The Seattle Kraken expansion draft is just days away now – close enough that we can say hours away, really. Teams have shuffled their decks with trades and buyouts, released their protected lists and, judging by some of the surprising omissions from those lists, plenty of side deals have probably been struck with Kraken GM Ron Francis. That’s an important caveat to keep in mind for this final mock-draft projection, Just because a litany of high-profile players, from Carey Price to Vladimir Tarasenko, are “available” on paper doesn’t mean they’re about to change teams. It’s possible their respective clubs have exposed them knowing Seattle won’t be snatching them based on their prohibitive cap hits and/or health reports, which allows those teams to protect additional players. In the case of young, cheap, appealing names surprisingly left exposed, it’s possible their teams have already made side deals to save them, sending draft picks to Seattle.
This third and final mock draft comes with the advantage of knowing exactly which players are eligible to be claimed now. At the same time: it’s more of a fun exercise than anything. Don’t treat this projection as gospel and try to run an autopsy on “how many picks I got right” after the Kraken reveal their selections Wednesday. The possible roster permutations are endless. Rather than treating my mock as a projection of what Seattle will do, then, think of it as an exercise exploring what Seattle could do. A lot will depend on what Francis’ vision is. Does he want a competitive group that can compete immediately in what should be a weak Pacific Division? Would he rather take a dive in Year 1 based on the exciting draft classes arriving in 2022 and 2023? We can’t say for certain.
A second disclaimer for this list: even if we’re projecting certain players with pricey contracts to end up in Kraken uniforms, they may not be part of the mock draft. If Seattle were to use an official pick on blueliner P.K. Subban, for instance, it would inherit all $9-million of his cap hit. Trading for him, on the other hand, would give the New Jersey Devils the ability to retain up to 50 percent of his AAV. So those types of acquisitions are likely to occur in separate deals which could still be announced on expansion-draft night rather than as part of the actual draft.
A quick refresher on some of the rules still in play leading up to the expansion draft:
– 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.
– All first- and second-year NHL players, and all unsigned draft choices, will be 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.
It’s time for one last crack at projecting the Kraken!
ANAHEIM DUCKS: Haydn Fleury, D
Contract: $1.3 million to 2022 (RFA)
After Anaheim sold off blueliner Jani Hakanpaa to acquire Fleury and Fleury showed some late-season promise with increased responsibility in a Ducks uniform, his exposure is surprising news. Maybe Ducks GM Bob Murray made a side deal to save him but, after being burned at the 2017 expansion draft giving away Shea Theodore in a side deal, Murray seems like one of the least likely GMs to go that route again.
ARIZONA COYOTES: Michael Bunting, LW
Rather than punt a pick on a low-upside piece such as Ilya Lyubushkin, why not sign Bunting, who showed some intriguing goal-scoring ability this season? The sample size was small enough that the dice roll wouldn’t cost much. I still think Phil Kessel makes sense, too – but only in a trade that would allow Arizona to swallow some of his $6.8-million cap hit.
BOSTON BRUINS: Connor Clifton, D
Contract: $1 million to 2023 (UFA)
Clifton plays a surprisingly physical game for a somewhat undersized blueliner and mixes in mobility and a right-handed shot. Boston offers a few nice options for Seattle, including Jeremy Lauzon on defense and Nick Ritchie up front, so Clifton isn’t a slam-dunk pick.
BUFFALO SABRES: Will Borgen, D
Borgen profiles as a steady physical presence who could occupy a third-pair spot and doesn’t have enough NHL experience to require a big raise on his $864,166 cap hit. A low-risk, medium-gain selection.
CALGARY FLAMES: Mark Giordano, D
Contract: $6.75 million to 2022 (UFA)
The Flames understandably protected the much younger Chris Tanev over their captain. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun suggested that the price to save Giordano is “too high” for Calgary to meet. That tells us how keen the Kraken must be on snatching him. Because his expiring contract and established reputation as a revered leader and Norris Trophy winner make him such an appealing trade-deadline chip for down the road, the Kraken are essentially acquiring futures by drafting Giordano. He can help them when he’s in their lineup and, if the season goes south, he can net them picks and/or prospects in a trade.
