The NHL will be getting a 32nd team for the 2021-22 season when the Seattle Kraken make their debut. With the NHL Expansion Draft just a few days away, we are going to take a look at what a potential Kraken roster might look like at the end of that expansion draft. Each team with the exception of the Vegas Golden Knights (who are exempt from the expansion draft this year) will lose one player unless they make some sort of trade with Seattle and give up additional assets. Though as we saw in the Vegas expansion draft, that might be a foolish approach for some teams.
With our expansion draft here we focussed on two things: Avoiding bad contracts to maintain long-term salary cap flexibility beyond this season, and expiring contracts and assets that could be used as trade chips later this season.
This is the roster we decided to pick given the protected lists from each of the NHL teams.
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The Ducks have some more established players that could be exposed (Adam Henrique, Kevin Shattenkirk) but their contracts are not something Seattle should want to tie themselves down to. Volkov is a pending restricted free agent, excelled in Tampa Bay’s farm system before being traded, and has yet to get a major opportunity to shine in the NHL. The talent is there and a bigger opportunity could lead to a breakout performance.
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Goalie Adin Hill was the original pick here, but with his trade to San Jose, he is no longer an option. Fischer has regressed in recent years and not really panned out as the Coyotes expected, but he could be a nice addition as a depth forward.
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One of Boston’s three first-round picks from the 2015 draft, Zboril has not really established himself as a full-time NHLer. He got his first real look during the 2020-21 season by appearing in 42 games and posting decent possession numbers in a bottom-pairing role. Ideally, he is probably a depth defenseman, but there is still some potential there.
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Jeff Skinner is the big name available in Buffalo, but his contract should scream “DO NOT TOUCH” in big, bold letters. Miller has not worked out in Buffalo but he has talent and decent underlying numbers and could be an option on defense.
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This might seem outrageous to think Giordano would be exposed, but he is going to be 38 years old, on an expiring contract, and the Flames have a bit of a protection crunch. Noah Hanifan, Rasmus Andersson, and Chris Tanev all figured to be protected on defense, and if they want to protect Giordano as a fourth defender they will have to leave three forwards they want to protect exposed, virtually guaranteeing they would lose Mikael Backlund, Dillon Dube, or Andrew Mangiapane. And frankly, that just would not make sense. So Giordano is the pick and becomes a very interesting trade asset for Seattle in its first season.
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Bean is a very talented young defenseman that could excel in a larger role. There are some tempting forwards to pick from with the Hurricanes (Nino Niederreiter, specifically) but the contracts may not be ideal. Bean is a restricted free agent and would help keep cap space available.
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The Blackhawks’ best young players are exempt, and once you get beyond the obvious protected players this just is not a very deep roster or organization to pick from. Carpenter will not be anything more than a fourth-line center, but there is not much to pick from here out of this group.
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This could easily be Valeri Nichushkin or Tyson Jost, but both players have cheaper/smaller contracts than Donskoi and every extra dollar of salary cap space will help. That could put them on the protected list over a player like Donskoi. The Avalanche have to deal with Gabriel Landeskog and Brandon Saad as pending unrestricted free agents, while superstar defenseman Cale Makar unsigned is a restricted free agent. Seattle would be crazy to pass on a player as good as Donskoi, while Colorado creates $4 million in salary-cap space in each of the next two seasons.
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There might be some temptation to take Max Domi here, but he is going to be sidelined for the start of the season, makes $5 million, and may not be that good. Pass on that. Kukan has shown flashes of being a quality NHL defender and would be decent depth to a team that does not have a lot of defense to pick from.
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This is a risk given the fact he is coming off surgery and missed the entire 2020-21 season. But it might be one worth taking. When he is healthy he is one of the best goalies in the NHL and goaltending could be a real strength for the Kraken. He had to waive his no-trade clause to be eligible.
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Seattle needs defense and Stecher is a solid, 4-6 defender that comes with a very cheap salary cap number. Not a game-changer by any means, but the type of player that will give 60 solid games before you flip him for a second-round draft pick at the trade deadline. He is the most intriguing of a thin group of Red Wings players to pick from.
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In terms of pure talent and potential impact taking a big swing on defenseman Oskar Klefbom (who will almost certainly be left unprotected) would be intriguing, but his contract (two more years at more than $4.3 million per season) and health (he has missed significant time throughout his career and just missed the entire 2020-21 season due to a shoulder injury) would be a substantial risk. So Seattle will have to pick over Edmonton’s scraps. A defenseman like Caleb Jones does not really do anything to warrant a spot, so Archibald might be an available option that Seattle could, again, dangle as a trade chip later on.
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Driedger is an unrestricted free agent but Seattle will have a 48-hour window to negotiate with pending UFA’s that are eligible for the expansion draft. Driedger will be one such player, and it would make a lot of sense to try and work out a deal. He would be the best goalie available and, assuming they took Khudobin from Dallas, would give Seattle a viable goaltending duo in its debut season. If Florida did not protect Anthony Duclair he would be an intriguing option here as well.
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There is not going to be a lot to pick from in Los Angeles unless you want to take a bad contract for an aging player (Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick) and Seattle should not be in the market for that. At all. Lizotte is a depth player that is still fairly young and a restricted free agent that should sign on the cheap.
