The Seattle Kraken have a heck of an act to follow.
The Vegas Golden Knights — the NHL’s most recent expansion team before the soon-to-debut Kraken — flipped the struggling expansion team trope on its head when they hit the ice in 2017. Vegas famously went to the Stanley Cup Final in its first season, and the team has appeared in the conference finals in three of its first four years.
Some of that was a favorable expansion draft format, of which Seattle could see the same benefit; some of its success, though, was in how Vegas approached its rival clubs: using those teams’ fears of losing their unprotected players to its advantage in pre-draft trades.
Seattle can learn lessons from how Vegas built its team, in the expansion draft and through trades and the entry draft. It has an advantage of a blueprint that no other modern major sports team in North America has had in decades.
The best-case scenario for Seattle is achieving a core through a successful expansion draft. Vegas selected starting goalie and future Vezina Trophy winner Marc-André Fleury, surprising standout Jonathan Marchessault, key defender Brayden McNabb and critical forward William Karlsson, among their other players.
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Seattle will pick one player from each team — except the Golden Knights — for 30 players total, including at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies. At least 20 of the players must be under contract for the 2021-22 regular season, and the players’ collective contract value must be between 60 and 100 percent of last season’s upper salary cap limit.
Those 30 teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie from the draft — or eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie — and the players they expose must meet contract and playing time specifications.1 Teams must submit their protected lists by Saturday, ahead of the July 21 draft, so we don’t yet know exactly who teams will protect. But we can still make projections, and based on depth across the league, it seems certain that the Kraken will have plenty of right-handed defensemen at their disposal.
Boston’s Connor Clifton is one of those right-handed D-men, and he’s likely to be left unprotected. Seattle could go with the younger Bruin in Jérémy Lauzon, but he struggled when given more time, while Clifton has been relied upon in multiple high-leverage playoff games. New Jersey’s P.K. Subban is another righty defenseman who could be enticing for Seattle. The Devils would love to get rid of Subban’s contract, and he could be a face of the franchise for the new Kraken.
For forwards, Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk costs a lot, which is why he would be unprotected in the first place. But he has only two years left on his deal, and his proven track record asa heck of a scorer would be a welcome addition to a nascent, unproven franchise. Nashville’s Calle Järnkrok is also a consistent double-digit goal scorer and a good penalty killer and costs just $2 million on the cap.
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And for goalies, Arizona’s Adin Hill and Montreal’s Jake Allen seem likely targets. The Coyotes don’t have a ton to offer there, and the Kraken already work as a potential broker for goalies to other teams. There are a few options with the Canadiens, but assuming Seattle doesn’t want to take on Jonathan Drouin’s deal and Philip Danault’s contract works out, Allen is a suitable pick.
Seattle may also be able to feast on the league’s best teams: The Avalanche, for example, are so good that they can’t protect everyone they will want to. A smart pick for the Kraken could be Colorado’s Ryan Graves, who still has two years left on his contract at $3.16 million per year — an incredible bargain for a productive defenseman.
Tampa Bay, too, has more strong players than it can possibly protect. The Lightning may yet deal defenseman Erik Černák so they don’t lose him for nothing; if they do, defenseman Cal Foote could still be a strong option for Seattle. Center Tyler Johnson is from Washington, and the Lightning would love to get him off their hands if it protects others. They may end up protecting eight skaters to keep center Yanni Gourde safe.
So what could the Kraken end up looking like? Under the $81.5 million flat cap, here’s a solid team Seattle could build. It has the required 20 players under 2021-22 contracts and carries a current cap hit of $62.7 million, with room to make deals.
|Player||Current team||2021-22 cap hit|
|James van Riemsdyk||Philadelphia Flyers||$7,000,000|
|Adam Henrique||Anaheim Ducks||5,825,000|
|Jared McCann||Pittsburgh Penguins||2,940,000|
|Calle Järnkrok||Nashville Predators||2,000,000|
|Garnet Hathaway||Washington Capitals||1,500,000|
|Eric Robinson||Columbus Blue Jackets||975,000|
|Mason Appleton||Winnipeg Jets||900,000|
|Joel L’Esperance||Dallas Stars||725,000|
|Vitaly Abramov||Ottawa Senators||—|
|Tyler Benson||Edmonton Oilers||—|
|Kieffer Bellows||New York Islanders||—|
|Ryan Donato||San Jose Sharks||—|
|Adam Gaudette||Chicago Blackhawks||—|
|Julien Gauthier||New York Rangers||—|
|Player||Current team||2021-22 cap hit|
|P.K. Subban||New Jersey Devils||$9,000,000|
|Mark Giordano||Calgary Flames||6,750,000|
|Colin Miller||Buffalo Sabres||3,875,000|
|Ryan Graves||Colorado Avalanche||3,166,667|
|Erik Cernak||Tampa Bay Lightning||2,950,000|
|Radko Gudas||Florida Panthers||2,500,000|
|Justin Holl||Toronto Maple Leafs||2,000,000|
|Troy Stecher||Detroit Red Wings||1,700,000|
|Connor Clifton||Boston Bruins||1,000,000|
|Jake Bean||Carolina Hurricanes||—|
|Kale Clague||Los Angeles Kings||—|
|Vince Dunn||St. Louis Blues||—|
|Player||Current team||2021-22 cap hit|
|Braden Holtby||Vancouver Canucks||$4,300,000|
|Jake Allen||Montreal Canadiens||2,875,000|
|Kaapo Kähkönen||Minnesota Wild||725,000|
|Adin Hill||Arizona Coyotes||—|
This roster construction includes assumptions that Seattle can be a broker for the goaltending market and the one for defenders as well. It does not make any assumptions about potential deals made by other teams before the expansion draft. (For instance, the Wild shook things up this week with buyouts of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, which gave them room to potentially protect defender Matt Dumba and forward Jordan Greenway.)
But in the trade market, Seattle can again take a page out of Vegas’s book. The Golden Knights took on bad contracts for picks and used those assets to build a strong team. They got extra first-rounders in the 2017 NHL draft from the Blue Jackets — for taking the contracts of Karlsson and David Clarkson — and from the Islanders for taking Mikhail Grabovski. They traded the Columbus first-round pick to Winnipeg for Chris Thorburn’s contract, and they turned their two acquired first-rounders into Nick Suzuki and Erik Brännström, whom they later flipped for core members of their squad: Suzuki went to Montreal in a 2018 deal for Max Pacioretty; Brännström went to Ottawa in a 2019 trade that brought them Mark Stone.
If the Kraken end up with a glut of right defensemen, they could have a trade partner in the Bruins. One of Boston’s forwards, Jake DeBrusk, could use a change of scenery but is likely too valuable to leave unprotected. Perhaps the Kraken will trade one of the many right defenders they’re likely to get for a left-winger.
The most intriguing possibility here is being a goalie broker for a team that needs one, like San Jose. The Sharks could trade for a goalie the Kraken end up with, perhaps making a side deal.
Teams may have learned from the Vegas expansion and may not choose to give up picks just to offload their bad contracts. Or perhaps in a year with a relatively weak draft, they won’t mind as much. If Seattle can work those picks for future deals like the Golden Knights did, they may soon find themselves in a position similar to Vegas’s in 2018.