Ryan McDonagh and Tyler Johnson could become back-to-back champions soon. But will they become members of the Seattle Kraken shortly thereafter? (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Who Every Team Will Protect In The Expansion Draft: Central Division

It’s almost time to release the Kraken. In less than a month (July 21, to be specific), the Seattle Kraken will select one player from every single NHL team (except the Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL’s newest team, who will not receive a share of Seattle’s $650 million league entry fee), shaping the vast majority of their inaugural team. Clubs and bloggers alike have been planning for this expansion draft for years. Contracts have been signed, trades have been made, and free agents have been offered with this very moment in mind. And in just a few short weeks, it will finally come to pass.

With so little time separating reality and the Expansion Draft, we have a pretty good idea of the players that teams will decide to protect. Of course, teams can still make trades between now and the July 18 roster freeze. That’s something we saw very little of when Vegas entered the league in 2017, but perhaps a flat salary cap could spur action from even the most consistently passive GMs. But even if there are a few deals between now and July 21, we have a good enough idea to start making projections for what every single team will do.

First, for anyone not familiar with the Expansion Draft process (It’s the same one as when Vegas entered), let’s go over the rules. Every single NHL team (Except Vegas, who we touched on earlier) will submit a protection list consisting of either seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender OR eight skaters (Regardless of position) and one goaltender. All first and second-year pros, as well as prospects still in the CHL, NCAA, or overseas, are exempt. Players with no-movement clauses (NMCs) must be protected unless they agree to be exposed. Each team must expose at least two forwards under contract in 2021-22 with at least 40 games played last year or 70 games played in the 2020-21 and 2019-20 seasons combined. They must also expose a defenseman that meets these requirements. And they must expose a goaltender who is either under contract next year or an RFA.

As for Seattle themselves, here are their guidelines. The Kraken’s drafted roster must be compliant with the NHL’s salary cap, totaling a cap hit between $48.9 and $81.5 million. They must draft at least fourteen forwards, nine defensemen, and three goaltenders; the remaining four selections can be used on players of any position. Seattle must select at least twenty players who are under contract through at least the 2021-22 season. They can’t buy out any player they select until at least the end of the 2021-22 season. During the window to make their picks, Seattle can sign any unprotected restricted free agents without giving up draft pick compensation or sign any unprotected unrestricted free agents; signing either would count as their selection from that team, however.

One last thing before we get underway: This article wouldn’t be possible without the wonderful Expansion Draft tool at CapFriendly. Their Expansion Draft FAQ was a huge resource in putting together the aforementioned guide. Make sure to check them out and make your own protection lists/draft your own Seattle Kraken team (Once you’re done reading this article, of course).

This is the second article of at least six here on Vendetta covering the 2021 Expansion Draft. There will be four — one for each division — projecting protection lists from each team. After that’s done, we’ll take a look at who Seattle is most likely to select from each club. And, of course, we’ll be covering the Expansion Draft when it happens on July 21, analyzing each of Seattle’s picks and the impact it has on the rest of the NHL. We’ve already tackled the East Division; today, we’ll move onto the Central.

Carolina Hurricanes (36-12-8, Lost to Tampa Bay in Round 2)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal (NMC), Teuvo Teräväinen, Vincent Trocheck, Jesper Fast, Andrei Svechnikov

Defensemen: Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Jake Bean

Goaltender: Alex Nedeljkovic

Carolina is a team who I could legitimately see using the eight skaters/one goaltender option, protecting four defensemen and four forwards along with Nedeljkovic. Doing so would allow the Hurricanes to protect Brady Skjei. Acquired from the Rangers for a 1st at the 2020 trade deadline, Skjei delivered a nice bounce-back year (53.55% Corsi, 53.13% xG). Those are easily the best underlying numbers of his career and his first year above water since his strong rookie year in 2016-17. He does carry a fairly hefty contract ($5.25 million through 2024), and clearing his money would make signing pending UFA Dougie Hamilton easier. It’s also possible the Canes protect Skjei and expose the promising and offensively gifted but unproven Bean. If Seattle picks him, it would give off strong Shea Theodore vibes (Though I don’t think Bean will be as good as Theodore, of course).

If the Canes go that route, the four protected forwards would likely be Aho, Staal, Teräväinen, and Svechnikov. For what it’s worth, Staal’s contract ($6 million through 2023) could scare off Seattle, even though the 32-year-old is coming off one of his best offensive seasons. But I’d be stunned if the Hurricanes upset their captain by asking him to waive his no-move clause. If the Canes go eight skaters, Trocheck would almost certainly be Seattle’s selection. Quality centers don’t come cheap, and Trocheck also had an excellent year that resembled his peak in Florida. With the 7-3-1 option, Skeji and 25-year-old depth forward Warren Foegele are the only two viable options.

Check out more on Carolina’s future here.

