While a tight-checking, tense final four takes center stage, the rest of the league bides its time.
“We’re just sitting here waiting to find out about expansion,” said Wellesley-based agent Matt Keator, who reps a range of clients from Zdeno Chara to Oliver Wahlstrom. “Everything’s on hold. The whole market resets itself after the expansion draft. All of a sudden, rosters have changed, teams that lose a defenseman, it changes everything.”
Teams are deciding who to protect from Seattle, which reveals its picks July 21. There should be plenty of player movement, as teams try to hold onto players they’ll have no choice but to expose. However, general managers likely have learned their lessons from the 2017 Vegas draft, where Golden Knights GM George McPhee was able to score Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch, and Reilly Smith — key pieces of a year-one Stanley Cup finalist — with side deals before the expansion draft.
“People are going to be less fooled,” Keator said. “More accepting of just losing a player as part of the deal.”
Expect a flurry of free agent activity after the draft, since teams do not have to protect their unrestricted free agents. If signed, they could take up a protection slot. The Capitals, in theory, could risk losing Alex Ovechkin to Seattle. But it’s far, far more likely they re-sign him before July 28, when free agency opens leaguewide.
After sorting through the players teams must protect (anyone with a no-movement clause), will likely protect, and those who are exempt (for simplicity’s sake: most rookies and prospects), we assess the Kraken’s potential options from each of the 30 rosters (Vegas is exempt).
A quick expansion primer:
Teams must submit their protected lists — seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie, or eight skaters and a goalie — by July 17. Seattle will have rights to negotiate with unrestricted free agents from July 18-21. If they sign a UFA, that becomes their pick from the player’s former team.
Contract data via CapFriendly, stats via Hockey-Reference, Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com:
The Ducks watched Theodore develop into a No. 1-caliber guy in Vegas, after dealing him in 2017 to keep the Knights from taking Josh Manson or Sami Vatanen (now with Dallas). Would GM Bob Murray leave Manson unprotected this time around? Solid defender, Manson, but one with a $4.1 million ticket, advancing age (29), and recent injury history. If available, Sam Steel is a solid choice.
Unless Christian Fischer or another goalie excites them, an obvious play would be to grab RFA netminder Adin Hill, 25. Their main expansion concern is Seattle booting them to the Central, which will make them strangers to four teams (Vegas, Anaheim, LA, San Jose) that are geographically nearer than their closest Central rival (Colorado). Dallas no longer has the worst travel in the league.
None of the forwards — Nick Ritchie (RFA) and Trent Frederic potentially among them — would be a more appealing option than third-pair defensemen Connor Clifton (right shot, mobile, two years left at $1 million per) or Jeremy Lauzon (physical penalty killer on an entry-level deal). Jakub Zboril, if Seattle is looking for low-cost offense from the back end, could be worth a swing.
Assuming Kevyn Adams doesn’t trade Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Rasmus Ristolainen, the Sabres’ unprotected lot could include hard-nosed defensemen Will Borgen and hard-shooting Colin Miller (The Bruins’ contribution to Vegas’s Class of ’17), or forward Rasmus Asplund.
Interesting call here, assuming the Flames lock down Chris Tanev along with Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson: would Seattle bite on captain Mark Giordano, about to turn 38 with one year left at $6.75 million? Oliver Kylington (24, RFA, sub-$800K hit) could be a better financial take for the Kraken.
Seems the Kraken could get a nice depth piece here, be it forwards Morgan Geekie or Warren Foegele or defenseman Jake Bean (all RFAs). That’s if GM Ron Francis doesn’t fancy a reunion with UFA Dougie Hamilton, the biggest fish on the free agent market.
Hard to believe the Blackhawks will let a high-potential prospect like Henrik Borgström go after trading for him. If he takes up a forward slot, potential Seattle picks include Northeastern product Adam Gaudette, David Kampf, defenseman Calvin de Haan (despite his $4.45 million cap hit), or netminder Malcolm Subban.
Some strong options from a loaded Avalanche roster, including big defenseman Ryan Graves, who has a Brandon Carlo-like game and cap hit (with two years left at $3.17 million). Then there’s perennially underrated winger Joonas Donskoi, who would bring a lot of transition game and secondary power-play production for the next two years at $3.9 million.
No star power here, but third-pair defenseman Dean Kukan, who has one year left at $1.65 milllion, and fourth-liner Eric Robinson are solid pieces.
If the Kraken haven’t snatched a goalie, why not bring Anton Khudobin “home” (hey, Siberia is a little closer to the Pacific Northwest than North Texas). If they have no need, perhaps forward Jason Dickinson would shine in an elevated role. This assumes the Stars have protected Radek Faksa and Denis Gurianov.
