Winners and Losers from NHL Expansion Draft Protection Lists

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistJuly 18, 2021

Winners and Losers from NHL Expansion Draft Protection Lists

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    Jim Bennett/Getty Images

    The Seattle Kraken will be selecting players for what could be their inaugural roster during the NHL expansion draft Wednesday. The 30 teams taking part in the expansion draft (the Vegas Golden Knights are exempt) submitted their player protection lists to league headquarters Saturday.

    A roster freeze was also implemented at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday. It will be lifted at 1 p.m. ET on Thursday. The Kraken have the opportunity to negotiate exclusively with free agents left unprotected. Anyone they sign before Wednesday's draft will be considered a draft selection from that player's previous team.

    The roster freeze implementation led to a late flurry of trade activity Saturday as teams attempted to jettison players they expected to lose in the expansion draft. Meanwhile, a handful of notable players, including Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, waived their no-movement clauses to allow their clubs to expose them in the draft.

    Fans and pundits got their first look at those lists Sunday, when the league released them to the public. We still have to wait until Wednesday to find out which players the Kraken select, but they will find plenty of quality talent available to them.

    As we await the arrival of the expansion draft, it's a good opportunity to review what's taken place in the days leading up to the release of the player protection lists. Here's our take on the winners and losers.

Winner: Seattle Kraken

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    Jim Bennett/Getty Images

    Drafting under the same rules as the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017, the Seattle Kraken have an opportunity to follow Vegas' template and ice a competitive club in 2021-22. They might not become a Stanley Cup finalist in their first season like the Golden Knights, but they will find some quality talent available to them. 

    General manager Ron Francis could be bold by selecting Carey Price. The Montreal Canadiens' superstar goaltender turns 34 on Aug. 16 and carries an expensive contract, but he's just come off carrying the overmatched Habs to the Stanley Cup Final. He would instantly provide the Kraken with a marquee name to build around and draw fans at the box office. However, a possible hip injury could dampen their enthusiasm. 

    The Kraken have several other goaltenders to choose from. TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported they appear poised to sign free-agent Florida Panthers netminder Chris Driedger. Others include the Los Angeles Kings' Jonathan Quick, the Dallas Stars' Ben Bishop and Vancouver Canucks Braden Holtby. Promising Minnesota Wild goalie Kaapo Kahkonen is also there for the taking.

    Forwards such as Colorado Avalanche wingers Gabriel Landeskog and Brandon Saad and St. Louis Blues wingers Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz are available. Others include Philadelphia Flyers wingers Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk, Nashville Predators centers Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene and New York Islanders forwards Jordan Eberle and Josh Bailey.

    Several quality defensemen, such as the Calgary Flames' Mark Giordano, are obtainable. Others include the Anaheim Ducks' Kevin Shattenkirk, Buffalo Sabres' Colin Miller, Chicago Blackhawks' Nikita Zadorov, St. Louis Blues' Vince Dunn and the Washington Capitals' Brenden Dillon. They could even sign a pending free-agent star such as the Carolina Hurricanes' Dougie Hamilton.

Loser: Players Exposed in the Draft

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Getting traded, sent to the minors, left unsigned in free agency or having a contract bought out can be bruising to the ego for some players during their NHL careers. Being exposed in the expansion draft could also be difficult to swallow.

    When a player is traded or signed as a free agent, they at least know another club wants them. This situation, however, is unique. From now until Wednesday evening, they face uncertainty over their futures. Most have no choice in the matter.

    Some could be displeased about the possibility of joining an expansion club. Players from a Stanley Cup contender could find it difficult heading to a team that could finish outside the playoff picture next season. For Vladimir Tarasenko, who's seeking a trade to a contender, this could make a tense situation with the St. Louis Blues much worse.

    Players who volunteered to be exposed by waiving their no-movement clauses, such as Montreal's Carey Price, Dallas' Ben Bishop, the Buffalo Sabres' Jeff Skinner and the Calgary Flames' Milan Lucic, know there's a good chance they will be staying put when the dust settles Wednesday.

    Price and Skinner carry expensive contracts with no-movement clauses that will follow them to Seattle. Bishop hasn't played since undergoing knee surgery last fall, while Lucic's best seasons are behind him.

    The same applies to pending unrestricted free agents left unprotected. Alex Ovechkin is expected to re-sign with the Capitals. Others, such as Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins forwards Taylor Hall and David Krejci, and St. Louis Blues winger Jaden Schwartz, could also re-sign with their teams or opt to test the market instead of signing with an expansion club.

    Most who get passed over by the Kraken could breathe a sigh of relief. Some, however, could feel less appreciated by their current clubs. That could have repercussions, especially when it becomes time to negotiate new contracts. It could also signal some of them could become future trade candidates.

Winner: Fans of the Unexpected

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    Phelan Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Fans and pundits have spent months doing mock drafts and using draft simulators, attempting to predict which players the Kraken could select for their first roster. We tended to be cautious, selecting second-tier talent and depth players instead of stars. Few dared imagine any superstars would become available.

    The release of the expansion draft lists, however, revealed several surprising names among the unprotected players. Topping the list were Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and St. Louis Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko.

