While we here at The Hockey Writers often deal in real-life scenarios and storylines, we also like to take advantage of opportunities to infuse our expertise and insights into creating hypothetical hockey-centric realities. As such, with the Seattle Kraken on everyone’s radar, our talented team of writers participated in THW’s Ultimate Mock Expansion Draft to simulate how things could play out across the league.
Recognizing how the organization positioned itself in anticipation of this event and then taking things over from there, here is how my planning affected the franchise throughout this process.
Key Deadline Deals
Giving credit where it’s due, Chicago had already done a good job of preparing this roster for the expansion draft before I showed up. Specifically, the Blackhawks’ slew of activity around the trade deadline was impressive.
No, they didn’t go so far as to make the tough decisions for me. Yet, there’s no denying how effectively they navigated these in-season maneuvers, to lay a better landscape from which to work when it came time to delve deeper.
A number of key acquisitions would all ultimately need to be protected if we saw them as part of our future here in Chicago. However, being selective in that respect meant we could meet the exposure requirements more efficiently.
As the paperwork landed on my desk to manage, I had free reigns to work alongside my league-wide counterparts before we submitted our final lists for Seattle to dissect and decide upon. However possible, I knew I had to take advantage of this opportunity.
It’s no secret that Dylan Strome has worked his way out of favour with our squad. After seeming to find a resurgence to his career when he first arrived back in 2018-19, his impact began to dwindle soon thereafter.
38 points and a faceoff percentage of 47.7 through 58 contests in 2019-20 were far from the results needed out of the former third overall pick. Unfortunately, he found a way to perform to an even lower standard through 2020-21, collecting a mere nine goals eight assists in 40 games played. He also regressed at the dot, winning only 47 percent of his draws.
With all that said, Strome is still only 24 and has time ahead of him to turn things around. He’s shown blips of what he can do and his highlight reel supports that potential star power. Progressing through our rebuild, though, we are looking to reward those ready to put in the work and prove that they are the right fit within our franchise.
Knowing that centremen are always in demand, it didn’t take long before the Montreal Canadiens followed up on my feeler and expressed interest in adding Strome to their future plans. The first-round pick they offered in exchange made this as seamless of a transaction as was possible.
Not only was I able to extract value from a player that I was otherwise going to expose, but his full salary of $3 million went along with him. The Blackhawks gained more cap space to work with, alongside the anticipation of adding another prospect to our pool of young talent.
The Numbers Game
In terms of determining the total number of those that would and would not be in play, clubs could have gone with a strategy that isolated seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie or a more open-ended approach that protected any combination of eight skaters and one goalie.
Having enough qualified athletes available to choose either path, even with the departure of Strome considered, I let the math do the deciding for me. Simply stated, I went the route that kept more of my lineup intact and gave 11 of my players the good news that they weren’t going anywhere. Just yet, anyway.
Rationalizing the Protected
As an organization, we’ve already outlined that the goal is to develop from within and allow our youth to further progress. With that in mind, who we chose to protect should come as no surprise.
Adam Gaudette: This 24-year-old’s restricted free agent (RFA) status doesn’t concern us, simply because his ability to prove skeptics wrong since joining our squad at the deadline indicates he can reach new heights. Additionally, Gaudette adds a level of depth at centre that we’ve been lacking in recent seasons.
Alex DeBrincat: We were confident that 2019-20 was simply a speed bump in DeBrincat’s career and he certainly proved us right through 2020-21. Achieving at over a point-per-game pace as a 23-year-old, it’s clear that he’s still nowhere near his peak and we’re excited to see him reach it in Chicago.
Brandon Hagel: We’d gladly take an entire lineup full of Hagels if ever presented with the option. He’s in his early 20s, yet plays with the confidence of a seasoned veteran. This gritty winger never stops working and his balanced stat line is proof of that. We can’t wait to witness his evolution.
David Kämpf: You can’t win games if you don’t have the puck and faceoff success determines possession. Kämpf recently led our team in that regard, so securing his talents as we move forward is a no-brainer. We also have every intention of signing the 26-year-old RFA and for good reason.
Henrik Borgström: Feel free to ignore Borgström’s lacklustre NHL resume to this point, just like we did when acquiring his rights from the Florida Panthers. We know what this former Hobey Baker Memorial Award nominee is capable of and we’re glad he’ll get the chance to display it in Chicago’s colours.
Jonathan Toews: Beyond his no-movement clause (NMC) making it near impossible to expose him, we can’t wait for our captain to return to the lineup. Although we stand committed to our youth movement, this 33-year-old will remain a Blackhawk for as long as he chooses to. Toews elevates everyone around him, always.
Patrick Kane: Another athlete, on the wrong side of 30, with an NMC that would otherwise be in our way. Fortunately, we are not looking to let him go. Ageless in all that he does and having recently been voted Best NHL Player at the 2021 ESPYS, we’ll gladly plan every upcoming celebration for each new milestone he achieves.
Connor Murphy: Steadily positioning himself as the next in line to lead our defensive core, Murphy does it all. Both from a backend perspective and with an ability to contribute when necessary. Having logged the highest average ice time of his career in 2020-21, we expect more of the same from the 28-year-old next season.
Duncan Keith: Again, an NMC that limits our flexibility with regards to moving the respective player. Yet, there are worse things than having to protect a workhorse like Keith. Approaching 40, he continues to display a commitment to this game that only benefits those that get to train alongside him.
