The Seattle Kraken will be joining the NHL in an on-ice capacity at the start of the 2021-22 regular season. They’ve filled out their front office and coaching staff, but now they need some players.
In order to fill out the roster, they will be selecting one player from 30 of the league’s 31 current teams in the expansion draft on July 21 (the Vegas Golden Knights are exempt, having just joined the league for the 2017-18 season). Prior to that, those other teams will devise a list of protected players: either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie. Here’s more on the format, schedule and everything else expansion-draft-related.
Who will each team protect? Have GMs learned their lessons from the Golden Knights expansion draft of 2017? Here are our projections for which players all 30 teams will protect.
Note: Emily Kaplan projected the Western Conference teams, while Greg Wyshynski projected the Eastern Conference teams. Thanks as always to our friends at CapFriendly for salary and contract data. Advanced stats are from Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey.
Tough calls: The Ducks traded for Carolina’s Haydn Fleury last season and truly valued him, upping his average ice time by nearly seven minutes compared to what he was doing for the Hurricanes. Anaheim will prioritize protecting Fleury, especially since he’ll be attractive to Seattle GM Ron Francis, who originally drafted him in Carolina. Fleury’s protection ensures the Ducks will go an eight-skater route. The toughest choice is whether to keep the veteran Jakob Silfverberg or the 21-year-old Isac Lundestrom. The Ducks are leaving the Kraken with some decent options, including Sam Steel and Alexander Volkov. They’ll also leave Adam Henrique for the Kraken. Henrique’s time in Anaheim may be coming to an end as an expensive veteran, but he did have a strong performance at this spring’s IIHF world championship for Canada.
F: Phil Kessel (NMC)
F: Clayton Keller
F: Christian Dvorak
F: Conor Garland
F: Nick Schmaltz
F: Lawson Crouse
F: Tyler Pitlick
D: Jakob Chychrun
D: Oliver Ekman-Larsson (NMC)
D: Kyle Capobianco
G: Darcy Kuemper
Tough calls: The Coyotes are going through a strange time, organizationally. GM Bill Armstrong is looking to give the team a fresh start — which is a euphemism for massive turnover. It’s no secret the Coyotes are looking to move the contracts of Kessel and captain Ekman-Larsson, but both players have no-movement clauses, so this isn’t the opportunity to do so. There are some other veteran contracts the Coyotes wouldn’t mind shedding — really, the only untouchable player on this roster may be Chychrun — but those moves are best done via trade. It’s possible Arizona protects Michael Bunting, Christian Fischer or Johan Larsson instead of Pitlick. The Coyotes don’t have the deepest roster in the league, and goalie Adin Hill is probably the best available player for Seattle to select.
Tough calls: To answer your first question, the Bruins don’t have to protect unrestricted free agents Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak nor first-year pro Jeremy Swayman, who isn’t eligible for the draft. Hence, they protect Dan Vladar. As for the toughest calls, they’re at the forward spot. Trent Frederic, 23, was just handed a two-year extension ($1.05M AAV) ahead of the draft. One assumes he’s safe. That left DeBrusk and Nick Ritchie for the final spot. We think DeBrusk gets the nod for more proof of concept and for having a higher trade value. But the Bruins likely think the Kraken opt for one of the defensemen they have to expose like Connor Clifton, Jeremy Lauzon or Jakub Zboril.
Tough calls: The Kraken have more institutional knowledge about the Sabres’ list than most. GM Ron Francis is good friends with Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams and had Jeff Skinner when he was general manager of the Hurricanes. John Vogl of The Athletic reports that Skinner has waived his no-movement clause, although given that contract, it’s unlikely he’ll be selected. Kraken assistant GM Jason Botterill was the general manager of the Sabres from 2017 to ’20. So they know the roster, and Adams knows they know the roster. Buffalo would rather not lose defenseman Will Borgen, 24. This seems ripe for a side deal, as the Sabres have five picks in the first three rounds of this year’s draft. Keep in mind that Sabres defenseman Colin Miller ($3.875M AAV) was an original Golden Knight; will he be selected again?
Tough calls: Veteran Milan Lucic has already waived his no-movement clause for the sake of helping the team protect someone else. That made management’s decision much easier among the forward group. There could be movement among some of the team’s big-name forwards, but that would come via trade, not losing them in the expansion draft for nothing. The most difficult decision here is leaving captain Mark Giordano unprotected. Giordano, 37, carries a $6.75 million cap hit for one more season. If the Kraken pick up enough cost-effective players elsewhere, Giordano could be a great addition.
