The Minnesota Wild are one of several teams facing tough decisions in the upcoming expansion draft, such as whether to protect solid veteran Cam Talbot or budding youngster Kaapo Kähkönen from the Kraken. (Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune)

Who Every Team Will Protect In The Expansion Draft: West 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 be deciding on 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 a 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 third 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 and Central Division; today, we’ll move onto the West.

Anaheim Ducks (17-30-9, Missed Playoffs)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Jakob Silfverberg, Rickard Rakell, Danton Heinen, Troy Terry, Sam Steel, Isac Lundeström, Max Jones

Defensemen: Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson

Goaltender: John Gibson

More so than any other team I’ve projected so far, I don’t know what to make of the Ducks. They have a ton of solid young defensemen they no doubt want to protect. Haydn Fleury, Jacob Larsson, and Brendan Guhle are all 24 or younger, and the latter two have been hyped as key pieces of their future. And we haven’t even mentioned last year’s big free-agent addition Kevin Shattenkirk, a solid offensive defenseman in the here and now. But would the Ducks expose one of Fowler, Lindholm, or Manson? Doubt it; all three have been key cogs in Anaheim’s machine for a while (even if that machine is heavily flawed) and have plenty of trade value. Dealing Manson would make sense; he was heavily rumored at last year’s deadline and is a UFA at season’s end.

I’d recommend Anaheim go eight skaters to protect Larsson and Guhle plus three forwards, but which three? Rakell and Silfverberg are the team’s two best forwards, and Rakell is the same boat Manson’s in; solid player a year away from free agency that could net a really nice haul. Especially considering he makes just under $3.9 million, a pretty reasonable amount for a 28-year-old center who consistently scores at roughly a 50-point pace.

Terry, Steel, Lundeström, and Jones all fit the Larsson/Guhle profile; young players are seen as key pieces in Anaheim’s future. Yet is it fair to say none of them have met expectations so far? Terry led the group with 20 points in 48 games; everyone else clocked in at 12 or fewer in 42-46 games played. That’s rough, to say the least. Danton Heinen makes it almost by default, with 23-year-old Alexander Volkov his only real competition.

Sonny Milano and Derek Grant are respectable depth options. But considering both make over $1.5 million, Milano spent time in the AHL this year, and there are simply better options. It would be a win for Anaheim if Seattle takes either. So let’s swing back around to those defensemen. Fleury, Larsson, and Guhle. The former two are both former first-round picks (Guhle was a 2015 2nd rounder and is one year younger than both at 23). Which one (if any) should the Kraken select?

Games PlayedPoints Per GameCorsi For%Expected Goals%Actual Goals% (5v5)
Haydn Fleury1790.1552.14%49.79%46.07%
Jacob Larsson1590.1445.09%44.28%43.48%
Brendan Guhle*590.2446.12%44.69%45.95%
*Did not play in the NHL in 2020-21; all numbers are career, in case the games played totals didn’t give that away.

Fleury clearly looks like the best option, but remember all but 12 of his 179 games came on a vastly superior possession team in Carolina. In four seasons with the Canes, Fleury was a negative relative to his teammates in Corsi For% and xG% three times. But he was a significant plus to his teammates in both departments during his short tenure in Anaheim, so he’s probably not as good or as bad as you think. And considering Larsson and Guhle’s lackluster NHL results to this point, Fleury appears to have a leg up.

Shattenkirk is the best player of the exposed defensive bunch right now; I didn’t even bother listing him on the table because his career is at a completely different place. Seattle’s philosophy will determine their interest in Shattenkirk; do they want to win now or are they looking for guys in it for the long haul? I’ll also give goalie Anthony Stolarz a mention; he’s posted a strong .914 save percentage in 34 games, stopping 4.2 goals above expected in 2021.

Arizona Coyotes (24-26-6, Missed Playoffs)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Clayton Keller, Phil Kessel (NMC), Nick Schmaltz, Christian Dvorak, Lawson Crouse, Christian Fischer, Conor Garland

Defensemen: Oliver Ekman-Larsson (NMC), Jakob Chychrun, Ilya Lyubushkin

Goaltender: Darcy Kuemper

Like Anaheim, I don’t really know what Arizona’s future has in store, but at least I have a pretty good idea of their expansion draft plans. Thanks to having literally every defenseman in the organization a few players as UFAs, there’s not too much for Arizona to worry about on the backend. The big conundrum for me is how much do they value Ilya Lyubushkin, a solid third pair d-man for the last couple of years. Maybe 23-year-old Cam Dineen, who the Coyotes took 68th in 2016, has a shot of being protected after scoring 10 points in 22 AHL games, but I doubt it.

The two most likely picks for the Kraken here are Tyler Pitlick and Adin Hill. The former is someone I’m very familiar with from his time in Philly. Pitlick is a quality fourth-liner; gritty on the forecheck, solid on the penalty kill, and has a sneaky good shot, in my opinion. The latter has a solid .909 save percentage in 49 games over four seasons, including a .913 mark in 19 contests this year. Both come in cheap; Pitlick at $1.75 million and a UFA at the end of 2021-22, Hill at just $800K, and an RFA whose deal is up at the same time as Pitlick’s. Neither player will make headlines, but both could be solid contributors for the Kraken.