Riley Stillman: If our thoughts on the 23-year-old defenseman weren’t made clear when we acquired him prior to the deadline, perhaps having already secured his presence through 2023-24 will help. With a roster mainly centred around skill, Stillman’s physicality serves a vital purpose on our blue line.
Kevin Lankinen: Do we even need to justify ourselves here? The only reason we were ever battling for a playoff position last season was Lankinen. Collectively, we slipped out of contention. But his stellar showing as a rookie earned him the starter’s role. Also, at only 26, he’s the youngest of our rostered netminders.
Avoiding It Altogether
Before you start to wonder why some of our more anticipated stars didn’t seem to make the cut, it’s important to consider that we had a plethora of players who were automatically protected. Whether due to their current tenure in the league or lack of applicable experience in recent years.
Exempt: Adam Boqvist, Alec Regula, Alexander Nylander, Andrei Altybarmakyan, Arvid Söderblom, Cameron Morrison, Chad Krys, Dominik Kubalik, Evan Barratt, Ian Mitchell, Isaak Phillips, Jakub Galvas, Jakub Pour, Josiah Slavin, Kirby Dach, Luaks Reichel, MacKenzie Entwistle, Matej Chalupa, Michal Teplý, Mikael Hakkarainen, Mike Hardman, Nicolas Beaudin, Philipp Kurashev, Pius Suter, Reese Johnson, Victor Ejdsell, Wyatt Kalynuk
Notable Names Exposed
Being required to expose at least two forwards, one defenseman, and one goalie — who all met the necessary contractual and games played criteria — is where things could have become a little more challenging. However, as alluded to in our trade deadline recap, the Blackhawks had acquired an effective mix that made this far less of a hurdle to overcome.
While we respect what each of these athletes brings to the game, and the impact those who have been with us have had on our franchise, the combination of their fit within our rebuild and their salary cap implications cast a shadow on those we made available for Seattle’s taking.
Brett Connolly: A serviceable winger for the past 10 years, Connolly’s $3.5 million AAV was part of the package that brought Borgström to town. However, the 29-year-old deserves to be deployed in a city ready to compete — not rebuild.
Ryan Carpenter: His stat line doesn’t do him justice, as Carpenter refuses to go easy on any opponent he faces. At a salary of only $1 million, this 30-year-old is the type of worker whose return supersedes the investment.
Calvin de Haan: Among our more experienced defensemen, 30-year-old de Haan has done a great job of guiding our youth through new terrain. His $4.55 million price tag is simply the cost associated with fulfilling this vital role.
Collin Delia: Deila has patiently waited to become our starter, but circumstance hasn’t been on his side. Knowing that goalies mature into this game better than their teammates, acquiring the 27-year-old for only $1 million is a bargain.
Malcolm Subban: Subban actually achieved his best stat line, across the board, with a former expansion team — the Vegas Golden Knights. For only $850,000, the 27-year-old could easily replicate the role he had in Vegas.
Others Left Unprotected
Exposed: Anton Lindholm, Brandon Pirri, Nikita Zadorov, John Quenneville, Josh Dickinson, Vinnie Hinostroza, Zack Smith
What Wasn’t Known
Having to submit our mock protected list by June 17, there was the risk that relevant news could break from that point forward and prior to the real thing. Nearly a month later, on July 12, Keith was traded to the Edmonton Oilers. Needless to say, it was impossible for me to have anticipated how that would have impacted my decision-making for this team.
Keith’s no-movement clause meant he was slated to take up a protection spot whether I wanted that to be the case or not. However, that stipulation went with him when he departed Chicago.
Well, now that he’s part of the Oilers, it freed up a slot for my list to include another defenseman. Fortunately, with Caleb Jones coming back the other way in that deal, my plan remains unaffected as I would have protected him anyway.
Welcome to Seattle
So, with all of that in mind, who did Tony Wolak decide would be the best fit for his franchise in our THW Ultimate Mock Expansion Draft? When it came time for Seattle to pick from Chicago’s crop of talent, they chose Subban.
While it initially came as a surprise to our side, this selection does make sense. Not just because Subban spent two and a half seasons with the Golden Knights following their induction into the league, either. He’s quietly become a solid backup option, with foreseeable upside.
To date, Subban has accumulated a record of 36-31-8, a goals-against average of 3.02, and a save percentage of .899. The 27-year-old’s largest sample size of experience and success occurred with a former expansion franchise, so that familiarity could come in handy for the Kraken.
Plus, his $850,000 cap hit is certainly easier to digest than some of the other salaries that we left on the table with the hope that Seattle would take over signing those cheques.
They claim that Subban is a depth piece outside of their initial puzzle, but don’t be surprised if he ends up being relied upon in the same manner that he was in Vegas. He has the traits to help a team win, even if it’s in a secondary role. Time will tell if he gets the opportunity to prove that.
Evaluating the Experience
As for how we’d rate our overall efforts throughout this mock expansion draft experience, it’s easy to conclude that it was a success. Subban wasn’t slated to take over our starter’s crease any time soon and we were able to extract value while shedding Strome’s salary.
With other organizations left reeling as a result of what they lost, what we were able to add actually improves our future outlook. All in all, the Blackhawks are just fine with the way things played out.
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Freelance thinker, paying too much attention to digital aesthetic. Oxford comma enthusiast. Spider-Man supporter. Sports fan, with two favourite hockey teams. If the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs ever meet in the Stanley Cup Final, you can find me wherever they’re playing that night.
Check out more of my work at mralwayswrite.com.