With a flat cap and the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft on the horizon, teams seem to be hesitant to sign their restricted and unrestricted free agents this season. There have been exceptions like Thatcher Demko, Jordan Binnington, Adam Lowry, Scott Laughton, and Alex Iafallo, but most teams have put a pause on signings. One reason may be due to protection issues during the expansion draft. Signing a player before then could mean losing a valuable asset somewhere else in your lineup.
Expansion Draft Rules
A quick reminder of the rules for the Seattle Expansion Draft. You must leave two forwards, one defenseman, and one goaltender exposed. To determine which players are eligible, each player must have played a certain amount of games plus have a contract that extends past this season. Every team but Vegas will have a player selected from their roster.
Here are four teams that may be delaying signings in order to protect their players from the expansion draft.
Boston could be losing some key younger players if they sign all their restricted free agents (RFA) before the expansion draft. Key RFAs include Brandon Carlo, Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase, and Trent Frederic. They also need to re-sign Sean Kuraly, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halák, who are all unrestricted free agents (UFA).
Holding off on signing players like Ritchie, Kase, and Frederic would allow the Bruins to protect Craig Smith and Chris Wagner. Although Smith and Wagner are bottom-six players, they are valuable pieces to the team. Krejci is an interesting case. The Bruins may be waiting to see if he wants to retire at the end of the season or not. If, however, Krejci, along with all the RFAs, do re-sign before the expansion draft, it could mean exposing Jake DeBrusk or even Jérémy Lauzon.
As for Carlo, he has become a top-four defenseman in Boston when healthy. Signing Carlo would expose either Lauzon and Boston has no interest in losing him.
The Hurricanes have three key players with expiring contracts. Warren Foegele and Andrei Svechnikov are both RFAs, but the big problem is Dougie Hamilton on defense. Hamilton, who is a UFA, is a player that would get a massive contract if he makes it to free agency. Hamilton is a leader in the Hurricanes’ locker room and someone they are sure to sign before he hits the open market.
Signing Hamilton early could have consequences for the Hurricanes in the expansion draft. This would mean losing either Brett Pesce or Brady Skjei. Both are key parts of a Hurricanes’ defense that is near the top of the league. Combine this with the fact that they also have to re-sign Jake Bean, and the Hurricanes are facing some problems.
The Hurricanes could protect Pesce and Skjei without re-signing Bean or Hamilton, but that would expose a player like Nino Niederreiter or Vincent Trocheck. That is taking into account them also not re-signing Svechnikov or Foegele. The expansion draft is preventing these star players from getting contracts on the Hurricanes, as it would keep Carolina from having their core together — a young core that is one of the best in the league.
The Flyers only have two big-name RFAs, but signing them would cause some major issues in the expansion draft. Forward Nolan Patrick and defenseman Travis Sanheim both need to sign contracts at the end of the season. If both signed before the expansion draft, it would mean exposing players like Philippe Myers or Shayne Gostisbehere on defense and Oskar Lindblom and James van Riemsdyk up front.
The Flyers will already be exposing a valuable defenseman, whether it be Justin Braun or Robert Hägg. To expose an additional player like Myers or Gostisbehere would not make any sense. It looks as though Gostibehere has fallen out of favor in Philidephia, as he went on waivers on March 31st, 2021, but he is still a valuable asset Philly should not give up on.
As for the forward group, if the Flyers hold off on signing Patrick, it means they can protect Lindblom or van Riemsdyk. Due to age and production, it will most likely be Lindblom, but exposing both may be the catalyst to wait for the offseason to sign Patrick. It may be unfair to the players who have earned these new contracts, but it is worth it so that the Flyers can keep their core together.
St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues are a mess when it comes to the expansion draft. They have six RFAs and five UFAs that all need to be signed this offseason. Some of those key RFAs are Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas, Vince Dunn, Ivan Barbashev and Zachary Stanford. As for their UFAs, Jayden Schwartz and Tyler Bozak are two players St. Louis will want back.
St. Louis is in a difficult situation because they currently do not have enough forwards signed to be able to expose the required two forwards for the expansion draft. They need to sign a minimum of two RFAs just to become compliant. Once they do that, players like David Perron, Mackenzie MacEachern, or Kyle Clifford become available. The forward group contract situation is not ideal and will force St. Louis to expose a decent forward to Seattle.
Although the forward group is a mess, the defense is not any better. If they do not re-sign Dunn before the expansion draft, it means exposing Robert Bortuzzo and Marco Scandella. Though once they sign Dunn, it adds names like Torey Krug or Colton Parayko that have to be exposed. It may be in the best interest of St. Louis to hold off on signing Dunn or look to trade him as was rumored early this season.
Learning From Vegas
The Vegas Expansion Draft was a disaster for some teams. The Ducks lost Shea Theodore, the Blue Jackets lost William Karlsson, the Penguins lost Fleury, and the Panthers lost both Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault. (from ‘Florida Panthers lose not one, but two leading scorers to the Vegas Golden Knights,’ Miami Herald, 06/21/2017) Teams are going to be more careful this time around. With Seattle having cap space and other teams strapped due to the flat cap, the Kraken are in an excellent position to try and repeat the Golden Knights’ success.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken team. His work can also be found at dubnetwork.ca where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. Adam is excited to be part of the Kraken’s inaugural season and ready to bring you in depth coverage of the NHL’s 32nd team.