Kraken Expansion Draft Options Changing Rapidly

The offseason has gotten off to a blazing start in the past couple of days. First, the Chicago Blackhawks traded Duncan Keith to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Caleb Jones and a third-round pick, signaling the true end of an era in Chicago. Next came a flurry of buyouts, with Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin buying out the final four years of the twin contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Not to be outdone, Florida Panthers GM Bill Zito bought out the final two years of Keith Yandle‘s contract.

Then, the news broke that Montréal Canadiens defenseman and captain Shea Weber could miss all of next season and possibly even retire due to lingering lower-body injuries, effectively removing him from Montréal’s Expansion Draft protection list. Finally, the Colorado Avalanche sent defenseman Ryan Graves to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Mikhail Maltsev and a second-round pick.

Though all of this news would hold significance in any offseason, the looming expansion draft intensifies the situation. The Seattle Kraken have been starting to finalize their plans for the selection process, but much has changed now with several wrenches thrown into the mix. These recent moves could seriously limit options, as they are intended to increase flexibility for the aforementioned teams. How are the projected protection lists for these teams different following each of these moves? Let’s take a look.

Chicago Blackhawks/Edmonton Oilers

The swap of Keith and Jones actually does not have very big expansion draft implications. The only true impact that is of consequence is the likely inability to select Caleb Jones.

Caleb Jones Edmonton Oilers
Caleb Jones, former Edmonton Oiler (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Prior to this trade, it appeared likely that Jones would be left exposed by the Oilers. Had that been the case, he would have been a good option for the Kraken. Though Jones was not trusted with very much playing time, his underlying numbers were strong in the minutes that he did get.

Now, with Jones on Chicago, he is almost certain to be protected. The Blackhawks do not have a very deep blueline, so there is no reason to leave Jones exposed. The Kraken will no longer have the option to select him.

Minnesota Wild

On July 4, 2012, then-GM Chuck Fletcher signed Minnesota natives Suter and Parise to identical 13-year, $98 million contracts. They were touted as the faces of the franchise, the players who would finally bring a cup to the State of Hockey.

Ryan Suter Minnesota Wild
Ryan Suter, former Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Nine years later, the Wild have just two playoff round wins to show for it. With Parise and Suter both entering their late 30s, the Wild decided, shockingly, to buy out both contracts. Although the Parise buyout was somewhat anticipated, the choice to move on from Suter was a shock to just about everyone, including Suter himself.

Suter’s no-movement clause (NMC) made it pretty likely that defenseman Matt Dumba would be available to the Kraken (barring a trade of some sort). However, with Suter no longer on the roster, Seattle will have to set their sites elsewhere.

Forwards Nico Sturm and Victor Rask, both of whom are solid middle-sixers, could be left exposed. On defense, Carson Soucy could be of interest. At the goaltending position, whichever one of Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen is left exposed would be a good selection.

Though Dumba was certainly the ideal pick, the Kraken could still get a quality NHL player from Minnesota.

Florida Panthers

After Yandle was kept in a sheltered role throughout the 2020-21 season, GM Bill Zito decided to buy out the final two years and $12.7 million of his contract.

Keith Yandle Florida Panthers
Keith Yandle, former Florida Panther (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Though Yandle’s offensive game and power-play prowess have remained productive into his 30s, his already weak defensive game has fallen off a cliff. His NMC would have made him a protection necessity, so Zito has acquired another protection slot on defense.

The Panthers’ top two defensemen in Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar already would have been protected, even with Yandle on the roster, but another defenseman can now be protected from exposure. The pick for that slot is likely to be Radko Gudas.

Though the Kraken can no longer select Gudas, there are still solid options available from Florida, including Brandon Montour, Markus Nutivaara, Noel Acciari, and Lucas Wallmark.

Montréal Canadiens

Renaud Lavoie first reported last night that Weber’s injuries may be more serious than initially thought. It has become a very real possibility that he will not play at all in the 2021-22 NHL season.

Weber was presumed to be a lock on Montréal’s expansion protection list, but this news has changed that. It now appears that the Canadiens will protect Jeff Petry, Joel Edmundson, and one of Ben Chiarot and Brett Kulak (likely the former).

The Kraken now have one less defenseman to choose from, but the consequences may go even further. It was rumored that, with the number of quality defensemen on the Canadiens roster, they may have chosen to go the 4-4-1 route with their protection list. There is no longer a need to do that, which substantially decreases the options at forward available to the Kraken.

As it stands, Seattle will most likely be choosing between one of the aforementioned defensemen and goaltender Jake Allen, who performed well this season as Carey Price‘s backup.

Colorado Avalanche

Last night, the Avalanche announced that Graves was sent to the Devils in exchange for prospect Maltsev and a second-round pick. Based on Colorado’s roster and the timing of the deal, it seems clear that the trade was made due to the upcoming Expansion Draft.

Ryan Graves Colorado Avalanche
Ryan Graves, former Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With longtime Avalanche blueliner Erik Johnson having waived his NMC, Colorado was expected to protect Cale Makar, Devon Toews, and Sam Girard on defense, leaving Graves exposed. In most mock drafts, Graves was the projected pick for Seattle.

Now, with Graves likely to be protected in New Jersey, the Kraken will have to choose someone else from Colorado. That could be defenseman Jacob MacDonald or one of forwards Valeri Nichushkin and Tyson Jost, depending on who is protected.

Though the past couple of days have definitely caused some changes in Seattle’s preparation for the upcoming draft, Ron Francis and his management team should not be too concerned. There are still plenty of high-quality options to choose from come July 21.