Chicago Blackhawks (24-25-7, Missed Playoffs)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Patrick Kane (NMC), Jonathan Toews (NMC), Alex DeBrincat, Brett Connolly, Dylan Strome, Henrik Borgström, Adam Gaudette

Defensemen: Duncan Keith (NMC), Connor Murphy, Riley Stillman

Goaltender: Kevin Lankinen

Duncan Keith rumors aside, the Blackhawks are basically set up front and between the pipes here. And it’s good that things sound positive with Jonathan Toews, who missed all of the last season. I wouldn’t be shocked if Chicago protected 22-year-old Brandon Hagel and dangled the pricey contract of decent sniper Brett Connolly. He had a nightmare 2021 season but scored 41 goals over the prior two years, a trait Seattle could covet. I’ve got him protected for now since Chicago also needs goal scorers. But I could see a fit there.

The blue-line was hard to project. As someone who doesn’t regularly view the Blackhawks, it’s hard to know where their priorities lie here heading into 2021. I know they planned to commit to a rebuild the last offseason, but maybe Kevin Lankinen’s emergence and the return of Jonathan Toews forces Stan Bowman’s hand sooner than anticipated. So do they go young with their protections and keep 23-year-old Stillman and 26-year-old Nikita Zadorov? Or do they keep two better but older players in Murphy (28) and Calvin de Hann (30), both of whom are pending UFAs at the end of 2021-22?

In the end, I split the difference and went with Stillman and Murphy. The former has youth and solid third-pair upside; the latter has been here for a while and is a dependable right-handed shot who probably has solid trade value. Considering the Kraken’s emphasis on analytics, I’d be stunned if they took the bruising Zadorov. De Hann, on the other hand, makes a lot of sense, either to keep for the 2021-22 season or flip right after the expansion draft for pick(s). Malcolm Subban could be a potential backup or third-string goalie option as well.

Columbus Blue Jackets (18-26-12, Missed Playoffs)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Cam Atkinson, Gustav Nyquist, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Max Domi, Boone Jenner, Jack Roslovic, Patrik Laine

Defensemen: Seth Jones, Zachary Werenski, Vladislav Gavrikov

Goaltender: Joonas Korpisalo

If you read the East Division article, you’ve probably picked up on a pattern; the worst teams generally have the least to expose. It’s not that Columbus doesn’t have good players, but the ones they have basically all fit under their protective umbrella. That’s especially true upfront, where the best option available is 26-year-old depth forward Buddy Robinson. Other than him (And 24-year-old Kevin Stenlund, who fits the same profile), the focus for Seattle is probably going to be on defense. Matiss Kilvenieks is a sleeper option, though; the 24-year-old net-minder has put up decent AHL numbers over the last two years and has 8 NHL games to his name. He could be useful in helping Seattle reach the three-goalie requirement.

More than likely, though, the pick will be a defender. If I were Ron Francis, I’d go after 27-year-old Dean Kukan. He’s a very solid third-pair defenseman with strong underlying numbers over his young career. They weren’t good this year because no one in Columbus had good underlying numbers, but the track record is there. Scott Harrington is one year younger and much more experienced but isn’t an analytical darling like Kukan. Both are UFAs after 2022, making just over $1.6 million. If Seattle desires a cheaper option, 24-year-old Gabriel Karlsson will be an RFA next year and has 37 NHL games to his name. He had really good potential in like NHL 19 or something, so that’s a plus.

Dallas Stars (23-19-14, Missed Playoffs)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Tyler Seguin (NMC), Jamie Benn (NMC), Joe Pavelski, Alexander Radulov (NMC), Radek Faksa, Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov

Defensemen: Esa Lindell, John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen

Goaltender: Ben Bishop (NMC)

The technically defending Western Conference Champions (Since we didn’t have conferences this year) can protect virtually all of their important skaters (And 2020 Round 2, Game 7 hero Joel Kiviranta is exempt). The big question for Dallas is in the net. Ben Bishop is great when healthy, finishing second in Vezina voting in 2018-19 and posting great numbers in 2019-20 (.920 save percentage, 13.3 goals saved above average). The problem is he isn’t healthy all that often. Bishop missed nearly all of Dallas’ 2020 playoff run and the entire 2020-21 regular season. Did I mention he’s 34 years old?

If Bishop didn’t have a no-move clause, I think there’s a chance he’d be exposed. But he does, and remember, he clocks in at a cap hit of just under $5 million. That’s a bargain for his level of play. Protecting Bishop means exposing Anton Khudobin, the hero of Dallas’ recent Finals run. But his numbers dropped off drastically this year, and Khudobin is also 34. His $3,333,333 million cap hit through 2023 is a bit pricey for a backup, especially for one of his age. But if Seattle thinks he can bounce back, there’s a potential fit here. Just don’t ask him to be your starter like Dallas did this year, as the increased workload could be a reason for his drop-off.

