There was no way to completely trade your way out of trouble with these expansion-draft rules. That’s why Ron Francis remained so upbeat even after watching a flurry of transactions designed to limit options for his Seattle Kraken.
“We certainly think there’s going to be some good players available,” said Francis.
When the anxious wait ended Sunday morning with the NHL’s protection list release, Francis and his staff found themselves with a group of potential players that included former all-stars, current team captains and promising young pros.
They also had more big names with contracts to match available than the Vegas Golden Knights saw during their expansion draft process in 2017. Chalk that up to a tight-money, flat-cap environment and the fresh memory of mistakes made four years earlier.
The fundamental question now facing the Kraken before submitting their final expansion selections on Wednesday morning is how many big contracts to take on. Francis has the green light from ownership to spend to the $81.5-million cap — and must select players making at least $48.9-million in this draft — but protecting available space is an advantage they can maintain over most of the league for months and years to come.
“The one thing we think is extremely, extremely important in this environment is cap space,” said Francis.
There will be some tricky calls.
Here’s a look at the 10 most intriguing players left unprotected for the Seattle expansion draft:
Contract status: Five years at $10.5-million AAV, including an $11-million signing bonus due in September.
CJ’s take: In the words of a rival executive, “The Price thing is shocking.” Indeed. We can easily identify the fundamental drivers behind the decision — namely, Price’s deep connections to Washington State and the fact that his contract is already placing a drag on the Canadiens’ cap situation — but that doesn’t lessen the seismic nature of this development. Price waived a no-movement clause for expansion less than two weeks after playing in the Stanley Cup Final, which guaranteed that Jake Allen would remain in Montreal. It’s hard to imagine Seattle now passing on the chance to make Price the first face of its franchise.
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent.
CJ’s take: Landeskog’s future in Colorado is murky at best. By exposing him in expansion, the talent-rich Avalanche were able to protect an extra skater. But it also gave Seattle the green light to engage in negotiations with their captain during an exclusive 72-hour window that opened Sunday morning. All things being equal, Landeskog would love to remain with the only NHL team he’s ever played for. However, negotiations haven’t been smooth, and now he’ll get the opportunity to start imagining what life might look like elsewhere.
Contract status: Two years at $7.5-million AAV.
CJ’s take: There was trade interest in the five-time 30-goal man leading up to the expansion draft, which underscores his value as an asset should Seattle choose to select him. He could be slotted directly on the Kraken’s top line or be flipped elsewhere for futures. Tarasenko is looking for a change of scenery and has some big question marks after three shoulder operations, but only having two years remaining on his contract should mitigate concerns somewhat.
Contract status: Four years at $8-million AAV.
CJ’s take: The cost here might be too much for Seattle to stomach, especially with so much other big-money talent available. But it’s intriguing that Nashville exposed both Johansen and Matt Duchene (five more years at $8 million) while protecting five defencemen (Carrier/Ekholm/Fabbro/Josi/Myers). Johansen’s production has been heading in the wrong direction the last couple of seasons, but he’s still a big, experienced centre with ties to the region after growing up in Vancouver.
Contract status: Four years at $5.167-million AAV.
CJ’s take: The Tampa Bay Lightning simply had too many good players to protect after winning the Stanley Cup twice in 10 months. Gourde was one of the heartbeat players during those runs, centring a highly effective checking line with Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow and chipping in with some big goals along the way. Julien BriseBois elected to go with the 4-4-1 protection strategy — keeping his top-four intact on the blue-line — leaving Seattle to choose between Gourde, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, Mathieu Joseph and Ross Colton. The only problem for the Kraken is they’re only allowed to take one of them.
Contract status: One year at $2.94-million AAV.
CJ’s take: This was an interesting call since the Leafs acquired McCann in a Saturday afternoon trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins and then immediately exposed him in the expansion draft. It could be a sign that Kyle Dubas already has a trade worked out with Francis regarding Toronto’s selection or perhaps McCann amounted to expansion insurance because it guaranteed that at least one of he or Alexander Kerfoot would remain with the Leafs entering next season. McCann is coming off his most productive NHL season and brings middle-of-the-lineup versatility. It’s hard to imagine the Leafs wanting to lose him.
Contract status: One year at $5.3-million AAV.
CJ’s take: The Columbus Blue Jackets are retooling and haven’t left Seattle with any more appealing choice than Domi. He’s coming off a difficult season, but has a long track record of NHL production and is capable of playing both wing and centre. As an added bonus, Domi is one year away from unrestricted free agency — making him a potential asset to be flipped at the 2022 trade deadline.
Contract status: Restricted free agent.
CJ’s take: Carolina aggressively sought to make a deal in recent weeks that would alleviate its expansion-protection issues, but couldn’t find the right fit. Now the Hurricanes are at risk of losing Bean for nothing after his first full NHL season. He was selected 13th overall in the 2016 draft — when Francis sat at the head of Carolina’s draft table. Bean is a young, cost-controlled asset with his best years still ahead of him.
Contract status: Three years at $3-million AAV.
CJ’s take: Players with DeMelo’s attributes are always in high demand. He’s a sneaky, effective, right-shot defenceman signed to a reasonable contract. Those qualities should make him appealing to the Kraken as a trade asset even if he doesn’t slot directly into their own plans. The Winnipeg Jets certainly don’t want to see him go, but found themselves getting squeezed with Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk and 23-year-old Logan Stanley also in need of protection among their defencemen.
Contract status: One year at $6.75-million AAV.
CJ’s take: Even if this wasn’t a major surprise, it could start a wave of change in Calgary. Giordano is closing in on 1,000 career games with the franchise and has served as captain since Jarome Iginla left town. From a roster-management standpoint, it was an easy choice to protect Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson and Chris Tanev because of where they are in their careers, but viewed through a team-culture lens it was more difficult to leave Giordano exposed. He’d be a great mentor for the Kraken to start their team with.
Honourable mentions: Nino Neiderreiter, James van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek, Jason Zucker, Adam Henrique, Andreas Johnson, Brenden Dillon, Jonathan Quick.