV or right winger J.T. Compher’s $3.5-million AAV would help.
Toughest decision: Few GMs have a more challenging off-season to navigate than Sakic, especially because of the expansion draft. Does he make a handshake agreement with his captain Landeskog so Colorado doesn’t have to protect him? Maybe, but Landeskog, universally revered by hockey decision makers, will attract aggressive pitches if perceived as available. Even if the plan is to re-sign him immediately after the expansion draft and before he hits the open market July 28, the Kraken could still make an ambitious pitch to him. The Avs face a similar problem with goaltender Philipp Grubauer, fresh off a tremendous season in which he finished third in the Vezina Trophy vote. My prediction: the Avs split the difference with these two decisions and decide it’s too risky to expose Landeskog but risk exposing Grubauer so they can see how much cap space they shed in the expansion draft before re-signing him. Then they’ll have a better sense of whether they can afford Grubauer, who, despite his great season, is third in the re-signing pecking order behind Makar and Landeksog. That said, it wouldn’t be surprising to see both Landeskog and Grubauer signed and protected or both exposed and committed to handshake deals. It’s an unpredictable situation.
Top candidates to crack the Kraken: Defenseman Ryan Graves has been talked up as a prime Kraken pick, and I agree with the logic. He’s not elite in any particular area, but he’s a steady building block. If Colorado opted for an 8-1 scheme and protected four defensemen, it would mean exposing some good two-way forwards such as Valeri Nichushkin and Tyson Jost, both of whom would be appealing Seattle targets. I thus expect a 7-3-1 scheme and a Graves Kraken claim.
Projected protected list (7-3-1):
F – Andre Burakovsky
F – Tyson Jost
F – Nazem Kadri
F – Gabriel Landeskog
F – Nathan MacKinnon
F – Mikko Rantanen
F – Valeri Nichushkin
D – Samuel Girard
D – Cale Makar
D – Devon Toews
G – Jonas Johansson
LOS ANGELES KINGS
Key UFAs: None
Key RFAs: Andreas Athanasiou (LW), Trevor Moore (LW), Matt Luff (RW)
No-movement clauses: Drew Doughty (D)
Help us, Seattle: After adding $4.25 million to the payroll by trading picks for right winger Viktor Arvidsson last week, the Kings are no longer swimming in cap space. If they’re preparing to stay aggressive this off-season and take a run at a top-end asset like, for instance, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones, it would help to clear some money first. Would the Kraken consider taking on two years of Jonathan Quick? If it happened in trade form rather than an official expansion-draft pick, and the Kings ate some of his $5.8-million cap hit, he wouldn’t be the worst guy for an expansion team to add as a feisty veteran 1B goaltender with just two years left on his deal. The Kings used $3.33 million of their cap space to play defenseman Olli Maatta for 16 minutes a night this season. They’d probably be happy if Seattle claimed him for the final season of his deal. It wouldn’t be the worst idea considering he could be flipped for a mid-range draft pick.
Toughest decision: The Arvidsson acquisition will nudge a relatively young L.A. forward with a bit of upside out of the protection scheme. If we assume the Kings protect Arvidsson, Alex Iafallo, Adrian Kempe and Anze Kopitar, At least two of Lias Andersson, Andreas Athanasiou, Carl Grundstrom, Brendan Lemieux and Trevor Moore will be exposed. If you shop around and look at various’ other pundits’ projections, they vary wildly when it comes to the Kings, because the talent margin among that group of forwards is thin. I’ve gone with the combination of affordability and upside and have L.A. protecting Andersson, Grundstrom and Moore. Keep in mind the Arvidsson trade signalled the next phase of L.A.’s rebuild. General manager Rob Blake likely wants cap flexibility.
Top candidates to crack the Kraken: Seattle should harvest something useful from L.A. If it’s not Quick or a forward from the aforementioned bubble group, GM Ron Francis could take a long look at puck-moving defenseman Kale Clague, assuming he’s not protected.
Projected protected list (7-3-1):
F – Lias Andersson
F – Viktor Arvidsson
F – Carl Grundstrom
F – Alex Iafallo
F – Adrian Kempe
F – Anze Kopitar
F – Trevor Moore
D – Drew Doughty
D – Matt Roy
D – Sean Walker
G – Cal Petersen
Key UFAs: Nick Bonino (C), Marcus Johansson (C), Ian Cole (D), Brad Hunt (D)
Key RFAs: Kirill Kaprizov (LW), Kevin Fiala (RW)
No-movement clauses: Jared Spurgeon (D), Ryan Suter (D), Jonas Brodin (D), Zach Parise (LW), Mats Zuccarello (RW)
Help us, Seattle: With a league-high five players auto-protected via no-movement clauses, GM Bill Guerin will have to get extremely creative. Maybe he lucks out and left winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter waive their NMCs. If they don’t, the Wild will be faced with exposing a useful checking forward such as Ryan Hartman and a well-rounded right-shot defenseman in Mathew Dumba. The latter in particular would be a tough player to lose for nothing, and his advocacy for inclusivity would make him an extremely on-brand player for the socially progressive Kraken to target. Guerin will have to be active in exploring side deals if he isn’t able to make any trades before the July-17 protection deadline. Just as the Predators did with Arvidsson, Guerin would be wise to push for a Dumba trade before it’s too late.