Tough calls: Geekie, who turns 23 on July 20, looks to be a serviceable depth forward. He’s considerably younger and cheaper than Jesper Fast (29, $2 million AAV through 2022-23), although perhaps not better. Fast and Warren Foegele (RFA) appear to be the odd men out from the protected forwards. On defense, Dougie Hamilton‘s free-agent status means he won’t be protected. The three mentioned here are easy calls, but it’ll still be tough to see 23-year-old restricted free agent Jake Bean be exposed. (Not so much with veteran blueliner Jake Gardiner, making $4.050 million against the cap through 2022-23.) And remember, this is a roster with which Kraken GM Ron Francis is quite familiar, having held the same role for the Hurricanes previously (and having acquired many of these players).
Tough calls: It felt like an inevitability that the Blackhawks would expose de Haan and his $4.55 million cap hit. Then Duncan Keith requested a trade, got it, and Chicago’s plans changed. De Haan, who is on an expiring deal, could have been a trade option for Seattle had the Kraken selected him. Now the Blackhawks will likely hold on to him and try to recoup some value before the trade deadline. The Blackhawks don’t need to make too many difficult decisions among forwards because Alexander Nylander (injury) will be exempt, allowing the Blackhawks to keep two young forwards they traded for last season: Borgstrom and Gaudette. The Blackhawks can only hope the Kraken don’t select Malcolm Subban, a goalie they like; but they don’t have a choice but to protect Lankinen, who is a step above.
Tough calls: Erik Johnson waived his no-movement clause, allowing the Avalanche to protect their three prized young defensemen: Makar, Toews and Girard. Johnson, 33, is the longest-tenured member of the Avs and was sidelined for nearly all of last season. Making $6 million for the next two campaigns, Johnson is highly unlikely to be selected, so by waiving his NMC he’s helping set his team up for success. Colorado could consider protecting Ryan Graves too if it goes with an eight-skater format, or trade Graves so the Avs don’t lose him for nothing. However it shakes out, the Avs stand to lose a good roster player, as J.T. Compher and Joonas Donskoi will also be left unprotected.
Tough calls: Many projections for the Blue Jackets had them losing Robinson to the Kraken, but it’s hard to imagine them leaving the 26-year-old unprotected unless they’re convinced he’s gone in free agency next summer. (And this being Columbus, perhaps that’s the assumption.) If they protect him and Stenlund (24, RFA next summer) at forward, it means veterans Max Domi (UFA next summer) and Gustav Nyquist (two more years at $5.5 million AAV) would be exposed. Nyquist had 42 points in 70 games with Columbus in 2019-20 but missed last season after preseason surgery on a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Another name to watch: defenseman Dean Kukan, 28, who played parts of five seasons with Columbus. He carries a $1.65 million cap hit and goes UFA next summer.
Tough calls: As you can see, the Stars are saddled with a few no-movement clauses: Benn, Seguin, Radulov, Lindell and Bishop. That forces the answer in goal. Jake Oettinger has positioned himself as the Stars’ long-term answer in net, which has made Anton Khudobin (hero of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final run, regression in 2021) expendable. The no-movement clauses force the Stars’ hand in the forward group. The Stars probably planned to have Joe Pavelski unprotected (he’s 37 with a $7 million annual cap hit and signed a deal that only had a no-movement clause for the first two years, not this one). However, Pavelski punctuated his importance last season and now is viewed as indispensable. It comes down to Faksa or Jason Dickinson for the final forward spot — two players the Stars would prefer not to lose.
Tough calls: The toughest call is on defense, where Cholowski, Stecher, Danny DeKeyser and Gustav Lindstrom were all vying for two sports behind Hronek. The thinking here: While Stecher, 27, is classic expansion bait — $1.7 million AAV and an unrestricted free agent in 2022 — he also was one of the Wings’ best defensemen last season. He could also have trade-deadline value. Lindstrom, 22, has less upside than Cholowski, and wasn’t drafted by current GM Steve Yzerman. The forward group, by contrast, had only one difficult call: Smith, an RFA, over versatile veteran Vladislav Namestnikov.
Tough calls: The Oilers’ biggest decision was going to be leaving Caleb Jones unprotected. Instead, they packaged Jones as part of the trade for Duncan Keith. Problem solved. Edmonton is going the 7-3-1 route, as GM Ken Holland confirmed after re-signing Nugent-Hopkins. Now the biggest question is who takes up the last forward spot. The Oilers can choose only two of Archibald, Benson and Zack Kassian. Edmonton should choose Benson for his upside, as he was a point-per-game player in the AHL last season. Archibald offers affordable overall value, so Kassian could be the odd man out. Without Mike Smith under contract (the two sides have been working on a new deal) minor leaguer Skinner gets protected in net.
