Kraken Expansion Watch: Ducks vs. Avalanche

This Friday night, the fans of the Seattle Kraken have a number of intriguing games to watch. The good news for those planning to support the National Hockey League’s newest franchise is that no matter which game they turn on, at least one player involved will be selected on July 21st. In the Honda West Division, the Anaheim Ducks will face off against the Colorado Avalanche at 9 pm Eastern.

West Division NHL Honda 2021

First, a quick reminder of the rules of expansion:

The 2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft will feature the same rules as the Vegas Golden Knights did in 2017, with one exception: the Golden Knights are exempt from giving up a player. Each team gets two options in protecting its players. Either they can protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goaltender or eight skaters and a goaltender. A no-movement clause (NMC) means a team must protect the player. The Kraken must select a minimum of 14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goaltenders.

Avalanche Are Poised to Take the Next Step

With players like Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar leading their team, the Avalanche are past any rebuild and will be looking to make a deep drive into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. Falling to the Dallas Stars in the 2020 playoffs ended their most recent run, but the team has the pieces to make another attempt. Their depth means they will lose a player they value, but it also means that they can afford to do so.

Nathan MacKinnon Colorado Avalanche
Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon will surely be protected. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Valeri Nichushkin was taken tenth overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by the Dallas Stars. His development curve has not been a straight line, and despite a decent rookie campaign he has spent time in the American Hockey League and the Kontinental Hockey League since then. Landing with the Avalanche after a buyout, he has produced decent numbers in a supporting role. Nichushkin’s cap hit is $2.5 million and he is an unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season. A darling of the analytics crowd, one wonders if Seattle, who is said to be heavily involving advanced statistics in their selection process might find him an attractive choice.

Devon Toews came to the Avalanche from the New York Islanders for the 2020-21 season. The left shooting defenseman is 27 years old and had a great season last year. With 28 points in the regular season and another 10 in the playoffs, he adds offense from the back end without causing headaches for his defensive partner or goaltender. His current contract runs until 2024 and pays him a relatively inexpensive $4.1 million per season. The Avs would probably prefer to protect him but the no-movement clause in Eric Johnson’s contract limits their options.

Devon Toews Colorado Avalanche
Devon Toews, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

In net, Philipp Grubauer is the player most likely to be protected, making Pavel Francouz the goaltender left available. Francouz would be an interesting option for Seattle, but he has been on long-term injured reserve since Feb. 4. The Colorado backup won 21 of 34 starts last season, but without a single start in 2020-21, it’s difficult to assess his current form. With the players listed above, and the bevy of other goaltenders available across the league, he is likely to stay put.

Anaheim missed the playoffs last season, meaning the team didn’t play a game between the second week of March and the beginning of this season back in January. The team’s most recent championship window, where players like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were among the league’s best, is unquestionably closed. Perry moved on, signing first with the Dallas Stars and then with the Montreal Canadiens, while Getzlaf is there at least until the end of his contract in June. The Ducks have only six wins thus far and their depth pales in comparison to that of their Friday evening opponent.

Ryan Getzlaf Ducks
This could be Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf’s last season with the Ducks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

At the beginning of the season, Adam Henrique looked like a name that would certainly be on the Ducks’ protected list. That may still be the case but his recent time on the waiver wire hints otherwise. Henrique is a good player, but his current deal has three years remaining and pays him $5.825 million each of those seasons. His four goals in nineteen games are well off his former career highs but he still has some gas in the tank. Seattle has the ability to absorb an ugly contract or two and the 31-year-old center from Brantford, Ontario could help the NHL’s newest club.

Adam Henrique Anaheim Ducks
Adam Henrique, Anaheim Ducks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On defense, the Ducks are very thin beyond those players who they’ll want to protect. The two names most likely to be available are Kevin Shattenkirk and Jacob Larsson. Larsson has yet to really look impressive at the pro level, leaving Shattenkirk as the prime choice. Signing with Anaheim fresh off his Stanley Cup victory with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the right shot defenseman has another two years remaining on that deal, paying him $3.9 million for each. His stellar +22 plus/minus from last season likely had more to do with playing for the juggernaut Lightning than his own abilities but he could be a decent middle pairing player for Seattle in the short term.

Related: Kraken Are Diving Deep Into Analytics

In net, John Gibson will be protected and the 40-year-old Ryan Miller is a pending UFA, leaving only Anthony Stolarz as a potential pickup for Seattle. With little NHL experience worth discussion, Stolarz is unlikely to catch the eye of Kraken GM Ron Francis. The fact that he hasn’t played a game this season supports that thought. The Kraken will not be selecting a goaltender from the Ducks.

The logo of the NHL’s newest club, the Seattle Kraken

These two very different teams will experience losing a player to the Kraken in different ways. While Anaheim will lose a less impressive piece, it could hurt their already thin roster while Colorado will still be a Cup threat in 2021-22. Seattle will need to dig deep into their analytics to get the best value from both of these selections.

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