Fans of the NHL’s 32nd franchise, the Seattle Kraken, have only a week left to wonder who will don their jersey when the 2021-22 season begins. The Expansion Draft parties are planned, the protected lists are firming up as teams make decisions on who they most want to keep, and Kraken management’s several months of planning and research are about to come to fruition.
With 30 teams to choose from (the Vegas Golden Knights are excluded) and an expected windfall of picks and/or prospects as payment for selecting or avoiding a certain player, the Kraken puzzle could come together in many different ways. After July 21, there is the NHL Entry Draft where Seattle will select second overall, and then, of course, there is free agency, which looks like it will be a wild ride of its own. While general manager Ron Francis has likely already laid out his strategy, here’s a look at what the next couple of weeks might look like.
Roster Construction Must Follow NHL Rules
There are a lot of rules for constructing an NHL roster: There’s an upper limit of 90 players on the reserve list, a maximum of 50 players under contract, and a minimum of 24 contracted skaters, plus three goalies. The Expansion rules specify that the Kraken must, within their 30 choices, select 14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goalies. They’re welcome to take more than that at any position but must abide by the minimums.
Thirty NHL players, or promising prospects, are enough to fill a roster – if short of the average number of contracts in the league – but odds are that between trades and payoffs, the Kraken will end up with more than that. In a recent THW mock draft, Seattle gained 32 players and prospects and another eight draft picks over the next two seasons. The second-overall selection in the draft will likely crack the opening-night lineup, and any other 2021 first-round pick they add has a shot as well. They won’t be saddled with any overpaid players, except by choice, and should have plenty of cap room to play with when free agency opens on July 28. Seattle will have between 34-36 players, so expect them to be active participants.
Each Event Will Affect the Next
The positions filled through the Expansion Draft will affect the Kraken’s selections in the Entry Draft, with the exception of the first-round pick, which should be the best player available regardless of their position. Francis will then address any remaining gaps through free agency. Fans should expect around six signings, based on what the Golden Knights did back in 2017, and when the NHL head office closes for the day, it will be pretty clear what Seattle’s roster will look like.
The Kraken will likely be a mix of steady defenders with little offence, veteran forwards with somewhat outsized costs, and prospects or reclamation projects to fill in the holes. Goaltending should be a position of strength due to the Expansion Draft rules, and there is a good chance that they upgrade in net in free agency as well.
The team’s early and heavy investment in analytics should pay dividends in identifying players who are ready for a larger role with a new team. If they can hit a home run with the second-overall pick, Seattle stands a very good chance of competing for a playoff spot in their inaugural season in a relatively weak Pacific Division.
Canadian, Hockey Fan since birth, Husband, Father, and follower of all things Oilers and Kraken.