Toughest decision: Center Nico Sturm probably has the inside track to be the last forward protected. If Parise waives, which I’m projecting him to do, the Wild will have to choose between Hartman and Victor Rask, who revived his career centering the sensational rookie left winger Kirill Kaprizov this season.
Top candidates to crack the Kraken: If the Kraken cut a deal not to take Dumba, they could solidify their defensive depth with Carson Soucy. Unless Guerin makes another side deal, a quality goaltender will be available between Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen.
Projected protected list (7-3-1):
F – Joel Eriksson Ek
F – Kevin Fiala
F – Marcus Foligno
F – Jordan Greenway
F – Kirill Kaprizov
F – Nico Sturm
F – Mats Zuccarello
D – Jonas Brodin
D – Jared Spurgeon
D – Ryan Suter
G – Kaapo Kahkonen
ST. LOUIS BLUES
Key UFAs: Jaden Schwartz (LW), Mike Hoffman (LW), Tyler Bozak (C)
Key RFAs: Vince Dunn (D), Robert Thomas (RW), Jordan Kyrou (RW), Zach Sanford (LW), Ivan Barbashev (C),
No-movement clauses: None
Help us, Seattle: The four-year extension for defenseman Marco Scandella started poorly. He held the worst shot-attempt share of St. Louis’ top six defensemen by a wide margin this season, and he costs $3.28 million annually for three more seasons. The Blues would be much more financially flexible without him. If GM Doug Armstrong can’t find a trade partner for Vince Dunn by July 17, the Blues will be in the same situation as the Wild with Dumba: unable to protect a valuable offensive defenseman and forced to offer the Kraken a side deal so they take someone else. The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford dropped a bomb Wednesday that right winger Vladimir Tarasenko wants a trade because he’s upset with how the club handled his shoulder injury and multiple surgeries, but it’s more likely a surefire contender enters the bidding than a team like Seattle with an unknown future – given the significant health risks that accompany Tarasenko’s $7.5-million AAV.
Toughest decision: The Blues aren’t projected to struggle with any particular choice. One could make a case for the upside of big left winger Zach Sanford over Oskar Sundqvist, but Sundqvist has the organization’s trust, having played a bigger role on the 2018-19 championship team. We armchair GMs might protect Dunn over Justin Faulk, but that doesn’t mean the Blues feel that way. Faulk led the team in ice time in a big rebound season.
Top candidates to crack the Kraken: Just because a team offers a side deal doesn’t mean Seattle has to accept it. If Dunn is sitting there exposed after July 17, you have to consider that a talented 24-year-old puck-mover is worth more than any future asset St. Louis would dangle. Do we know St. Louis’ 2021 first-round pick will be worth more than Dunn, for instance? The pick is 16th overall. If Dunn is dealt before Seattle gets a shot at him, it can look at Sanford or other checkers such as left winger Sammy Blais and center Ivan Barbashev.
Projected protected list (7-3-1):
F – Jordan Kyrou
F – Ryan O’Reilly
F – David Perron
F – Brayden Schenn
F – Oskar Sundqvist
F – Vladimir Tarasenko
F – Robert Thomas
D – Justin Faulk
D – Colton Parayko
D – Torey Krug
G – Jordan Binnington
SAN JOSE SHARKS
Key UFAs: Patrick Marleau (LW), Kurtis Gabriel (RW), Marcus Sorensen (LW)
Key RFAs: Ryan Donato (LW), Noah Gregor (LW), Dylan Gambrell (C), Rudolfs Balcers (LW), Joachim Blichfeld (RW), Christian Jaros (D)
No-movement clauses: Erik Karlsson (D), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (D)
Help us, Seattle: If the Sharks had their wish? Surely they’d love relief from goaltender Martin Jones’ contract, which carries a $5.75-million AAV for three more seasons. But he’s graded out as the worst starting goaltender in the NHL in terms of goals saved above average per 60 at 5-on-5 over the past three seasons combined. Seattle won’t touch him. The Sharks have plenty of expensive veterans chewing up significant cap space but, given GM Doug Wilson prefers to retool rather than rebuild, he’ll likely protect those core players (a) for attempting to stay competitive or (b) to use as potential trade bait rather than lose them for nothing.
Toughest decision: The Sharks arguably don’t face one. A year ago, left winger Ryan Donato might’ve been considered for protection, but he didn’t show enough in 2020-21 to make himself indispensable. Two of the three defensemen in San Jose’s projected 7-3-1 scheme have no-movement clauses in Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. As suggested by The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz, the Sharks’ list isn’t particularly tough to project at the moment, and I agree.
Top candidates to crack the Kraken: The Kraken could do worse than Donato, who averages 16 goals per 82 games in his career to date and shouldn’t command a huge cap number as an RFA. If Seattle wants to get sentimental, however? Center Dylan Gambrell would be a hometown pick. Keep a close eye on him.
Projected protected list (7-3-1):
F – Rudolfs Balcers
F – Logan Couture
F – Jonathan Dahlen
F – Tomas Hertl
F – Evander Kane
F – Kevin Labanc
F – Timo Meier
D – Brent Burns
D – Erik Karlsson
D – Marc-Edouard Vlasic
G – Josef Korenar