Kraken Can Take Advantage of Teams With Too Many Players to Protect

In 2017, the Vegas Golden Knights navigated the redesigned expansion draft almost to perfection. As teams desperately tried to keep the players whom they deemed most critical to their success, they inadvertently gifted the Golden Knights with a team capable of reaching the Stanley Cup Final in its first season. Many of Vegas’s most important players today were not claimed in the draft itself but were acquired through side trades that teams orchestrated to expand their protection ability.

Unfortunately, their carefully-planned deals backfired in most cases. Teams like the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild traded prospects Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch, respectively, who have grown into high-impact NHL players. The Winnipeg Jets and New York Islanders traded their first-round picks in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Although the players selected with those picks, Nick Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom, never played for Vegas, they became the centerpiece of trades for star wingers Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone.

Given how poorly expansion draft side deals worked out in 2017, you’d think teams would be warier this time around, and I expect that to be the case. However, several teams may not have a choice given their depth and the modest draft parameters. To review: each team may protect either seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender, or eight skaters and a goaltender. Here’s a look at those teams that will need to negotiate with the Seattle Kraken to keep their core intact and what Seattle could feasibly gain in the process.

Minnesota Wild

Unfortunately, the Wild will again be faced with an undesirable situation because of their defensive depth. They have three defensemen with no-movement clauses (NMCs) who must be protected: captain Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Ryan Suter (for this exercise, I will assume that no player waives his NMC). However, Matt Dumba’s outstanding play this season will likely warrant a fourth spot devoted to a defenseman.

Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba
Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

That choice would force the Wild to protect eight skaters, but that poses issues as well. The team has two forwards – Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello – with NMCs, and forwards Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek are all but locks to receive protection slots. If Minnesota opts for this route, many quality forwards will be available to the Kraken, including Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno.

If management wants to keep their promising core together, they’ll have to offer an incentive to Seattle. They may hesitate to ship out a young prospect given how poorly it worked out with Tuch, but the Kraken could realistically ask for a player like center Adam Beckman. Beckman, 19, was drafted 75th overall in 2019 and has been excellent in the WHL ever since. If not a prospect, the Wild could give up their first-round pick.

It is also important to consider the player that Seattle would then select. Minnesota could offer center Nick Bjugstad or defenseman Carson Soucy. Both are serviceable NHL players with the ability to take on bigger roles with a new team.

Potential Trade: Minnesota trades a 2021 first-round pick in exchange for Seattle selecting D Carson Soucy

Colorado Avalanche

In 2017, the Colorado Avalanche made out relatively well, losing only backup goaltender Calvin Pickard. After suffering through the worst season in the salary cap era, they understandably did not have many players that needed to be protected. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case this time around. The team has had a remarkable turnaround, now among the best teams in the league.

Similar to the Wild, the Avalanche have four defensemen who warrant protection slots. Defenseman Erik Johnson has an NMC, and young blueliners Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and Devon Toews are all key players. That leaves four skater spots remaining in the eight skater structure, but the Avalanche have well over four forwards whom they’d like to protect. Assuming the top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen is protected, only one spot remains for Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Brandon Saad, Valeri Nichushkin, and more.

Gabriel Landeskog Colorado Avalanche
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

To keep their elite core fully intact, the Avalanche will have to make a side offer. Their 2021 first-round pick will likely be late in the round and not that valuable. Seattle would almost certainly prefer a player.

The Avalanche have a well-stocked prospect pool, and one of their prized draftees may prove to be a casualty. Forward Martin Kaut or defenseman Conor Timmins could be tempting. However, given the quality of player that the Kraken would be forced to give up, an extra sweetener would likely be necessary.

In return, the Kraken would likely select former tenth-overall pick Tyson Jost or defenseman Ryan Graves who serve depth roles. Let’s say the Kraken pick Jost.

Potential Trade: Colorado trades F Martin Kaut and a 2023 second-round pick in exchange for Seattle selecting F Tyson Jost

Tampa Bay Lightning

In 2017, Tampa Bay paid a premium to retain their valuable depth. Vegas selected expendable defenseman Jason Garrison in exchange for second and fourth-round picks along with top prospect Nikita Gusev. Although the Golden Knights haven’t reaped the rewards of that deal, having traded away both the second-round pick and Gusev, the Lightning lost out on two top-six caliber forwards (Alexandre Texier was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets with that pick, and Gusev has grown into that role with the New Jersey Devils).

After winning the Stanley Cup just a few months ago, the Lightning will again face a major challenge with the expansion draft. They have a surplus of both forwards AND defensemen and will lose a quality player barring any sort of external trade. The Kraken would have a choice between established forwards like Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn, or top defense prospect Callan Foote.

Cal Foote Syracuse Crunch
Cal Foote, Syracuse Crunch (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Lightning are built to win now, and would likely want to retain their veteran talent. That means sacrificing youth instead. Although they lack quality NHL prospects, certain players may be tempting. Young players with limited NHL experience like Mathieu Joseph, Alex Volkov, and Mitchell Stephens are all intriguing options for Seattle’s selection.

As for the side offer, Tampa Bay would likely be forced to part with star AHL forward Alex Barré-Boulet. Following the blueprint of the 2017 trade, some draft picks would be part of the equation as well. Let’s say a second and sixth-round pick since the Kraken’s selection would be of higher quality than Jason Garrison.

Potential Trade: Tampa Bay trades F Alex Barré-Boulet and 2021 second and sixth-round picks in exchange for Seattle selecting F Alex Volkov

Final Thoughts

The Kraken are in a more difficult situation than the Golden Knights were. Without the benefit of surprise, teams will exercise caution when formulating protection lists and side trades. Seattle general manager Ron Francis is faced with a challenging task.

However, it’s likely that the Kraken will take advantage of their unique position. Even with the benefit of hindsight, teams like the ones mentioned above will be forced to let go of valuable players and picks. By identifying these teams and negotiating well, the Kraken can select a competitive team and burn the rest of the league just as the Golden Knights did.