Percentage of Team’s Games PlayedSave PercentageGoals Saved Above Average
2019-2043.47% (30 out of 69).930% (1st in NHL)17.8
2020-2157.14% (32 out of 56).905%-2.4
Comparing Anton Khudobin’s last two regular seasons.

There isn’t much to take on defense unless Seattle thinks they get something out of 2014 1st rounder Julius Honka. He hasn’t played in the NHL since 2018-19 and spent all of 2019-20 overseas before returning to the AHL this year. I doubt there’s much interest in 35-year old Andrej Sekera (Signed through next year at $1.5 million), though he’s been serviceable in a depth role the last two years for the Stars. It would be pretty similar to Vegas’ selection of Griffin Reinhart in 2017, which didn’t work out.

Upfront, Jason Dickinson is probably the pick if Khudobin isn’t chosen. He’s a center with good size (6’2”, 200 lbs), great underlying numbers (55.97% Corsi, 57.06% xG, both easily career highs), and kills penalties. Nicholas Caamano is a 22-year-old with 36 NHL games to his name, making him an option as well. I’ve also seen Joel L’Eseperance mentioned by some as a potential pick, but he seems like no better than the third-best forward option available.

Detroit Red Wings (19-27-10, Missed Playoffs)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Dylan Larkin, Robby Fabbri, Vladislav Namestikov, Tyler Bertuzzi, Jakub Vrána, Taro Hirose, Michael Rasmussen

Defensemen: Filip Hronek, Dennis Cholowski, Gustav Lindström

Goaltender: Thomas Greiss

The Red Wings were at the start of a rebuild when Vegas plucked Tomas Nosek from them in 2017. They’re in the middle of a rebuild now, and Seattle also won’t be finding their best player from Motown. If their selection pans out as well as Nosek has in Vegas, it would be a home run. There just isn’t much to take here. I’m choosing youth on the defensive protection list. It makes sense for a rebuilding team to prioritize keeping Lindström, a 2017 2nd rounder with 26 NHL games of experience, over the proven but unspectacular Troy Stetcher. He’s a quality and underrated third-pair option that should be an easy selection here.

It probably hurts Wings fans to see former heralded prospect Evgeny Svechnikov (Andrei’s brother) unprotected. But considering he was waved this year, I don’t think the Yzerplan includes him. Givani Smith and Adam Erne are both young depth forward options that fit the Nosek archetype well.

Florida Panthers (37-14-5, Lost to Tampa Bay in Round 1)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Jonathan Huberdeau (NMC), Aleksander Barkov, Patric Hörnqvist, Frank Vatrano, Carter Verhaeghe, Anthony Duclair, Sam Bennett

Defensemen: Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle (NMC), MacKenzie Weegar

Goaltender: Sergei Bobrovsky (NMC)

There are a lot of moving parts and options for second-year general manager Bill Zito. But considering what happened the last time the Panthers participated in an expansion draft, we’ve got to take care of this first. Repeat after me, Florida: “I will not expose a forward who scored at roughly a 30-goal pace and makes almost league minimum through next season.” Ya know, again.

Now that we have that out of the way (And Carter Verhaeghe on our protection lists), let’s look at everybody else. I’m assuming that Keith Yandle, a 34-year-old without his name on the Cup, won’t waive his no-move clause and risk going to an expansion team, even if his days in Florida seem numbered. He’s still a great puck-moving defenseman with incredible durability. In fact, you could say this year was a bit of a resurgence with career-best possession numbers (56.92% Corsi, 54.67% xG). But he’s clearly fallen out of favor in Florida, and taking on a $6.35 million cap hit through 2023 may be too risky for Seattle’s liking.

I honestly thought about going eight skaters and a goalie here; Huberdeau, Barkov, Verhaeghe, Duclair, Ekblad, Yandle, Weegar, and another d-man would’ve been protected, and they probably lose Vatrano or Bennett. Considering how good the latter was after coming over from Calgary at the deadline, I don’t think the Panthers want to lose him for nothing. Especially considering they essentially gave up two 2nds for him.

Seattle would probably love the Kraken to take 34-year-old Anton Strålman, to the point where I could see them attaching a sweetener (Vatrano could be Reilly Smith 2.0 here: ex-Bruin, versatile two-way player with a little scoring touch, long track record of stellar underlying numbers). If Seattle simply wants the best defenseman available, they’ll have to decide between Markus Nutivaara and Radko Gudas. The former posted Corsi For and Expected Goals percentage of over 56%(!) this year and is the better puck-mover. The latter brings tons of physicality to the table, and his underlying numbers over his career are solid. Gustav Forsling also looked good filling in on the top pair while Ekblad went down (Though I think that says more about how good Mackenzie Weegar is than anything else). He’s also a potential option.