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Matt Dumba was our original pick here, but Minnesota protected him, perhaps so it can trade him later this offseason. Kahkonen showed a lot of promise in his rookie season for the Wild and would be a really good addition to the Kraken goalie depth chart, especially if they take (as we suggest) Bishop from Dallas given his recent injury history.
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Montreal could have a couple of intriguing forward options available in Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron. But Drouin’s availability next season is not yet known (he stepped away from the Canadiens for personal reasons) and Byron’s contract is hefty for what he provides and his age. Kulak has strong possession numbers as a depth defenseman and could do well in a bigger role.
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The Predators protected only three forwards and five defensemen, leaving a lot of their big-money contracts (Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen) available. Seattle should not take that bait. Grimaldi is a cheap, but still productive forward that could be an interesting trade chip later in the season.
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For one year Subban becomes the face of the Seattle Kraken. Is he still an elite player? No. But he did have a little bit of a rebound in 2020-21 and can still be very productive. Just not $9 million against the cap productive.
He is far from a guarantee to be protected by the Devils, and while the price tag is significant it is only a one-year thing and comes off the books after Seattle’s first season. He could also be another attractive trade chip later in the year with Seattle having the ability to retain some of that cap hit in a trade.
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The Islanders protected Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck in an effort to keep their fourth line together. That means top-six forwards Jordan Eberle and Josh Bailey are available. It could be the Islanders’ plan to create more salary-cap space to go after a big offseason target. Eberle is still a really good player, and while he does have a sizable contract it is not unmovable should they need to trade him.
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The Rangers are loaded with young talent but their most significant pieces are all exempt, meaning they can protect even more of their top veterans. That leaves Seattle with a thin group to pick from. Blackwell could be a solid depth forward. Nothing terribly exciting here.
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Colin White could be an option, but given his contract, you need to be certain he is going to develop more than he has and score more than he has. That is far from a guarantee. Tierney is a solid middle-six forward that can help Seattle in the short-term, while also being an expiring contract that should have some potential trade value.
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Seattle has some intriguing options here with van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek, and Shayne Gostisbehere all available. van Riemsdyk is going to be our pick because he is a proven goal scorer and can still play at a pretty high level. His contract is also shorter than Voracek’s, which will be important to Seattle as it looks to build long-term.
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Forwards Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese could be options here, but for as good as they are as fourth-liners, they are still just that: Fourth liners. Pettersson isn’t a star by any means, and his contract is a little pricey at $4 million for another couple of years, but he is a fine second-pair defenseman. The Penguins could use the extra salary cap space so leaving him exposed could be a viable option to create that space.
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The Sharks expected available list is another one that looks like it should be on the thin side in terms of talent, but Donato could be a quietly solid pickup for a middle-six forward role. He should score close to 15 goals over an 82-game season and be a solid all-around player away from the puck. His underlying numbers are strong, and with a bigger role, he might still have a little more to give offensively.
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Now we get interesting. The Blues did not protect Tarasenko after he requested a trade earlier this offseason. The Blues now run the risk of losing their former franchise player for nothing. Seattle should jump at this. Injuries have limited Tarasenko the past two years, and his actual salary is higher than his salary cap hit (which could be a problem for some owners this year), but he is still an impact player when healthy. He could be an immediate star for the Kraken and also be a valuable trade chip if needed.
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Whether they protect seven forwards and three defenders or four forwards and four defenders the Lightning are going to lose a really good player. That is just the price of having one of the best and deepest teams in the league. Gourde has a significant contract ($5 million per year for another four years and he does turn 30 next season, but he is also a really good player. Well worth the pick and instantly one of Seattle’s top players.
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The Maple Leafs just acquired McCann from the Pittsburgh Penguins (who were probably not going to protect him) and could risk losing him for nothing right away. McCann has a great shot, can play center and wing and has 25 goal ability. He is also cheap for this season. This should be an easy pick for Seattle.
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Assuming Vancouver doesn’t do anything outrageous here and leave a core player exposed, this figures to be the worst list for Seattle to pick from.
Vancouver’s organization is simply lacking in quality depth, and its best players are either going to be protected or are exempt.
This does, however, seem like a really strong trade possibility. Why? Vancouver has a ton of contracts it should want to get rid of and, quite frankly, needs to get rid of so it can re-sign core players Elias Pettersson or Quinn Hughes. Could Seattle use this as an opportunity to acquire somebody like J.T. Miller? Or take on a bad contract like Jay Beagle, or Loui Eriksson, or Michael Ferland in return for also getting a draft pick or another top prospect? That is what I would be exploring if I am Seattle.
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We initially had Daniel Sprong going from the Capitals, but Washington decided to protect him. So we will pick Carl Hagelin, a speedy, defensive specialist at forward that can not only contribute in a defensive and penalty-killing role but also perhaps be a trade chip.
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Mason Appleton is an intriguing option here, but DeMelo is going to be our pick because he is a very solid veteran defenseman that can immediately step in and play a top-four role. It is a little surprising to see the Jets expose him instead of, say, Logan Stanley, but that is the decision they made and Seattle should be happy about it.