And in net for the Seattle Kraken . . . Carey Price.
Yes, sounds odd, but it’s possible. Price, the Montreal Canadiens’ franchise netminder, with a cap hit of $10.5M for the next five seasons, was among a number of high-profile names made available Sunday ahead of the NHL’s expansion draft Wednesday night that will stock the Seattle Kraken for the upcoming ’21-’22 season.
The Kraken will take one player from 30 NHL teams (sans Vegas), including the Bruins, who will not lose anyone of substantive pedigree in the draft. Based on Boston’s modest list of available players, Seattle likely will filch a defenseman, be it Jeremy Lauzon or Connor Clifton, or burly, slow-footed left winger Nick Ritchie.
The Bruins, who chose to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie (rather than the option of eight skaters and one ‘tender), protected the following 11 players:
Forwards Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Charlie Coyle, David Pastrnak, Craig Smith, Jake DeBrusk, and Trent Frederic; defensemen Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Matt Grzelcyk; and goaltender Dan Vladar.
Bergeron, Marchand, and Coyle hold no-movement clauses, mandating that the Bruins not make them available.
Price was among a handful of players, including ex-Bruin Milan Lucic (Calgary), who waived their NMCs, be it because they were intrigued by the chance to play for Seattle, or simply because they were compelled to severe ties with their existing club. Prime example of a NMC player seeking a kickstart elsewhere: Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner, who has six years remaining on a deal that carries a $9M cap hit for the moribund Sabres.
Price, about to turn 34, is the game’s highest priced tender and just backstopped the Habs to the Cup Final. Because of his salary, it’s far from a sure thing the Kraken would select him. However, the Kraken and Habs conceivably could broker a deal, one that would see Price land in Seattle as their franchise stopper, provided the Canadiens were willing to pick up, say, one-third or more of that $10.5M cap hit.
The Bruins were not in a position to protect their No. 1 goalie, Tuukka Rask, among many players across the league who are now unrestricted free agents. If interested in Rask or any other UFAs, the Kraken are now free to begin to talks with him ahead of league’s July 28 signing date.
Rask’s case, though, is complicated because of surgery to repair a torn hip labrum, which is expected to leave Boston’s winningest goalie of all time out of the lineup until the second half of the 82-game season. The current plan has rookie Jeremy Swayman and Vladar carrying the Black-and-Gold’s net duties at least through December.
The Kraken should be able to pluck 12-15 worthy, established NHLers from the 30 rosters, positioning them to compete for a playoff spot in their inaugural season, much like the 2017-’18 Golden Knights, the first expansion team in history to make it all the way to the Cup Final in its first season.
The Vegas draft was the first in league history that forced member franchises to surrender legit talent, which came with the Knights ponying up a then record $500 million expansion fee. Real money equated with real players. The same parameters have governed the Seattle expansion process, with Kraken owners willing to pay a 30 percent increase in fee ($650 million). The available playing stock is not 30 percent better than four years ago, but GM Ron Francis, the Hall of Fame center, on Wednesday will have enough raw clay to craft a bona fide franchise.
Francis, unless he gets creative with trades, as then Vegas GM George McPhee did in ’17, could find himself thin at center. The paucity of pivots on the 30 “available” lists could force him to pluck Yanni Gourde away from the Lightning rather than, say, Bolts teammate Alex Killorn.
Gourde, versatile and gritty, has four years remaining at $5.17M, a high-figure for his overall skill-set. Killorn, a left winger, carries a smaller cap hit ($4.45M), shorter term (2 years) and produces roughly the same level of offense. Gourde, though, is in a position to drive a line, which probably means he’ll be driven directly to Seattle.
A few of the other higher-profile names that Francis can consider:
▪ Ben Bishop (G/Dallas) – Ex-UMaine Black Bear waived his NMC with Stars. Often injured the last two years. Remaining cap hit: $4.92M for 2 years. If not Price as the franchise stopper, it could be Bishop.
▪ P.K. Subban (D/New Jersey) – Post-Montreal, he has played three years in Nashville, two more in New Jersey All-around game is tamer, less bold than his Habs days, but still some value at age 32. But still a high cap hit at $9M. Possibly worth it to Francis if the Devils want to mix in a conditional draft pick or two.
▪ Vladimir Tarasenko (RW/St. Louis) – When on his game, he’s real firepower (35-goal baseline). But he’s been hurt a bunch, and rumors abound about an off-putting personality — contributing to why the Blues chose not to protect a 29-year-old marksman. He also has a $7.5M cap hit for two more seasons.
▪ Gabriel Landeskog (LW/Colorado/UFA) – Franchise player, and potential captain, right there for the taking. Unable to come to contract terms with the Avs, who made him the No. 2 pick to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the 2011 draft. Solid, durable, consistent . . . someone will pay him upward of $10M a year for at least six years. Up to him if he wants it to be the Kraken.
Keep in mind, the protected lists, made available to the Kraken at 10 a.m. Sunday, serve as a starting point for Francis. He is now in the thick of an exhaustive exercise leading to the draft on Wednesday (8 p.m.) that will create myriad trade opportunities, with the added incentive of acquiring near-term draft picks to help create the franchise’s talent base.