Seattle Mock Expansion Draft 2.0: Shuffle the Deck

An abbreviated NHL regular season has been played and the trade deadline has passed since the previous update, altering projections for teams' protected lists – and for the Kraken roster.
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Advantage Seattle? Advantage the rest of the NHL? Who has the edge in the 2021 expansion draft? Will the Kraken exploit teams' salary-cap problems the same way the Vegas Golden Knights did in 2017? It depends on whom you ask.

According to Kraken GM Ron Francis, Seattle won’t sneak up on anyone this time. In his mind, 2017 was an unpredictable experience whereas GMs today will be much more aware of what to expect. “The previous expansion draft before Vegas was in 2000, so it had been 17 years before Vegas came into the league in expansion,” Francis told reporters during a media availability session in April. “A lot of the GMs who were in place hadn’t been through expansion before, and it was a new experience for everybody and new set of rules. So certainly there was an advantage for Vegas over some of the teams at that point. Plus I don’t think teams had as long a runway to prepare for that expansion draft. It has only been four years since the last expansion daft. A lot of the same GMs are in place, I’m sure they’ve learned a lot, and they’re going to do everything they can to make sure they’re better protected against us.”

That said, the Kraken should have a better idea of what to expect, too. And it’s not like teams will send Seattle into a tizzy when they announce their final protection lists in the days leading up to the draft. According to Golden Knights president of hockey operations George McPhee, who was the team’s GM for the 2017 expansion draft, "there were no curveballs." He and then-assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon had been mock drafting all year, staying in touch with teams, and had a strong sense of what to expect in that final weekend in June. He and McCrimmon split the NHL teams in half, and each spent time communicating with those teams’ GMs.

“I thought we were extraordinarily well prepared,” McPhee told The Hockey News this week. “We had worked hard at this all year long, so it’s almost like being a student. If you’ve worked hard all year long, the final exam, you should be able to handle it. There weren’t surprises.”

As for the other teams’ general managers learning from the pitfalls of the 2017 expansion draft? Don’t be so sure. Fifteen teams have changed their GMs since the Golden Knights put on a clinic at the 2017 expansion draft with a dizzying parade of side deals that helped them land foundational players such as Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch. In the four years since, GMs around the league have continued to live in the moment, chasing championships, signing players to lucrative deals. The devastating COVID-19 pandemic has also vaporized league revenues to the point the salary cap is expected to remain flat at $81.5 million. Translation: just as many teams are in financial distress now as there were in 2017, if not more, so we can expect just as many side deals. The Seattle Kraken’s position should be as advantageous as Vegas’ was, and that’s how the NHL wants it.

As Seattle bails teams out and eats heavy contracts in side deals, we could see a number of homecomings in moves separate from official expansion-draft selections when Seattle selects its team in late July. Maybe Washington state native Tyler Johnson arrives as part of a trade that includes the Tampa Bay Lightning retaining half his $5-million salary. We know B.C. boy Milan Lucic agreed to waive his no-movement clause, so maybe the Kraken claim him and the Calgary Flames compensate them handsomely.

As for the Kraken’s actual player selections? The parity in the cap era is accentuated by the flat cap, so we can expect Seattle to fashion itself a competitive roster. This mock draft includes a mixture of capable NHLers who can score, potential leaders, fan favorites who play a physical game and, of course, contracts without too much term left. It’s not a slam-dunk that Seattle replicates Vegas’ inaugural season, a.k.a. the greatest expansion team effort in major pro sports history. Expiring contracts can thus serve as escape hatches. Francis can flip them at next year’s deadline should the Kraken not find themselves in the hunt. This mock roster features only three players with more than two years left on their contracts.

Note that this mock roster chews up $69.26 million in cap space, leaving more than $12 million to play with. Some can be used to re-sign the selected RFAs, but the extra wiggle room also gives Seattle the flexibility to make side deals for bad contracts.

A quick refresher of the most important expansion draft rules, as worded by the NHL:

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.

And now, Mock Draft 2.0. Watch for a deep-dive on the rise of the Kraken franchise and an in-depth interview with McPhee on the 2017 expansion draft in our upcoming Draft Preview magazine

PROJECTED TEAM CAP HIT: $69.26M

FORWARDS (15)

Mason Appleton, Jets
Contract: $900K to 2022 (RFA)

Re-signing Adam Lowry might nudge Appleton out of the long-term picture. Productive in limited minutes.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Flyers
Contract: $1.08M to 2022 (RFA)

Fast and physical. Still some upside left at 24. Can bring energy to bottom six.

Kieffer Bellows, Islanders
Contract: 2021 RFA

Scoring upside remains for 2016 first-rounder. Buried on deep Isles team.

Tyler Benson, Oilers
Contract: 2021 RFA

A good AHL scorer who needs to play on a scoring line to make sense as an NHLer.

