The time is almost upon us – NHL fans will get their first look at the Seattle Kraken’s roster tomorrow evening. It’s been a long road for the league navigating the pandemic throughout the previous 18 months. Billions in lost revenue, daily testing, a playoff bubble, helmet sponsorships and frequent logistical nightmares culminated in two Lightning Stanley Cups and the promise of a flat-cap market for the foreseeable future. Sounds like shit.
The Kraken’s $650 million price tag will be at least some sort of consolation for NHL owners (and an incentive for more expansion sooner rather than later?), and is a nice commentary on the general health of the league despite the pandemic. People want to own hockey teams – badly, and that is good for all of us.
After the success of the Golden Knights in their inaugural season, hockey pundits have taken it upon themselves to cry about the fairness of the expansion rules for years – with no signs of shutting up. Are these rules fair? Should it be possible for an expansion team to even make the playoffs in their first year?
People who peddle in these types of questions and narratives are just simply not looking at recent expansion through the correct lens. Off the ice, there’s very few things that need to be, or ever are, “fair”. It’s a question of incentive, not “fairness”. It is objectivity versus subjectivity. And the fact is that there is not much incentive for a prospective ownership group to toss the league half a billion dollars to field a garbage team in a league that relies heavily on driving gate revenue for a such a large portion of their revenue. Especially if you’re doing the league and game a favor by doing so in a non-traditional market, like Vegas did.
That’s where we find one of the biggest differences between this expansion draft, and the last: the market. Vegas being able to at least compete in it’s inaugural season was extremely important for the league from several perspectives. It gave the league a leg-up and a first-mover status in a market that has yet to be fully realized by major sports, showed future prospective owners what the league can do for you, and helped the sport itself gain traction in a non-traditional market – absolutely vital for the growth of the game in unsaturated marketplaces.
Herein lies the major difference I expect to see tomorrow evening – I’m not convinced Seattle is going to try and replicate the Golden Knights’ success in 2022 by swinging for the fences tomorrow night or by plowing through their young assets for a run next year. Seattle could already be considered a “hockey market” with plenty of exposure to the sport, spanning back over a century when the Seattle Metropolitans won a Stanley Cup in 1917. This is a market that will afford the franchise the time to really build from “scratch” through the draft, with some nice pieces off the start. Something Ron Francis did in Carolina. While I expect them to bring on some veteran pieces, most of those pieces will be trade bait.
Timing can be everything – when Vegas joined the league for the 2017 Entry Draft, they joined at the right time. The 2017 Draft was extremely deep, allowing Vegas to snag 3 top prospects in the top-15 that have all now been flipped for Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone and Nolan Patrick. While Seattle has the 2nd overall selection this year, the 2021 Entry Draft has long been touted as a “weaker” draft, with no clear superstars available and a steep drop-off in talent after 10 (according to many scouts and analysts). So while we can expect Ron Francis to work his magic and acquire at least another first rounder this year, the quality of the prospect probably will not afford him trade bait worth a Mark Stone, as a Brannstrom did at 15th overall in 2017. We can also take in to account the difficulty teams have had truly evaluating this year’s crop of prospects during the pandemic, and flipping these pieces with the same returns that Vegas did becomes even less likely.
Not to worry, though – the 2022 and 2023 Drafts are right around the corner, accentuated by a boatload of highly-touted prospects such as Shane Wright, Brad Lambert, Connor Bedard, Matvei Michkov, Seamus Casey, and Matthew Savoie among others. If there was ever a time to hold back and load up for a franchise-altering rebuild, it will be over the next two years. Francis has already shown his track record and success building through the draft, and for that reason, I do not expect the Kraken to be a playoff team next year – and that’s with a purpose.
