Recently, a group of us at The Hockey Writers came together to bring fans the most realistic Seattle Kraken mock expansion draft possible. Tasked as the Los Angeles Kings’ acting general manager (GM), I had to take a long look at the team’s roster and try to put together the best protection list possible. Fortunately, the Kings are in an excellent spot for the upcoming expansion draft, with a large majority of their high-value assets still on entry-level contracts. This made my job significantly easier, as I didn’t need to worry about cutting deals with other GMs to save players on the roster.
In the end, Kale Clague was the player I had to lose; while I like Clague and see him as a potential NHL defenseman, I was not overly devastated to lose him. Here’s an overview of how I came up with my protection strategy.
Exempt Players Made Life Easier
As I mentioned earlier, the large group of exempt players the Kings have made my life a lot easier. I didn’t have to protect high-value players like Gabe Vilardi, Tobias Bjornfot, Mikey Anderson, or the slew of players with the Ontario Reign.
The high number of exempt players made it very easy to simply protect the best players on the roster, based on current ability. I didn’t have to worry about losing a player that might have a big impact in three years. The team is reaping yet another benefit from having one of the league’s best prospect pools — an easy expansion draft.
As most fans would expect, I choose to go with the seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender configuration. I will start off my protected list with the forwards:
Anze Kopitar — Of course, Kopitar was protected. He’s the team’s captain and led them in scoring, once again, last season. He’s still the team’s best player, and his ability to mentor the group of prospects coming through will be huge in the team’s rebuild.
Dustin Brown — I did think about leaving Brown unprotected, though that thought was very short-lived. It simply doesn’t make sense. He is still a productive player, leading the team in goals last season, and his leadership qualities are undeniable. Like Kopitar, Brown is the kind of player you want mentoring young prospects. With just one year left on his contract and the Kings having an abundance of cap room, there wasn’t a financial reason to protect him either.
Adrian Kempe — Kempe is coming off, arguably, his best season to date. His 29 points placed him fifth on the team and he proved versatile, filling several roles for the team last season. At just 24 years old, there’s still room for improvement for him as well. He is an obvious choice to protect and might even have a breakout season in 2021-22.
Alex Iafallo — Another player whose protection status was never in doubt, Iafallo makes my list. He’s a steady forward who brings consistent performances every night. He’s great defensively and excels at retrieving pucks for more talented teammates. He’ll likely be a mainstay on the team’s top six next season, and after signing a four-year $16 million contract there was little doubt that he would be protected.
Trevor Moore — I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that Moore increased his value last season more so than any other Kings player. Before the season started, many fans would have expected him to play a minor role on the team and that he would be left unprotected in the expansion draft. But, after 10 goals and 13 assists last season, very few fans would leave him unprotected now. He’s a hard-working forward, who is beginning to showcase the high skill level he displayed in college. It was an easy decision to protect Moore.
Lias Andersson — Andersson might not make everyone’s protected list; however, I think he showed enough promise at the end of last season to earn his spot. He split time between the American Hockey League (AHL) and NHL last season as he learned to play wing, and by the end of the season, he looked ready to take on a full-time NHL role. Ultimately, he has a bigger upside than the players who would be protected over him.
Viktor Arvidsson — Arvidsson is the new kid on the block and he rounds out the protected forwards list. The second he was acquired from Nashville, he was added to the protected list. He should walk onto the team’s top six and will add a much-needed scoring threat. Fans should be very excited about what he will bring to the team and should have no worries about losing him to Seattle.
Drew Doughty (NMC) — Doughty has a no-movement clause (NMC) in his contract and therefore must be protected. Of course, NMC or not, he would have been protected. He’s the team’s best defenseman and after a bounce-back season last year, he’ll be looking to re-enter the Norris conversation on a better Kings team next year. Like Kopitar, there was no question about protecting Doughty.
Matt Roy — “Steady Eddie” Roy is another protected defenseman. He is a solid second-pairing defenseman, who excels at shutting down forwards. There’s nothing flashy about his game, but he is extremely effective. He will be a lock for the team’s top-four next season and the team wouldn’t risk losing him in the expansion draft.
Sean Walker — Rounding off the blue line, Walker claims the third and final protected slot. Despite being a third-pairing defenseman, there was little doubt about protecting him. He led the team in even-strength points for a defenseman with 17 and anchored the team’s third pair. He brings a much-needed offensive thrust to the team’s blue line and therefore can’t be left unprotected. Bjornfot and Anderson being exempt also made this decision very easy, as they likely would have taken his spot.
Cal Petersen — Another easy pick, Petersen is our guy in the net. He’s been touted as the “heir-apparent” to Jonathan Quick for a while now and I think the future is now with Petersen. The net should be his next season as he continues developing into a bona fide, number one goalie. He will be hoping to take his form from the recent World Championships into next season as the team tries to make a playoff push. He should be the King’s number one goalie for a long time — so protecting him was a no-brainer.
Notable Names Left Unprotected
Clague was Seattle GM Tony Wolak’s pick from LA — while this was probably the correct decision, there were other options available. Other enticing names include Carl Grundstrom, Blake Lizotte, Martin Frk, and Austin Wagner. Grundstrom and Lizotte would have been solid bottom-six pickups who could help the team out with depth. Neither player would come in and wow fans with their performances; however, they would be consistently solid every night.
Wagner and Frk would be more high-risk, high-reward additions. Both players are one-dimensional but are near-elite in that one dimension. Wagner is one of the fastest players around and consistently finds himself in breakaway scenarios, unfortunately, he almost never finishes on those breakaways. Frk has a great shot and could add a much-needed goal threat to Seattle’s roster. He brings almost nothing else outside of shooting though and there’s a reason he has never stuck in the NHL. He would be a decent choice if the team were in desperate need of a shooter, but ultimately, the deficiencies in his game are likely too much to overlook.
Despite talks with several teams — mainly Nashville, Calgary, and St. Louis — the real-life acquisition of Arvidsson was the only trade that got done. Most of my pre-draft moves came in re-signings. Moore and Andersson were both extended, while Andreas Athanasiou was not. Athanasiou put together a solid season for Los Angeles, but I didn’t see a spot for him in the lineup and therefore let him walk. It was relatively uneventful for the team, as I decided to trust the process and hold onto most of my assets.
The Kings being in rebuild mode made my job very easy. There were almost no hard decisions and the protection list nearly picked itself. Losing Clague hurts a little bit, but it isn’t a big loss. I imagine most fans expect to lose him and are okay with it. He will be a solid defenseman for Seattle, but likely wouldn’t have reached his full potential with Los Angeles.