Tough calls: Anthony Duclair, 25, is a restricted free agent who had 32 points in 43 games last season for the Panthers. The last forward spot likely comes down to Acciari, who is a bit more versatile and has more years left on his deal ($1,666,667), and The Duke. Theoretically, GM Bill Zito could leave Duclair exposed with the confidence that there are other options for Seattle to take, like forward Mason Marchment, defensemen Anton Stralman, Radko Gudas, Markus Nutivaara and RFA Gustav Forsling. There’s also unrestricted free-agent goalie Chris Driedger, who has been linked to the Kraken for months.
Tough calls: The biggest decision the Kings have to make is regarding format, as there was a case to go with eight skaters so they could keep a fourth defenseman, Kale Clague. Clague, 23, played in only 18 NHL games last season, but he has top-four upside, especially with what he can offer offensively. But the Kings have too many forwards to protect, especially with the recent addition of Arvidsson. Dustin Brown is one of the last remaining core players from the Stanley Cups, but at age 37 and with a $5.875 million cap, hit it’s a soft risk to keep him exposed. It’s a similar situation for veteran goaltender Jonathan Quick, who has a $5.8 million annual cap hit through 2022-23 — the Kings have identified Petersen as their No. 1 goalie. Selecting the last forward is a difficult exercise for the Kings. On this list, Andersson just made the cut, though it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Kings choose Carl Grundstrom or Andreas Athanasiou instead.
Tough calls: GM Bill Guerin already made his toughest call: buying out the remaining four years of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter‘s contracts. The moves will have salary-cap implications for years, but in the short term, this frees more than $10 million in cap space next season (hopefully to bring in a top center) while also clearing two protected expansion-draft spots. Dumba, whom Guerin’s predecessor bent over backward to protect in 2017, now finds himself on the list once again. Carson Soucy is the odd defenseman out, while Victor Rask is left unprotected on offense. That’s a bummer considering Rask, 28, had a resurgent 2021 season. The other difficult choice Guerin must make is which goalie to protect: reliable veteran Cam Talbot or Kähkönen, who is viewed as the goalie of the future. The truth is that the Wild don’t want to lose either.
Tough calls: A bombshell dropped Wednesday that changed the Canadiens’ expansion draft plans. According to Renaud Lavoie of TVA, Montreal defenseman Shea Weber will likely be exposed in the expansion draft because of injuries to his left foot and thumb that could keep him out all of next season. If that’s the case, the Canadiens would be able to protect both Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson instead of having to choose between the two. The Canadiens would prefer if Jake Allen isn’t a member of the Kraken after the draft. They inked Price’s backup to a two-year extension and he outplayed the star during the regular season. One name to watch: Jonathan Drouin, 26, who has two more years at $5.5 million against the cap. He took leave from the team for personal reasons in April. Conventional wisdom is that the Canadiens will expose him, both due to the uncertainty around his status and that a change in scenery could be beneficial.
Tough calls: With so many talented defensemen, the Predators are sure to go the eight-skater route to protect at least four of them. But would they be willing to protect five? That’s the existential question GM David Poile must face, and it became an issue thanks to Alexandre Carrier’s breakout 2021 season. Carrier, 24, stood out in a surprising top-four role, and has some cost certainty ($733,333 annually through 2022-23). Protecting five defensemen would be rare, but not unprecedented; the Islanders did it during the Vegas draft. The Predators will dangle expensive veterans Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen for the Kraken, but it’s hard to imagine them being taken. The last forward spot could come down to two players with great value: Jarnkrok ($2 million annually through next season) or Colton Sissons ($2.85 million annually through 2025-26).
Tough calls: Some of the Devils’ bright young stars (Jack Hughes, Ty Smith, Jesper Boqvist) are exempt. The biggest decision here was whether to protect P.K. Subban and his $9 million cap hit for next season, or Butcher, who is $3,733,333 against the cap before also reaching unrestricted free-agent status next summer. Butcher has really lost the thread in his past two seasons with the Devils, but he’s still only 26. They could protect him and dare the Kraken to take Subban. (Would there be any better salesman/ambassador for an expansion team than P.K.?) But Seattle will have other options from the Devils in forwards Nathan Bastian ($825,000 AAV through 2022-23), Michael McLeod (RFA) and Nick Merkley (RFA).