Keeping all of this in mind, as well as the fact that deals will happen that we cannot foresee, I give you my Seattle Kraken expansion draft list. There are sure-things, like the Mark Giordano selection – it will be too easy for them to flip him for a first at the deadline, or even this off-season with some salary retention. There are also chaotic predictions, like them utilizing their cap space to take one of the league’s ugliest contracts off the books for a massive return. There are also unknowns, like, who the hell would they want from the San Jose Sharks, anyway? There has been a lot of talk surrounding the possibility of a Carey Price selection, but it is not going to happen. While the story of him returning to the West Coast is poetic, this is a future hall-of-famer with an untradeable contract and potential up-coming surgery. If they wanted to fight for the playoffs next year, they might bite. But for all intents and purposes and what we’ve just discussed, I don’t see them going that way. I believe Francis will devote many of his picks to young and relatively unproven talent in order to set the stage for a true build over the next several years.
Seattle Kraken Selections:
Anaheim – F Adam Henrique: In an expansion draft with much more depth on the blueline than up front – players like Henrique will be an important piece for Seattle’s roster to solidify some veteran experience and provide them with potential trade pieces going forward. He provides all of that and more, with a decent cap hit to stay above the floor going forward.
Arizona – F Michael Bunting: My first instinct was Niklas Hjalmarsson but let’s be real – coming in to an off-season with all the uncertainty surrounding life as a professional athlete in a post-COVID environment (including a flat-cap market, among other things), a 34 year old free agent is going to opt for longer term security and that’s not something I see Seattle handing to him. Michael Bunting provides a serviceable, young addition to the wing who has shown scoring proficiency at the OHL and AHL levels and is beginning to develop a nice NHL track record.
Boston – D Jeremy Lauzon: He fits the bill as a depth defenseman with not a lot tied into him.
Buffalo: – F Jeff Skinner: This is a major wildcard, but we need a little chaos. With ties to the Hurricanes organization and Jason Botterill, it seems like a natural fit – but that’s not why I’m convinced this makes sense. This is the perfect opportunity for Seattle to flex their cap space and take this monstrous contract off of Buffalo’s hands for a hefty return. What that return might entail is yet to be seen, but the Kraken need to hit the cap floor and Buffalo needs to get this contract off the books. I say Buffalo bites and pays Seattle for the favour in a major way. A 2022 1st round selection might be a bit rich of a return from a bottom-feeder team, but let’s see how desperate the Sabres are to shed this contract.
Calgary – D Mark Giordano: The veteran captain on the last year of his deal – this makes too much sense for Seattle. Take him, run him out for 20 minutes a night and flip him at next year’s trade deadline for a first round pick. Tidy work. Cue Calgary’s rebuild and more ice time for up-and-comers like Valimaki and Kylington.
Carolina – D Jake Bean: I’ve seen plenty of pundits choosing Niederreiter in this spot, for the same reason I chose Giordano above. He’s a nice piece, but with 23 year old Jake Bean sitting there, that’s where Seattle will go. You need good, young, developing guys to set yourself up for success. These picks can’t all be veterans with one more year on their current deals.
Chicago – F Brett Connolly: Nothing too complicated here given what’s available. Connolly provides a nice, steady presence on the wing with a reasonable cap hit for a couple more seasons.
Colorado – F J.T. Compher: Coin flip. Donskoi or Compher? I went Compher.
Columbus – D Gabriel Carlsson: Carlsson has shown flashes of a steady defensive game. A middling depth piece. The ship may have sailed on Domi.
Dallas – G Ben Bishop: Ben Bishop is a nice veteran presence in the blue paint and only has two years left on his deal. There’s injury concerns but this isn’t a high risk move anyway.
Detroit – D Troy Stetcher: Did you see that feed at the World Championships? Oof – sign me up.
Edmonton – F Jujar Khaira: Would be nice if you didn’t have to pick from every team. Edmonton’s exposed list looks bleak, but Khaira makes a nice depth choice. He’ll look good in the bottom six.
Florida – G Chris Driedger: I tweeted it months ago and I stand by it. Driedger is a fantastic, young goalie who won’t be very expensive, even given what he’s shown he can provide. I expect a deal with decent term and for him to be their #1 goalie on opening night.
