Every NHL team’s approach to the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft was simple. Force them to make a tough decision with their pick. No team wants to give up a good player, so it’s up to them to work their magic and make the Kraken’s choice difficult. The Dallas Stars did just that. General manager Jim Nill made a few moves that gave his team leverage.
The first was to secure his top priority, Miro Heiskanen, well before free agency. While this did not directly affect the Expansion Draft, it was important to get him locked up as soon as possible so Nill could focus on Seattle. The next day, Dallas traded forward Jason Dickinson to the Vancouver Canucks for a third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. Rather than lose Dickinson to the Kraken for nothing, the Stars got something in return. The final move that shook the hockey world was that goaltender Ben Bishop agreed to waive his no-movement clause. That allowed Dallas to expose Bishop in the expansion draft (especially given the unknowns about his health) and protect Anton Khudobin to secure their goaltending for next season.
The Stars have now left the Kraken with slim options to choose from, which is exactly how they wanted it. While there are talented players on the exposed list, most of them come with more risk than other options. For Seattle, it will be about choosing the one who is worth the risk. Here are their options.
Sekera has been in the NHL since 2006 and has played for five teams in his career – the longest stint was with the Buffalo Sabres early on. The 35-year-old provides a lot of stability on the Dallas blue line. However, he has his limits. Over the past two seasons, he has been among the lowest in ice time among defensemen, playing exclusively on the third pairing. While he still blocks shots and can help on the penalty kill, he adds very little else. If selected by Seattle, his biggest asset would be his experience.
Comeau is similar to Sekera. He is also 35 years old and has played for six teams since his career began in 2006. His offense has dried up in recent seasons, and his role has changed for the Stars. On the upside, he has been a part of perhaps the best checking line in the league alongside Radek Faksa and Andrew Cogliano.
The “F-C-C” line, as it is called in Dallas, was tasked with stopping the opponents’ top players on a nightly basis. Similar to Sekera, Comeau is also a solid penalty killer. He can take face-offs when needed and has great defensive awareness. The downside is that this role, minus the experience, can be filled by younger, cheaper prospects. What Comeau will bring to the Kraken is the experience of just about everything you can go through in the NHL.
Mascherin seems to be dancing the line between the NHL and American Hockey League (AHL). He had a terrific season in 2020-21, scoring 18 goals and 34 points in 37 games. He is a proven goal-scorer in the AHL, and the Stars are hoping that he can continue to do so in the NHL. However, he has yet to make his debut, has only played in one full season in the AHL, and still has a lot to work on. He has upside, but there is risk involved in selecting a player who has not shown he can compete at the highest level.
L’Esperance has played in 33 NHL games and has had a bit of success in that time. However, he has struggled to stay in the lineup, and after playing 18 games in his first season in 2018-19, he has only played 15 since. His skills are limited. He is a goal-scorer, similar to Mascherin, but also lacks defensive abilities. Both players are still in their early 20s and will grow with experience, but his NHL future is unclear.
Oleksiak is not a risk in terms of his ability. He has become a staple on Dallas’ second pair, playing alongside Heiskanen the past few seasons. He has grown significantly in his second stint with the Stars and is a huge part of the team’s success. However, he is also an unrestricted free agent.
This means that Seattle would be taking a risk by drafting him since they did not agree to a contract with him before the deadline this morning. If he is selected, there is still the risk he signs elsewhere. While a deal could get done with Seattle, anything can happen when it comes to negotiations. He may even re-sign with the Stars, where interest is mutual in bringing him back. If he is drafted and signed, he would be a huge addition for the Kraken, but is it worth the risk of ending up with nothing?
“Jamie’s a guy that we want, he’s a big part of our core,” Nill said. “I think he’s a big part of our top-four, our defense is as good as any defense in the league when you look at it. He’s a big part of that. So, he’s a player we’re hoping we can get re-signed here” (from ‘Behind the scenes of Stars’ NHL trade deadline: Why Dallas GM Jim Nill decided to stay quiet’, Dallas Morning News, 4/12/2021).
Bishop is perhaps the biggest risk of all for Seattle, given his injury history and contract. However, he is also a top goalie for the Kraken’s inaugural season.
“It was orchestrated by him because of the uncertainty of his status and because he wanted to help the organization,” Nill said. “He hasn’t really played in a year and a half, and he knows what Anton has done for us, so I think he just decided this is what’s best for everyone.”
Bishop has had plenty of health problems but when he is healthy, he is consistently one of the best goalies in the league. His numbers have been fantastic with a .923 save percentage and 2.33 goals-against average over three seasons with the Stars. He was also the team’s best player in the 2019 Playoffs, getting them to the Western Conference Final almost on his own.
However, after knee surgery last summer, Bishop was supposed to be ready late in the 2020-2021 season. Complications during his recovery forced him to miss the entire season after playing in just three games during the Stars’ run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. Simply put, there is no guarantee that he will ever play again or how good he will be if he does return. He also carries a $4,916,667 cap hit for the next two seasons. While the Kraken could add him to their long-term injured reserve list and save the cap space, that would put them in an unfavorable position.
The upside of selecting him is that they could have a Vezina-caliber goaltender from day one who would make them instantly competitive. Similarly, Marc-Andre Fleury nearly brought the Vegas Golden Knights their first Stanley Cup in their inaugural season. However, they could also end up with nothing, weighed down by a contract that takes up a decent chunk of their cap space.
Other Notable Players Exposed
- Joel Hanley
- Andrew Cogliano
- Riley Damiani
- Nick Caamano
- Julius Honka
- Taylor Fedun
- Ben Gleason
- Mark Pysyk
- Tanner Kero
The Stars did their jobs in making this a tough decision for the Kraken. No pick comes with a guarantee, and those who have been exposed, while they will be missed, can be replaced. That is the goal heading into the Expansion Draft, so Dallas can be happy with where they stand. Now it’s time to see how Seattle handles things on their end.
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!