CAROLINA HURRICANES: Jake Bean, D
Nino Niederreiter is awfully tempting given his expiring contract, but Francis drafted Bean in Carolina, and Bean has too much long-term upside as a puck-moving blueliner to pass up.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: Ryan Carpenter, RW
Contract: $1 million to 2022 (UFA)
He carries a fair price for a bottom-sixer who can kill penalties and play multiple forward positions. A nice, safe choice with only a year of term commitment.
COLORADO AVALANCHE: Joonas Donskoi, RW
Contract: $3.9 million to 2023 (UFA)
He’s not the most exciting pick, but he’s a proven middle-six veteran that will help raise the team’s floor, performance wise.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: Max Domi, C
Contract: $5.3 million to 2022 (UFA)
Domi can help the Kraken in multiple ways. If his recovery from shoulder surgery takes longer than expected, he could end up a year-long LTIR stash. If he returns next season, he could get a look as Seattle’s No. 1 center. Someone has to score on this team, and he’s better than he showed in Columbus.
DALLAS STARS: Adam Mascherin, RW
The Stars wisely cashed out Jason Dickson with a trade to the Vancouver Canucks before the Kraken could swipe him. Rather than have them force the ‘new Marc-Andre Fleury’ narrative with a rickety Ben Bishop, I project the Kraken to go with a cheap upside play in AHL prospect Mascherin.
DETROIT RED WINGS: Troy Stecher, D
Contract: $1.7 million to 2022 (UFA)
Left winger Vlad Namestnikov would make sense, too, but Stecher being a right-shot on defense broke the tie for me.
EDMONTON OILERS: Jujhar Khaira, C
Tyler Benson is waiver-eligible and thus carries some risk. Khaira brings an incredibly high volume of body contact per shift and would thus offer fan-favorite potential on an energy line.
FLORIDA PANTHERS: Chris Driedger, G
I’ve been calling Driedger to Seattle for months now, and the swirling rumors of him signing there only strengthen my conviction. His sample size is small enough that he won’t cost starter money to sign, and his ceiling appears to be immense given his .929 career save percentage.
LOS ANGELES KINGS: Kale Clague, D
Clague had some reasonable prospect juice coming up L.A.’s system as a puck-mover. He thus makes sense as a buy low. He wouldn’t necessarily have a large role right away, but he would have an easier path to one than he did as a King given Seattle has to build its organizational depth from square 1.
MINNESOTA WILD: Kaapo Kahkonen, G
Contract: $725,000 to 2022 (RFA)
I know Cam Talbot outplayed Kahkonen overall this past season. But Kahkonen flashed star potential in spurts and is a decade younger. He’s a natural choice for the Kraken to me: a home-run swing that costs almost nothing.
MONTREAL CANADIENS: Brett Kulak, D
Contract: $1.85 million to 2022 (UFA)
No Carey Price!? I chickened out. The cap commitment is just too massive and puts the franchise in a financially inflexible situation from Day 1. Jonathan Drouin was tempting but, given the uncertainty of his personal situation, he’s not the pick for me. We go for safe depth instead with Kulak.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS: Calle Jarnkrok, LW
Contract: $2 million to 2022 (UFA)
Protecting five D-men gives the Kraken a few respectable forward options to choose from. No chance they bite and take Matt Duchene or Ryan Johansen unless it’s in a trade with salary retention, right? The versatile and affordable Jarnkrok seems like a no-brainer pick.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS: Nathan Bastian, RW
Contract: $825,000 to 2023 (RFA)
The Devils present multiple interesting options for the Kraken. They could bite on mobile defenseman Will Butcher or the top-six upside of left winger Andreas Johnsson. Since I have Seattle spending its bigger bucks on more proven options, I go with a bargain here in the big, bruising Bastian.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS: Jordan Eberle, RW
Contract: $5.5 million to 2024 (UFA)
If the Kraken decide they want to compete in the Pacific immediately, which I genuinely believe is a realistic goal, they’ll need to spend a bit of cap space on legitimate top-six forwards. Eberle isn’t a sexy pick anymore at 31, but a safe pick? Sure.
NEW YORK RANGERS: Colin Blackwell, RW
Contract: $725,000 to 2022 (UFA)
Just $725,000 for a guy who busted out for 12 goals in 47 games? When the Rangers opted to protect Kevin Rooney, they made the decision easy for the Kraken – on paper, at least.
OTTAWA SENATORS: Chris Tierney, C
Contract: $3.5 million to 2022
He’s been my Ottawa pick in every mock draft. Plays center, can operate as a penalty killer and support scorer in a middle-six role, has a flippable expiring deal. He’s a more flexible piece to add than Evgenii Dadonov.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: James van Riemsdyk, LW
Contract: $7 million to 2023 (UFA)
Francis’ claim about the importance of cap space keeps popping up, but term matters more. That’s why I don’t think the JVR contract is too unattractive. It’s just two years of commitment for a guy who can score 25-plus goals as a scoring-line winger and power-play presence.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: Zach Aston-Reese, LW
No Brandon Tanev? To me, his skill set can be found for a lot less than $3.5 million across four more seasons. Aston-Reese shouldn’t cost as much on his next contract and is an underrated defensive winger.
SAN JOSE SHARKS: Dylan Gambrell, C
Contract: $1.1 million to 2022 (RFA)
I haven’t backed off my stance that the Sharks’ group of available players is weak enough that Seattle may as well break the tie by adding a local boy for their fourth line.
ST. LOUIS BLUES: Vince Dunn, D
Tarasenko is exciting, sure. But he’s risky and expensive. If you take him, it’s in a trade, sweetened with a draft pick and made more palatable with some salary retention. I don’t think you can justify Tarasenko when a quality talent like Dunn is just sitting there for free. He’s the type of player who is side-deal worthy to retain.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: Ondrej Palat, LW
Contract: $5.3 million to 2022 (UFA)
Some project Yanni Gourde to the Kraken, but four more seasons at $5.17 million feels risky. I prefer Palat on an expiring deal that will be extremely attractive to flip at the 2022 deadline should Seattle not be in contention. Palat plays a strong two-way game yet can flourish on a scoring line, too.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: Alexander Kerfoot, LW
Contract: $3.5 million to 2023 (UFA)
It’s Kerfoot or Jared McCann headed to Seattle, right? Most would prefer the younger, cheaper McCann, but my guess: the Leafs made the acquisition knowing something we don’t. Perhaps it’s already set in stone that Kerfoot is gone and/or the Leafs made a little side deal to keep McCann around.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS: Braden Holtby, G
Contract: $4.3 million to 2022 (UFA)
Holtby brings veteran leadership, one of the more progressive sets of social values in the league and an expiring deal Seattle can sell off to a team looking for an experienced playoff backup. Hard to believe Holtby is only 31.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS: Brenden Dillon, D
Contract: $3.9 million to 2024
I had leaned Justin Schultz before, but my Kraken squad already has strong puck-moving acumen. Dillon brings penalty-killing skill, a big, net-clearing body and veteran leadership. He’s a Pacific Northwesterner to boot.
WINNIPEG JETS: Dylan DeMelo, D
Contract: $3 million to 2024
I’m still pretty stunned the Jets exposed a quality defensive defenseman who tends to elevate his teammates in DeMelo. You have to take him if you’re Seattle, right? This feels like one of Francis’ easier choices, though it’s always possible Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff saves DeMelo with a side deal.
TEAM AT A GLANCE
James van Riemsdyk