Two expiring veteran contracts Francis could flip at next year’s deadline: puck-moving defenseman Troy Stecher ($1.7 million), who had an excellent turn at the World Championships for Canada, or winger Vlad Namestnikov ($2 million).
Depending on how Francis has filled out his D, 24-year-old Caleb Jones might be primed for a bounce-back season. If there’s money available and Oscar Klefbom (shoulder) is healthy, would that be too much of a risk?
Chris Dreidger (UFA) is arguably the best netminder on the free agent market. Speedy forward Anthony Duclair could drop right into the top six. A lot of teams would have time for grinder Ryan Lomberg, who opened eyes in the playoffs.
Not a lot to offer here, though Dustin Brown ($5.875 million AAV), soon to be 37, would fill the leadership void and give Seattle a potential rental trade chip next season. Austin Wagner, who flies around without finishing, is redundant in a lineup with Andreas Athanasiou. Or, tweener D-man Kale Clague could be the value pick.
The Wild have to protect three D with no-move clauses (Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Ryan Suter). If Matt Dumba is available, this is a layup; he instantly becomes the No. 1 D, and face of the franchise. However, goalie Cam Talbot, who has two years left on a $3.66 million cap hit, had a formidable season.
Would a fresh start do Jonathan Drouin good? The bet here is yes. Gritty forward Paul Byron or defenseman Ben Chiarot would likely be exposed. Jake Allen could be had if goaltending is a need.
Energetic forwards Viktor Arvidsson, Calle Jarnkrok, and Yakov Trenin are annoying to play against and would likely be open for business. Always thinking big, GM David Poile could add a first-rounder to convince Francis to take one of his $8 million men (Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen).
The Kraken surely could get P.K. Subban if the Devils retained some of his $9 million cap hit. Fellow blueliner Ryan Murray, also diminished by injury, still has game. Francis might bet on the potential of 2016 first-rounder (12th overall) Michael McLeod, who scored nine even-strength goals in a depth role.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Rather than negotiate with a veteran UFA — the line of Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck, or Kyle Palmieri — a prospect like Kieffer Bellows or Otto Koivula could be the move. Nick Leddy, though expensive (one year left at $5.5 million) would boost the back end.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Bet on an inexpensive, useful forward from Eastern Mass. heading west. Canton’s Kevin Rooney or North Andover’s Colin Blackwell.
The Kraken should take Chris Tierney, who can play just about any middle-six role and costs $3.5 million. Seattle would get more goals out of Evgenii Dadonov, if they don’t mind that his $5 million cap hit carries a $6.5 million salary.
Some name recognition, with James van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek, and Shayne Gostisbehere potentially available. Justin Braun or Robert Hägg would strengthen the back end.
Looks like Seattle will take a valuable forward; either Teddy Blueger, pesky Brandon Tanev, or Jason Zucker. The Penguins would love it if Seattle took defenders Mike Matheson or Marcus Pettersson (on the books for a combined $9 million), but that seems unlikely.
Vince Dunn (RFA) would be a quality puck-moving pickup. Defender Marco Scandella or forwards Zach Sanford, Ivan Barbashev, or Sammy Blais would not be off-the-board choices.
Ryan Donato (RFA) has bounced around, but Seattle might give him the power-play time he didn’t get in San Jose.
If the Lightning protect their top four defensemen, some attractive forwards would be exposed: Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Yanni Gourde. Ross Colton’s emergence puts him on the Kraken’s radar.
Travis Dermott (RFA) looks like a sure Kraken, unless Francis and Co. think there’s more in Alex Kerfoot’s game to match his $3.5 million hit (or want to bring a Vancouver product closer to home).
Rivalry pick alert. Goaltender Braden Holtby, anyone? Two years of sub-.900 save percentages won’t work in his favor. Maybe Seattle becomes the team that unlocks forward Jake Virtanen. More likely: depth forward Zack MacEwen or defensemen Madison Bowey.
The comfort level would be high with rugged blueliner Brenden Dillon (a WHL Seattle alum), but forwards Daniel Sprong, Nic Dowd, or Melrose’s Conor Sheary could be left open.
Power forward Mason Appleton brings a lot for a player making $900,000. Or, should the Jets protect Dylan DeMelo as their third defenseman, the Kraken could grab 6-foot-7-inch defenseman Logan Stanley, who found his goal-scoring touch in the playoffs.
Jack for all trades?
Best fit for Eichel seems to be Rangers
Jack Eichel remains a Sabre for now, with the Rangers remaining the best apparent fit (prospects galore, a dire need for a star center, a team that’s close to contending). There are other contenders, though. Five off-Broadway fits for an Eichel deal:
Minnesota: Bill Guerin’s roster needs a No. 1 C, but it’s hard to see him willfully parting ways with RFA Joel Eriksson Ek. Matt Dumba and prospect Matthew Boldy would have to be part of the mix here, as well as the Wild’s two first-rounders (21st, 25th). Not sure the Wild have enough on the main roster to get it done.