    We had advanced knowledge Saturday that Price and Tarasenko could be exposed. TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported Price agreed to waive his no-movement clause to allow the Canadiens to protect backup goalie Jake Allen. Price and the Habs are gambling his $10.5 million annual salary-cap hit will deter the Kraken.

    Daily Faceoff's Frank Seravalli reported the Blues would leave Tarasenko unprotected. They have been trying to trade the unhappy winger for several weeks. The Athletic's Jeremy Rutherford reported they couldn't find many takers for the former 30-goal scorer. He's had three shoulder surgeries and carries an annual average value of $7.5 million for the next two seasons.

    Ovechkin and Landeskog are unrestricted free agents on July 28. The Washington Post's Samantha Pell reported Ovechkin is expected to re-sign with the Capitals following the expansion draft. Landeskog's contract negotiations with the Avalanche, however, seem to have stalled. Leaving him exposed gives the Kraken an opportunity to sign him before Wednesday's draft.

    Others recognizable names left unprotected include Philadelphia Flyers winger Jakub Voracek, Nashville Predators centers Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene, New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban and Calgary Flames blueliner Mark Giordano.

Loser: Teams Forced To Expose Quality Players

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Except for the Golden Knights, the 30 existing teams must give up a player to the Kraken. Some, however, could face losing a player of value for nothing.

    The Avalanche already moved one player before the draft, shipping Ryan Graves to the New Jersey Devils. That was done, in part, to avoid losing him for nothing to the Kraken but also to free up salary-cap space to re-sign free agents like Gabriel Landeskog. Leaving Landeskog exposed, however, creates the possibility of losing two key players from their roster in less than a week.

    Less than two weeks after winning the Stanley Cup, the Tampa Bay Lightning parted with Barclay Goodrow by shipping the pending free agent forward to the New York Rangers. There's also a good chance they could lose a key forward such as Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat or Yanni Gourde to the Kraken unless they have swung a side deal to protect them.

    Vladimir Tarasenko has been shopped for weeks by the St. Louis Blues, but they haven't found any takers. However, the Kraken could pass over him in favor of young defenseman Vince Dunn, who's also been the subject of trade speculation. Either way, the Blues would lose a quality asset with nothing to show in return.

    The Carolina Hurricanes left Dougie Hamilton and Nino Niederreiter exposed, but they could instead lose young defenseman Jake Bean. The Minnesota Wild raised some eyebrows by leaving promising goalie Kaapo Kahkonen exposed.

Winner: The NHL Trade Market

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    NHL fans itching to see some activity in the trade market before the rosters were frozen Saturday got their wish. Several clubs made significant moves before the 3 p.m. ET deadline.

    The biggest deal saw the Nashville Predators ship defenseman Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers for defenseman Philippe Myers and center Nolan Patrick. The Predators then flipped Patrick to the Vegas Golden Knights for center Cody Glass.

    Those moves weren't directly tied to the expansion draft. The Tennessean's Paul Skrbina reported Predators general manager David Poile was shaking up his roster after several seasons of decline. The Flyers acquired Ellis to address their need for a top-pairing, right-side defenseman. Patrick and Glass, first-round picks in 2017, needed a change of scenery after struggling with their former clubs.

    Earlier trades saw the Colorado Avalanche send defenseman Ryan Graves to the New Jersey Devils, the New York Islanders move blueliner Nick Leddy to the Detroit Red Wings and the Tampa Bay Lightning peddle winger Barclay Goodrow to the New York Rangers. The Avalanche, Islanders and Lightning opted to move those players for assets rather than risk losing them for nothing to the Kraken.

    Other moves leading up to the roster freeze saw the Pittsburgh Penguins trade forward Jared McCann to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Arizona Coyotes send goaltender Adin Hill to the San Jose Sharks and the Dallas Stars ship forward Jason Dickinson to the Vancouver Canucks.

Loser: Side Deals

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Rumors of teams swinging side deals with the Kraken to protect certain players have been buzzing among the media for weeks. On April 21, The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun and Ryan S. Clark speculated the Carolina Hurricanes, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild and Tampa Bay Lightning could go that route.

    The chatter continued up to the imposition of the roster freeze. On July 1, Clark raised the possibility that some teams could already have an agreed arrangement with the Kraken. On July 13, The Score's Josh Wegman mused about the Lightning, Avalanche and Nashville Predators talking turkey with the Kraken.

    Anyone expecting to see any of these deals emerge leading up to the roster freeze was left disappointed. None of the trade activity that took place involved the Kraken.

    As Clark observed, such moves tend to be more nuanced. In other words, Kraken general manager Ron Francis could have agreements in place with some of his rivals, but the results won't be known until the roster freeze lifts Thursday. If teams start sending the Kraken players, draft picks or prospects Thursday, it's because Francis agreed not to select specific players exposed in the draft.

    Another factor could be the Kraken's asking price. On July 14, LeBrun reported they set "exorbitant" payments from teams attempting to navigate the expansion draft. If Francis didn't lower his price, there might not be many side deals emerging from this draft.

                     

    Expansion draft info and trade info via NHL.com. Salary info via CapFriendly

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