Los Angeles – D Kale Clague: Kale Clague was once considered the Kings’ top defensive prospect. He hasn’t put it all together yet but there is still a ton of potential.
Minnesota – D Carson Soucy: Given what Minnesota just did with Suter and Parise, I can’t picture any universe in which Guerin doesn’t have a deal lined up with Seattle to not take Kahkonen. You can’t lose a goalie who is that good and that young for nothing. With that assumption in mind, I went for the decent young defenseman.
Montreal – F Paul Byron: Most people outside of Montreal don’t appreciate what Paul Byron is or what he can do. You got a glimpse of it during this year’s playoff run. Makes a great, veteran presence on the wing who will kill penalties and burn guys with his speed. People want to cling to the recency bias of seeing Fleury flourish in Vegas on their way to a Finals appearance in Year 1, but as I’ve been alluding to, I don’t see Seattle trying to duplicate that success. Carey Price simply does not make sense as a selection here.
Nashville – F Yakov Trenin: A nice, steady development of his two-way game with the potential for more offense makes Yakov Trenin the intriguing pick here.
New Jersey – F Nick Merkely: High offensive potential that hasn’t had a chance to be realized yet in the big leagues. I think there’s a chance New Jersey offers a deal for Seattle to avoid him, but if not, he’ll be given every opportunity on the Kraken wing.
New York Islanders – F Jordan Eberle: Eberle is the only choice here for me. Either as a long-term staple of the franchise or a trade piece down the line.
New York Rangers – F Julien Gauthier: More slim pickings. Make it Julien Gauthier.
Ottawa – F Vitaly Abramov: Abramov is an interesting selection here. The diminutive winger has oozed offense everywhere he’s gone but hasn’t had a legitimate shot yet at the NHL level.
Philadelphia – D Shayne Gostisbehere: Gostisbehere is an interesting selection – he has a track record but something has been off in Philadelphia. A fresh start could really revitalize him and pay dividends for Seattle.
Pittsburgh – F Zach Aston-Reese: Aston-Reese is a player coaches love and he can contribute anywhere on the ice.
San Jose – F Jayden Halbgewachs: There’s a modicum of potential here with Jayden Halbgewachs, but we’re really throwing darts here to get to the minimum 2021-22 contracts.
St. Louis – D Vince Dunn: Yes, Tarasenko requested a trade, but the Blues aren’t going to let him walk for nothing. I expect they throw something Seattle’s way to avoid him and the Kraken happily select Vince Dunn. Tarasenko’s shoulders remain a concern.
Tampa Bay – F Yanni Gourde: This pick could go a number of different directions. A lot of players available with Stanley Cup experience – it’s hard to go wrong. Center is still your most important position and Gourde looks like the most likely choice.
Toronto – F Jared McCann: Toronto traded some pocket change for McCann in a transitory deal to ensure they don’t go -1 at center. Dermott makes an interesting option here as well but McCann is simply the best player available from the Maple Leafs’ list.
Vancouver – F Kole Lind: Canucks fans like him, and why shouldn’t they? A nice up-and-comer, Seattle needs RWs and Lind is only getting better.
Washington – G Vitek Vanecek: You need 3 goalies and Vanecek got his feet more than wet this year. If Bishop stays healthy we’ll see them compete for a spot behind Driedger.
Winnipeg – F Mason Appleton: DeMelo is a strong candidate here but Seattle (with the above-picks) has more than enough NHL talent for their blueline. Mason Appleton hasn’t had much of a shot behind a deep lineup in Winnipeg but he is a very intriguing player with some sneaky offensive upside – an ability to play center also doesn’t hurt.
This leaves Ron Francis with about $16.6 million and change to re-sign RFA’s/play with, and plenty of money coming off the books over the next two summers. The average age of the roster is roughly 26 – or 25, if we don’t include Giordano and Bishop who are locks to be gone in short order.
We aren’t going to see Golden Knights’ 2.0, but Krackheads will be salivating at their system after 2023.
Sit back and enjoy the rest of the week – things are going to get interesting.