Dylan Gambrell, Sharks
Contract: 2021 RFA

May not have a ton of upside, but he’s a local guy, so it’s a sentimental pick.

Brett Howden, Rangers
Contract: 2021 RFA

Rangers deep enough at center that they don’t need him. He's blocked by Mika Zibanejad, Ryan Strome and Filip Chytil. Still a legit NHLer.

Ryan Johansen, Predators
Contract: $8M to 2025 (UFA)

Former Portland Winterhawk is somehow just 28. Can help power play. If Kraken take him, maybe Predators kick in a sweetener.

Andreas Johnsson, Devils
Contract: $3.4M to 2023 (UFA)

Still probably a top-six forward. Devils’ young guys, from Yegor Sharangovich to Michael McLeod, showed promise late in season and pushed Johnsson out.

Mathieu Joseph, Lightning 
Contract: $738K to 2022 (RFA)

Brings crash-and-bang on forecheck. Maybe a trade sends Tampa teammate Johnson there with him.

Alexander Kerfoot, Maple Leafs
Contract: $3.5M to 2023 (UFA)

Can play wing or center in any situation and brings good speed.

Jared McCann, Penguins
Contract: $2.94M to 2022 (RFA)

Pens will lose a good forward no matter what – one of McCann, Teddy Blueger, Brandon Tanev and Jason Zucker. McCann would be a steal.

T.J. Oshie, Capitals
Contract: $5.75M to 2025 (UFA)

Seattle-area boy comes home. Meet the first captain in Kraken history.

Eric Robinson, Blue Jackets 
Contract: $975K to 2022 (UFA)

Big, likes to hit, has a bit of scoring touch. An ideal fourth-liner.

Chris Tierney, Senators
Contract: $3.5M to 2022 (UFA)

Middle-six vet no longer big part of Sens’ future. Rental chip as a pending UFA.

Austin Wagner, Kings
Contract: $1.13M to 2023 (RFA)

See a pattern? Kraken checkers will be young, fast, and hard to play against.

DEFENSEMEN (11)

Calvin de Haan, Blackhawks 
Contract: $4.55M to 2022 (UFA)

Veteran leader sacrifices body. Rental trade chip if Kraken don’t contend in Year 1.

Christian Djoos, Red Wings
Contract: 2021 RFA

Opting for cheap organizational depth rather than adding a dead-weight contract.

Vince Dunn, Blues 
Contract: 2021 RFA

Seattle gets its promising puck-mover, but this pick could be wishful thinking. It's possible the Blues make a side deal to save Dunn or trade him before the expansion draft.

Ryan Graves, Avalanche
Contract: $3.17M to 2023 (UFA)

Erik Johnson can waive his move-movement clause and save…Devon Toews. Tough to see the Avs being able to protect Graves unless they choose an 8-1-1 scheme and leave a bunch of forwards dangling.

Radko Gudas, Panthers

Contract: $2.5M to 2023 (UFA)

Do Panthers keep him if Keith Yandle waives his NMC? If not, Gudas can join the Kraken and quickly become a fan favorite.

Oliver Kylington, Flames
Contract: 2021 RFA

One of Chris Tanev/Mark Giordano will have to be available since the Flames will use a 7-3-1 scheme, but Kraken go younger, cheaper here.

Jeremy Lauzon, Bruins
Contract: $850K to 2022 (RFA)

A good get. Found his footing as NHLer this season. Mobile but gets his nose dirty.

Colin Miller, Sabres
Contract: $3.88M to 2022 (UFA)

Did his best work playing insulated minutes with Vegas. Can lightning strike twice?

Kevin Shattenkirk, Ducks

Contract: $3.9M to 2023 (UFA)

Can work the power play, and contract is relatively tradeable down the road.

Brady Skjei, Hurricanes
Contract: $5.25M to 2024 UFA)

With his all-around game, Skjei likely becomes the de facto No. 1 D-man.

Carson Soucy, Wild
Contract: $2.75M to 2023 (UFA)

A big frame and a long reach and not a zero on offense. Third pair.

GOALTENDERS (4)

Jake Allen, Canadiens
Contract: $2.88M to 2023 (UFA)

Still feels like Allen has upside to be a stopgap starter or better for Kraken.

Adin Hill, Coyotes 
Contract: 2021 RFA

Played well as injury sub for two good goalies in Arizona. Legit competition for Allen.

Braden Holtby, Canucks
Contract: $4.3M to 2022 (UFA)

Experienced leadership and/or a potential trade chip on an expiring deal.

Anton Khudobin, Stars
Contract: $3.33 M to 2023 (UFA)

The prediction here is that the Kraken hoard a fourth goalie just to flip him in a trade before season. Maybe that's Khudobin.

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