Avalanche Protection List Is Their Best Possible Combination of Players

The Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft can best be taken in two parts. Part one just happened. Teams needed to have their lists of protected players into the league by Saturday evening. Part two takes place Wednesday night when the Kraken select from the players that went unprotected. We had a good idea of what the Colorado Avalanche would do when it came to the players they would forbid Seattle to select, and their final list is as follows:

Colorado Avalanche Gabriel Landeskog Samuel Girard Nathan MacKinnon
Colorado Avalanche’s Gabriel Landeskog celebrates with Samuel Girard and Nathan MacKinnon after scoring the winning goal. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

FORWARDS

Nathan MacKinnon
Mikko Rantanen
Andre Burakovsky
Tyson Jost
Nazem Kadri
Valeri Nichushkin
Logan O’Connor

DEFENSEMEN

Cale Makar
Devon Toews
Samuel Girard

GOALTENDER

Philipp Grubauer

Who Was Left Off the List?

The two glaring omissions? Captain Gabriel Landeskog and forward Joonas Donskoi. Donskoi was the player that seemed to be trending in the direction of a Seattle selection the past few weeks and that ramped up even more when Ryan Graves was traded to the New Jersey Devils last Thursday. If there is a favorite to be had, outside of the Kraken potentially making a deal with Landeskog, Donskoi has to be it.

There were a couple options when it came to whether or not the Avalanche would protect Landeskog due to his unrestricted free agent (UFA) status. The team could simply protect him, preventing the Kraken from even negotiating with him. Or, they could not protect him, new contract signed or not, with the assumption a deal between the two was imminent and Seattle wouldn’t take a player most thought was a slam dunk to return to his one and only team.

The fact that the Avalanche did not protect Landeskog after reports of the two being very far apart on contract negotiations is what is making many people turn their heads with interest. Had the reports been that both sides were close and progressing towards a deal, leaving him unprotected would have been a great strategy to go and protect another player they would not have been able to with him taking up a spot. Sure, the team runs the risk of Seattle possibly wooing Landeskog to potentially become the face of their new franchise, but that would have been a risk the Avalanche were willing to take had he been close to signing on the dotted line.

Colorado Avalanche Gabriel Landeskog
Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Leaving Landeskog unprotected assuming a deal was close between him and the Avalanche likely would have Seattle looking elsewhere on the Avs’ roster. Picking him knowing he was close to signing with Colorado would just have been a wasted pick for the Kraken, but that might not be the case anymore. Contract negotiations are sometimes tense and even when players and teams are far apart, talks continue and the sides can eventually agree. Seattle must be feeling like they have a chance to sign Landeskog when a month ago they probably were not even considering it a possibility. Even if Seattle takes him in the draft, it does not mean he is 100 percent theirs.

He is still fair game to game to return to Colorado or any other team that wants to throw him an offer. As of Sunday, the Kraken have an exclusive window to sign unrestricted free agents. If no deal between them and Landeskog is made by expansion draft night, it still might be risky to take Landeskog since he will be a hot commodity with several other teams now entering the mix to sign him, the Avalanche included.

We will no doubt be keeping an eye on the Landeskog situation, but as for the remainder of the players the Avalanche chose to protect, we have the obvious in Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar. Devon Toews, Samuel Girard and Andre Burakovsky were as close to guaranteed as you would think. Some threw around the possibility that the team would not protect goalie Philipp Grubauer for the same reason they wouldn’t protect Landeskog. Grubauer has stated he wants to return to the Avalanche and those talks seem to be going better than the Landeskog negotiations. It appears like they didn’t want to cross that bridge and protected him anyway.

Protected Players Beyond the Obvious

The remaining names of Tyson Jost, Nazem Kadri, Logan O’Connor and Valeri Nichushkin were all names thrown around as they could be or couldn’t be protected. One has to feel great for Tyson Jost. If there ever was a player who turned the tide of earning a protected spot, it’s him. Had this expansion draft been held after the bubble season, he would not have been protected and likely would have been the favorite for the Kraken’s pick. Many thought he needed a change of scenery as he was not producing or progressing at the rate he was expected to. But some players just need a little more time and, luckily for Jost, the 2020-21 season was played.

Kadri was another player walking the line of protected or unprotected, and not because the Avalanche don’t like him or what he brings to the team with his physical style of play mixed with offensive skill. The team had to ask themselves if they could live with him being one more hit away from a lengthy suspension. The question was out there: if he was left unprotected, would Seattle not select him for that same reason? It would have been a strategic move knowing the Avalanche love Kadri, but the possibility of losing him was too great and they chose to protect him.

How can you not feel good about how far Nichushkin has come? Left for dead on the Dallas Stars, the Avalanche brought him in on a one-year “show me” deal, and since then he has been everything the team has asked for and more. It took a little while for him to get going in his first season with Colorado, but once he did he has been one of their most reliable forwards in the defensive end. This led to him signing a modest two-year, $2.5 million deal last year after finishing fourth in the Selke Trophy voting his first season with the team. He knows now he will be able to at least finish out that two-year contract in an Avalanche sweater.

Valeri Nichushkin Colorado Avalanche
Valeri Nichushkin, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Rounding out the protected list is forward O’Connor. He has shown flashes of brilliance in spots and the Avalanche appear to think he has more of a role to play heading into next season if he can stay healthy. There were times he was flying around on the ice that, if you didn’t know it, you might think it was No. 29 chasing after a puck. However, protecting him is two sided. One, because they felt he is valuable in some form moving forward, and two, for his $725,000 cap hit. The Avalanche need to save money somewhere and in O’Connor they do just that. Plus, if Seattle does end up taking Donskoi, that is $3.9 million off the books that they can turn towards Landeskog or other assets.

All in all, this is the list many expected the Avalanche to come up with. Some might be surprised Landeskog was not listed, but from a business aspect, it makes sense. It’s difficult to justify protecting a UFA due to all the uncertainty of signing them even if the relationship between the two was cordial. Just look at what the Washington Capitals did unprotecting Alex Ovechkin. Nobody is expecting him to go anywhere.

Others might be surprised that Donskoi was not protected. Keeping him off the list is purely financial. The Avalanche love what he can do on this team, but if Seattle takes him and his cap hit with it, that is a tough pill to swallow as far as the type of player you are losing, but one you have to live with from the business side of things.

Now all there is left is Wednesday night as we see who Seattle will take from the Avalanche. The consensus pick will likely be Donskoi with J.T. Compher also a possibility and Erik Johnson being a long shot thanks to his $6 million cap hit for an aging defender coming off a season-long injury. Then, there is the Landeskog situation, plus the NHL Entry Draft on Friday. Still so many decisions ahead for the Avalanche.


Sign up for our regular 'Avs Newsletter' for all the latest.