Philadelphia: Sean Couturier would be the starting point. The Sabres would also ask for a top prospect (defenseman Cam York or center Morgan Frost), a roster player (RFA Travis Sanheim, perhaps), and the 13th overall pick. Philly likely would want to part with the two years and $14 million left on James van Riemsdyk’s deal.
Los Angeles: The No. 8 pick and Quinton Byfield would be a strong foundation to a prospect-heavy deal. Forwards Alex Turcotte, Arthur Kaliyev, or Tyler Madden could sweeten the pot. Alex Iafallo, from the Buffalo suburbs, could be heading home if these teams connected.
Columbus: If Seth Jones (one year left at $5.4 million) doesn’t want to stay long term, the big blueliner, the No. 5 pick, and a forward (Jack Roslovic or Emil Bemstrom, or maybe Patrik Laine if the new Sabres coaching staff believes in him) would be an enticing haul, depending on how GM Kevyn Adams wants to reshape his blueline. Not a lot in the CBJ farm system, though.
Anaheim: They could accelerate their rebuild to keep up with their neighbors to the north if they built a package around the No. 3 overall pick and one of their rookie standouts (forward Trevor Zegras, defenseman Jamie Drysdale). Would Buffalo bite if the roster player coming back was Rickard Rakell? Maybe. They likely would if it was Maxime Comtois, the RFA center who led the Ducks in scoring (16-17—33 in 55 games). Or maybe a rangy, high-upside defenseman like Haydn Fleury would satisfy them.
Nothing new on Matt Keator’s biggest client. Zdeno Chara, 44, is still weighing a 24th NHL season. No talks yet with any team, and no rush to have them. Noteworthy: Chara, a proud son of Slovakia, doesn’t have an interest in playing in Europe … Providence Bruins coach Jay Leach interviewed for the Arizona job vacated by Rick Tocchet, according to Craig Morgan of AZCoyotesInsider.com. Leach spent part of the 2003-04 season with ECHL Trenton playing for now-Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong. The latter, a hulking defenseman like Leach, finished his playing career — and began his career behind the bench — with Providence in 1998-99 … Bruins country was well represented in the USHL this year. Mason Lohrei, Boston’s second-round pick (58th overall) in 2020, finished as the top-scoring defenseman (19-40—59 in 48 games). He’ll head to Ohio State this summer. His teammate, 2019 Bruins seventh-rounder Jake Schmaltz, was 11th in USHL scoring (19-34—53 in 51 games). The most electric player in the league might have been Hopkinton’s Sean Farrell, a Montreal fourth-rounder in 2020 (29-72—101 in 53 games). His Chicago Steel won a Clark Cup title with a major lift from Concord-raised defenseman Ian Moore, who’ll head to Harvard with Farrell … Geoff Ward, the former Bruins assistant let go by Calgary, joined Dallas Eakins’s staff in Anaheim … Before the Rangers hired Gerard Gallant, Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported the club was “monitoring the situation” with Bruce Cassidy, among multiple other coaches. Cassidy, second in playoff wins (33) among Bruins coaches behind Claude Julien (57), is believed to have at least one year left on a multiyear extension he signed in Sept. 2019. He is reportedly paid $3 million annually … Short-time Bruin Rick Nash became Columbus’s director of player development, in the same week the club made assistant Brad Larsen coach. Larsen, 44, is the fourth-youngest coach in the league, behind Jeremy Colliton (36), Sheldon Keefe (40), and D.J. Smith (also 44) … No issue with Rod Brind’Amour running away with the broadcasters’ vote for Jack Adams, but what’s up with Barry Trotz earning just one third-place vote? Even since-deposed David Quinn got a second ... Another star of recent vintage, Florida Man Roberto Luongo, won a World Championship as Team Canada’s GM. He has seemingly been off Twitter recently (a wise man) so we didn’t get a killer one-liner about the 10th anniversary of the Boston-Vancouver Cup Final … Salute to Weymouth’s Paul Carey, who signed a one-year deal with Djurgårdens of the Swedish league. The two-year P-Bruins captain scored 48 goals in 102 games and helped lead a young group … The NHL’s tireless research team, after combing through 13 expansion drafts over the last 54 years, found that 39 players have been selected twice. If you’d like to stump anyone with this trivia, notables include Pat Quinn, Terry Crisp (drafted by two expansion teams, and later coached one), and Lightning assistant GM Jamie Pushor … Happy Father’s Day, Pops. Since the days of pushing milk crates around the ice, my favorite coach.