Tough calls: Some beloved Islanders will land in the expansion draft pool. Their stellar checking line — Casey Cizikas (UFA), Cal Clutterbuck ($3.5 million for one more season) and Matt Martin ($1.5 million through 2023-24) — will be exposed. So will RFA forwards Kieffer Bellows (23) and Otto Koivula (22), both of whom will be tempting for the Kraken. On defense, the three picks here were easy calls, but that leaves Nick Leddy exposed, which is why the Islanders are reportedly shopping him before the draft. The big question: Can GM Lou Lamoriello work any kind of angle to get the Kraken to take Andrew Ladd ($5.5 million AAV through 2022-23) off of this roster?
F: Artemi Panarin (NMC)
F: Mika Zibanejad (NMC)
F: Chris Kreider (NMC)
F: Ryan Strome
F: Pavel Buchnevich
F: Filip Chytil
F: Brett Howden
D: Jacob Trouba (NMC)
D: Libor Hájek
D: Ryan Lindgren
G: Alexandar Georgiev
Tough calls: The perks of being a rebuilding team are evident in the Rangers’ decision-making process. Among the exempt players: Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox, fellow defenseman K’Andre Miller, forwards Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko, and goalie Igor Shesterkin. So there’s not a ton of drama, especially with defenseman Tony DeAngelo in exile. (According to the New York Post, he’ll be bought out after the draft.) The only point of contention here would be Howden getting a spot over Colin Blackwell at forward. But Howden is 23 and a restricted free agent next summer, while Blackwell is 28 and unrestricted next summer.
Tough calls: If the debate is to protect Watson or Evgenii Dadonov, there’s an obvious case to be made to keep the exponentially more productive player in Dadonov. But his production dropped by a point per 60 minutes in his first season in Ottawa, he’s 32 and he carries a $5 million annual cap hit for the next two seasons — and, more importantly since it’s Ottawa, is owed $11.5 million in real dollars. So we’ll assume he’s exposed, along with versatile veteran forward Chris Tierney, goalie Matt Murray (whom Seattle won’t touch) and goalie Joey Daccord (who could be tempting), among others.
Tough calls: Two huge names at forward are expected to be exposed to the Kraken. James van Riemsdyk, 32, has a $7 million cap hit through 2022-23. Jakub Voracek, 31, makes $8.25 million against the cap through 2023-24. Sportsnet reported that both sides have discussed the possibility of a change in scenery in each case. Both veterans skated for Seattle coach Dave Hakstol when he was bench boss of the Flyers, though Voracek in particular had his best offensive season when Hakstol was running the show. Another big name expected to be exposed: Shayne Gostisbehere, 28, a puck-moving defenseman who makes $4.5 million against the cap for the next two seasons. Among the cost-effective options for the Kraken: Forward Nicolas Aubé-Kubel, 25, who has a $1.075 million cap hit before RFA status next summer; and veteran defenseman Justin Braun, who has one more season at $1.8 million before UFA status.
Tough calls: Tristan Jarry had an .888 save percentage and a negative-5.8 goals saved above average in the playoffs. He has two more seasons at a $3.5 million cap hit remaining on a contract that current GM (and former goalie) Ron Hextall did not give him. So many signs point to the Penguins’ primary starter last season being exposed for the Kraken — and keep in mind that Jarry is a British Columbia native. The other intriguing debate is at forward. Pittsburgh just signed Blueger to a two-year deal worth $2.2 million annually. Does that tip the Pens’ hand that he’ll be protected over forwards like Jared McCann ($2.94 million next season before RFA status) and Zach Aston-Reese (RFA)? The consensus seems to be that veterans Jason Zucker (two years left at $5.5 million AAV) and Brandon Tanev ($3.5 million AAV through 2024-25) will be made available to Seattle, as Hextall had no hand in acquiring either.
Tough calls: There aren’t too many tough calls to make for the Sharks — an indictment on how thin this roster is. Karlsson and Vlasic have no-movement clauses and must be protected. Burns does not, and while the Sharks might be interested in shedding his $8 million in salary, there’s no indication GM Doug Wilson is willing to go that far. Really, this team needs a goalie, evidenced by Martin Jones and his $5.75 million salary being left exposed, and likely untaken. It’s easy to see Dahlen, 23, taking up the last forward slot. He has yet to play in the NHL, but has been tearing it up in Sweden’s second-tier league. Dahlen should get a roster look for the Sharks in 2021-22.