Wait for a second, you’re probably asking yourself, why would the Panthers protect Sergei Bobrovsky, considering his massive contract and massive unfulfilled expectations? There’s that pesky no-move clause again. Surprisingly excellent veteran Chris Driedger is a UFA. Top prospect Spencer Knight is exempt. So there’s no pressing need for the Panthers to protect either of them. And therefore no reason to risk alienating Bobrovsky and asking him to waive his no-move clause in year two of a seven-year pact. Besides, it would take enough sweeteners to build a candy shop for Seattle to even think about taking Bob’s contract on.

Nashville Predators (31-23-2, Lost to Carolina in Round 1)

Projected Format: 8-1

Forwards: Filip Forsberg, Luke Kunin, Calle Jarnkrök, Rocco Grimaldi

Defensemen: Roman Josi (NMC), Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Dante Fabbro

Goaltender: Jusse Saros

Losing one of their $8 million centers in Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene would no doubt make the Predators a worse team today. But losing one would make their organization healthier as a whole. Both players are on bloated contracts, making too much for too long (Through 2025 and 2026, respectively). They combined for just 37 points this year in combined 82 games. That’s $2.3125 million per point. Personally, I don’t see Seattle touching either one of their contracts. Maybe David Poile, impressed by Nashville’s run down the stretch to reach the playoffs, protects one or both to keep the team stronger. That would likely be a mistake as Johansen and Duchene’s contracts are their protection. And exposing them means protecting two more of the bevy of quality depth forwards Nashville has under contract.

Speaking of depth forwards, I decided on Kunin and Jarnkrök after obligatory protections of Forsberg and (Less so considering his scoring touch has dried up a bit in recent years) Viktor Arvidsson (Trade alert!). Kunin is only 23 and scored at a 42-point pace this season, which is solid. Jarnkrök had an even better offensive year, scoring at a career-high 47-point pace. He also has a good track record of solid underlying numbers (Though they dipped slightly this year) and kills penalties.

Seattle will probably be scared off by Colton Sissons’ contract lasting through 2026. The Arvidsson trade lets Nashville protect solid scorer Rocco Grimaldi. 24-year-old Yakov Trenin, a 2015 2nd rounder with great AHL numbers in 2019-20 and was solid in 45 NHL games this year, could be swapped out for Grimaldi; whoever’s exposed is likely being picked. That’s the price to protect Dante Fabbro, who the organization seems very high on.

Tampa Bay Lightning (36-17-3, Leads Montréal 2-0 in Stanley Cup Final)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Nikita Kucherov (NMC), Steven Stamkos (NMC), Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn, Ross Colton

Defensemen: Victor Hedman (NMC), Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak

Goaltender: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Tampa Bay is going to have a tough time navigating the cap this offseason. But a second Cup ring to block out the haters seems very likely, and they’ll happily take that trade-off if they can hold off Montréal two more times. To me, Tampa Bay’s expansion draft strategy centers around Ryan McDonagh. On one hand, McDonagh is a key piece on the second pair of a potential back-to-back champion. On the other hand, he’s 32, signed until he’s 38, and the Lightning have a player in Mikhail Sergachev who could fill his role. We all joke about Tampa Bay’s $17 million over the cap right now, but once we shift our focus to the offseason, the Lightning will have $17 million to clear. Getting Seattle to take on a big contract like McDonagh’s $6.25 million cap hit is one way to do that.

The biggest forward missing from the protection list is Yanni Gourde, the (literal) centerpiece of Tampa Bay’s excellent shutdown line alongside Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. But considering the latter two are pending UFAs, that line’s likely getting broken up one way or the other. And $5,166,667 million is a lot to spend on your third-line center, especially one that’s never reached the 64-point production level that led to his extension in the first place. If the Lightning decides they don’t want to lose him for nothing, they could swap out Alex Killorn’s somewhat pricey deal or solid rookie Ross Colton, an RFA at season’s end.

Here’s more hockey stuff for your reading pleasure.

In Julien BriseBois’s perfect world, the Lightning finds a way to convince Seattle to take on Tyler Johnson’s contract. The Spokane, Washington native is no longer a top-six scoring threat but is still a useful third-line caliber player or so. The issue is he makes $5 million through 2024, which doesn’t mesh well with that whole “way over the cap” problem Tampa is dealing with. Considering Johnson cleared waivers last offseason, Seattle will definitely request a significant sweetener or two to take on Johnson’s deal. Vegas struck gold with a hometown fit in Deryk Engelland; maybe Seattle finds similar success by taking on Johnson. I’ll also give an honorable mention to 24-year-old Mathieu Joseph, a decent depth center who would be a low-risk pick and leave Tampa Bay squirming.

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Advanced Stats are 5-on-5, Score and Venue Adjusted, unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick