7 Surprise Players Who Could Be Exposed at the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft
General managers from those 30 clubs must submit their player protection lists by 5 p.m. ET on July 17. They can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender or eight skaters and a goalie. Players with no-movement clauses must be protected unless they agree to waive their clause.
Teams will ensure their best players are protected. Some, however, could surprise by leaving a core piece exposed.
A player with a no-movement clause could agree to waive their clause to help their team protect another player. Another possibility is a team exposing a player who's due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 28. For example, the Carolina Hurricanes could leave defenseman Dougie Hamilton unprotected, gambling that the Kraken will prefer players with time remaining on their contracts.
Teams with limited salary-cap space could expose an expensive player who might benefit from a change of scenery. Meanwhile, there could be teams carrying too much depth at one position forced to leave a player they would otherwise retain unprotected. A sidelined core player may be at risk of moving teams as his club gambles on the Kraken passing him over for healthier options.
Here's a look at seven surprise players who could be exposed in the expansion draft.
Matt Duchene, Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators signed Matt Duchene to a seven-year, $56 million contract in July 2019. He was expected to fill their second-line center position but has struggled over the last two years. That could prompt them to leave him exposed in the expansion draft in the hope of clearing his salary from their books.
Duchene isn't the only highly paid Predators center failing to play up to his $8 million annual average salary. Ryan Johansen has had his difficulties over the past two seasons as injuries and inconsistency have led to a decline in his production. Johansen is signed through 2024-25, while Duchene's deal ends the following season.
Predators general manager David Poile could try to trade Duchene or Johansen in a cost-cutting deal to free up valuable salary-cap space for other moves. However, he could face difficulty finding takers in the trade market without absorbing part of their salaries.
Poile might be more comfortable carrying Johansen's contract because of the shorter term, his age (28) and the hope he'll return to form if he can stay healthy. By exposing Duchene, he could pin his hope on the Kraken's willingness to take a chance on a change of teams helping the 30-year-old center regain his scoring ways.
The Kraken could be put off by Duchene's declining production and hefty contract. Poile, however, could attempt a side deal sending them a top prospect or perhaps a promising young player as an enticement.
Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
Mark Giordano has spent his entire 15-season NHL career with the Calgary Flames. The 37-year-old remains a skilled top-pairing defenseman, but he could find himself suiting up with the Kraken next season.
On May 20, Wes Gilbertson of the Calgary Sun reported Flames general manager Brad Treliving could leave Giordano exposed in the expansion draft, saying Treliving should opt to protect younger defensemen such as Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson and Chris Tanev.
Treliving could retain Giordano if he decides to protect eight skaters. In that scenario, however, the Flames risk losing a skilled forward such as Andrew Mangiapane or Dillon Dube. Not even Milan Lucic waiving his no-movement clause could prevent that.
By exposing Giordano, Treliving would be gambling on the Kraken being put off by the blueliner's age and his unrestricted free-agent status next summer. To play it safe, he could cut a side deal with the Kraken by sending them another draft pick or prospect to ensure they pass on Giordano.
Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes
Dougie Hamilton played a key role in the Carolina Hurricanes' recent rise among the NHL's best teams. The mobile 27-year old defenseman skates on their top defense pairing alongside Jaccob Slavin and finished fourth in combined scoring on the team over the last three seasons.
However, Hamilton is eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 28. Back in March, Frank Seravalli reported for TSN that the Hurricanes and Hamilton's camp decided to table their contract discussions until the end of the season. There's mutual interest in getting a deal done, but doing so before the expansion draft could complicate things.
If the Hurricanes sign Hamilton before July 21, they'll have to protect him. In that situation, they risk losing another defenseman like Brady Skjei or promising Jake Bean.
Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell could decide to leave Hamilton exposed in the draft in the hopes the Kraken won't waste their pick on a player who could test the free-agent market a week later. That would allow Waddell to re-up Hamilton in the week between the expansion draft and the start of the free-agency period.
Oscar Klefbom, Edmonton Oilers
Oscar Klefbom missed all of this season with a shoulder injury that finally required surgery in late March. On April 23, Sportsnet's Mark Spector reported the 27-year-old defenseman hopes to return to the Edmonton Oilers next season, but his future remains uncertain. Depending on his recovery, the Oilers could expose him in the expansion draft.
Before his injury, Klefbom was an invaluable member of the Oilers' blue line. In 62 games during 2019-20, he logged a team-leading 25 minutes, 25 seconds of ice time per game and led their defensemen with 34 points.
Klefbom has two more years under contract with the Oilers at an affordable $4.2 million per season. If it appears he'll be fully recovered for next season, Spector noted Edmonton could let Tyson Barrie depart via free agency. If he's not, general manager Ken Holland could leave Klefbom unprotected in the expansion draft.
The Oilers would be betting on the Kraken passing on Klefbom because of his injury. However, there's still the risk that he gets selected and enjoys a return to form in Seattle.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals
Not that long ago, the thought of the Washington Capitals parting ways with Evgeny Kuznetsov was absurd. Centering the Alex Ovechkin line, Kuznetsov was the Capitals' postseason scoring leader during their march to the Stanley Cup in 2018.
However, things have changed over the last three years. A combination of inconsistent play and off-ice incidents sparked media chatter suggesting the Capitals could entertain trade offers for the 29-year-old center.
With $72 million invested in 18 players for 2021-22 and Ovechkin due for a new contract this summer, the Capitals could attempt to shed Kuznetsov in a cost-cutting deal. Carrying a $7.8 million annual average value through 2024-25 and a 15-team no-trade list, Kuznetsov could prove difficult to move with the salary cap expected to remain at $81.5 million next season.
If a trade partner cannot be found, perhaps the Capitals will consider exposing Kuznetsov in the expansion draft. Despite his recent difficulties, he's still a skilled first-line center in his playing prime. The Kraken will seek the best available talent in the expansion draft and could take a chance on him.
Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
The Minnesota Wild face a conundrum on their blue line. If they protect three defensemen, they risk losing Matt Dumba to the Kraken. If they use the eight-skaters option to protect Dumba, they could lose a good young forward such as Kevin Fiala, Jordan Greenway or Joel Eriksson Ek. To get around that issue, perhaps general manager Bill Guerin will ask Ryan Suter to waive his no-movement clause.
Suter and fellow Wild rearguards Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin have no-movement clauses. Under expansion-draft rules, they must be protected unless they waive their clause. Guerin won't approach Spurgeon or Brodin because he knows either one would be snapped up by the Kraken.
Guerin could attempt to convince the 36-year-old Suter to waive his clause because it's unlikely the Kraken will select him. While he remains an effective big-minute, top-four defenseman, a decline in his performance is inevitable after 16 NHL seasons.
Suter's contract, however, is the bigger deterrent. He's carrying a $7.5 million annual cap hit through 2024-25. While his actual salary drops to just $2 million in 2022-23 and $1 million in each of the final two seasons, that annual average value will likely be too rich for the Kraken's taste.
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
Shoulder surgeries have limited Vladimir Tarasenko to just 34 regular-season games over the last two seasons. His condition has also fueled speculation over whether the St. Louis Blues will expose the 29-year-old winger in the expansion draft.
ESPN.com's Greg Wyshynski raised the possibility after the Blues were swept from the first round of the 2021 NHL playoffs by the Colorado Avalanche. On May 28, Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pondered the same question.
The Blues have $66.3 million invested in 20 players for 2021-22, with free agents such as Jaden Schwartz, Mike Hoffman, Tyler Bozak, Robert Thomas, Vince Dunn and Jordan Kyrou to re-sign or replace. Clearing Tarasenko's $7.5 million annual cap hit from their books could provide sufficient relief to address those issues.
Tarasenko's injury history could make him difficult to move in a cost-cutting trade, but the Kraken could take a chance on him bouncing back and regaining his 30-goal form. It seems unlikely Blues general manager Doug Armstrong would take that risk. Until he rules it out, however, it cannot be completely dismissed.