Tough calls: Vladimir Tarasenko’s trade request complicates things a tad, but the Blues won’t want to lose their sniper — who scored 218 goals over 531 games with the team — for nothing. Tarasenko should land on the protected list. The Blues have a deep roster, so there are a few attractive candidates from whom the Kraken can choose. Kyrou’s breakout season likely lands him on the protection list over Ivan Barbashev, Sammy Blais or Zach Sanford; any of those three could flourish in Seattle given a bigger role. The decisions would have been trickier if the Blues agreed to a new deal with Jaden Schwartz, but he remains unsigned and headed to UFA status. It seems likely the Kraken select defenseman Vince Dunn, whom the Blues held onto after an up-and-down past two seasons. St. Louis could consider protecting cost-effective Niko Mikkola, but it’s more likely they’ll hold onto their three veterans.
Tough calls: Are there ever any easy calls when it comes to the Lightning and their cap-unfriendly roster? If Tampa is going to really push for a three-peat, it starts in the back end. That means ensuring that its four best defensemen remain intact ahead of Vasilevskiy. That could be accomplished with a 7-3-1 setup and a side deal with Seattle to guarantee they won’t take a D-man. That would also allow them to protect Alex Killorn (31, two years left at $4.45 million annually), or forward Mathieu Joseph (24, $737,500), or rookie Ross Colton (24, RFA). But it’s possible they go 8-1 instead, which would leave those three plus Ondrej Palat (30, $5.3 million for one more season) and center Yanni Gourde (29, $5,166,666 AAV through 2024-25) exposed. In either scenario, making a side deal could be tough, as the Lightning have only two picks (2021 third, 2022 first) in the top three rounds in the next two drafts. No salary-cap Jedi mind tricks are going to save the Lightning this time. They’re going to lose someone good.
Tough calls: The consensus out of Toronto seems to be that the Maple Leafs are going to protect a fourth defenseman, going with the eight skaters and one goalie. If so, Holl ($2 million AAV for two more seasons) could be protected while center Alex Kerfoot ($3.5 millon AAV for two more seasons) would be exposed. Travis Dermott, another cost-effective defenseman at $1.5 million AAV for the next two seasons, would also be Kraken bait. Keep in mind that coach Dave Hakstol was a Leafs assistant coach before he left for the Kraken, so he knows this roster well.
Tough calls: The Canucks don’t have to make too many tough decisions on defense, given Quinn Hughes is exempt and Alexander Edler and Travis Hamonic are set to be unrestricted free agents. The Canucks protect Thatcher Demko — having made that decision when they let Jacob Markstrom leave in free agency last summer — and see if Seattle has any interest in picking up Braden Holtby‘s contract ($4.3 million through next season). Selecting the seventh forward spot is trickiest. Highmore made our list, but the Canucks could easily choose Kole Lind, Zack MacEwan or Jonah Gadjovich, who has put up impressive AHL numbers, but has yet to get a full look in the NHL.
Tough calls: Don’t freak out when you see a certain name missing here. Remember that Alex Ovechkin, unlisted above, is an unrestricted free agent and has said he’s going to play only for the Capitals. The biggest question for the Capitals was on defense, where they have Justin Schultz ($4 million AAV next season, and then a UFA) and Brenden Dillon ($3.9 million AAV for three more seasons) vying for the last protection spot. Schultz provides more offensive upside, but there’s a chance the Capitals could lose Dillon to the Kraken — he’s a British Columbia native who played for the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds — and lose Zdeno Chara to retirement, which would seriously impact the left side of their defense. But there’s another interesting option for the Kraken on the Capitals’ back end: Goalie Vitek Vanecek, 25, who started 36 games as a rookie last season. Finally, apologies to fans of homecomings and the obvious: It appears T.J. Oshie of Mount Vernon, Washington, will remain in that other Washington next season despite his age (34) and contract ($5.75 million AAV through 2024-25). Keep in mind that there could be a move made before the draft, what with the team shopping Kuznetsov.
Tough calls: Winnipeg will protect most of its veteran forwards knowing it’s likely to lose a young, middle-six forward like Mason Appleton. With a $900,000 annual cap hit, Appleton scored 12 goals while playing just 14:25 per game last season, which the Kraken could see as significant value. There was some scuttlebutt that Winnipeg could expose Copp, a pending RFA, but that would be stunning. The real decision for Winnipeg comes down to the last defense spot — the Jets will have to choose between DeMelo and Logan Stanley. DeMelo proved to be a good partner for Morrissey, and with 321 career games, you know what you’re going to get from him. Stanley often is touted for his size (6-7) and potential, and came onto the scene late in the postseason to be a pleasant surprise. If Winnipeg wants to keep both players, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will need to make a side deal with the Kraken.