Colorado Avalanche (39-13-4, Lost to Vegas in Round 2)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, André Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, Valeri Nichushkin, Tyson Jost

Defensemen: Samuel Girard, Devon Toews, Cale Makar

Goaltender: Jonas Johansson

I’m making a fairly big assumption with this protection list, forecasting that defenseman Erik Johnson will be willing to waive his no-move clause. The 32-year-old is still serviceable but missed all of last year due to injury and clocks in at a pricey $6 million cap hit through 2023. There’s almost no chance Seattle would take him if exposed; Johnson’s camp likely knows this, and being able to expose him would be a huge benefit for the Avalanche. If he’s unwilling to void his NMC, I think Colorado’s best bet is to go eight skaters. I’d protect Rantanen, MacKinnon, Burakovsky, Kadri, Johnson, and all of the above defensemen. Having Gabriel Landeskog and Philip Grubauer as UFAs makes navigating the cap tricky but helps the Avs for the expansion draft. It’s a give-and-take situation in a critical offseason in Colorado.

Because goalie Pavel Francouz missed the entire season with an injury, he should be considered a second-year pro and technically exempt from the process. If they do need to protect him, the Avalanche should have no qualms about exposing third-stringer Jonas Johansson (they could also protect Hunter Miska — same age, similarly poor NHL numbers, so it doesn’t really matter). Colorado’s toughest decision comes down to which forward to expose. It’ll likely come down to Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher, with Valeri Nichushkin maybe being a dark horse to be exposed (I really don’t see it given his tremendous defensive results).

Compher has the higher floor; he scored at about a 40-point pace. But Jost is a former 1st round pick, three years younger, scored at a comparable rate to Compher this year, and has been the (much) better possession player over the last two years. Our resident Avs fan Gavin Daly seemed to be pretty high on him towards the end of the year. So we’ll pencil him into the final protection spot, accepting that Compher or decent defenseman Ryan Graves (2019-20 plus/minus leader!) is heading to Seattle.

Here’s more offseason stuff on the Avalanche if you’re interested.

Los Angeles Kings (21-28-7, Missed Playoffs)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Viktor Arvidsson, Alex Iafallo, Adrian Kempe, Carl Grundström, Lias Andersson

Defensemen: Drew Doughty (NMC), Matt Roy, Sean Walker

Goaltender: Cal Petersen

Thursday’s Viktor Arvidsson trade doesn’t change too much for LA’s expansion draft outlook. Most of LA’s outstanding young talent is exempt from the expansion draft. Trevor Moore and Andreas Athanasiou are both 26-year-old forward restricted free agents coming off 23 point seasons; either would make a great fit in Seattle. Or either could be protected instead of the younger, less proven Grundström and Andersson. LA just traded a 2nd for Andersson at last year’s draft, so it’s unlikely they want to give up on him so quickly. It’s not like they committed a lot to Athanasiou in the offseason (1 year, $1.2 million). But if Athanasiou or Moore takes Grundström’s spot, I wouldn’t be too surprised. Dustin Brown’s bounce-back season necessitates protection here, seeing as his deal only has one year left.

LA could also lose defenseman Olli Määttä to the Kraken; Matt Roy is significantly cheaper, more than doubled Määttä’s point total, and averaged almost three more minutes of ice time per night. I don’t think Määttä’s $3,333,225 million cap hit and poor underlying numbers make high a likely option, but he’s a big enough name to warrant mention (and like Brown, his deal is up after next year, so there’s no long-term risk). And Jonathan Quick’s big contract should allow him to retire in LA while the Kings protect their goalie of the future (and present) Cal Petersen.

Minnesota Wild (35-16-5, Lost to Vegas in Round 1)

Projected Format: 8-1

Forwards: Mats Zuccarello (NMC), Jordan Greenway, Kevin Fiala, Joel Eriksson Ek

Defensemen: Jared Spurgeon (NMC), Ryan Suter (NMC), Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin (NMC)

Goaltender: Kaapo Kähkönen

I’m fascinated to see how Minnesota handles the expansion draft. Last time around, they paid a significant price to keep their stellar top two defensive pairs intact, sending quality center Erik Haula and top prospect Alex Tuch to protect Dumba. Seeing as that worked out poorly, I’d expect the Wild to take a different approach this time (especially since Chuck Fletcher was still at the controls here back when Vegas entered the league).

First things first, I’ve got Zach Parise waiving his no-move clause here. Parise was a frequent healthy scratch in the playoffs and doesn’t seem to be in coach Dean Evanson’s good graces at all. He was also almost traded to the Islanders at the 2020 deadline. And his massive contract at over $7 million lasting through 2025(!) will temper Seattle’s interest, to say the least; it’d take a heavy dose of sweeteners for the Kraken to even remotely consider it.

The other big consideration to make is between the pipes. On one hand, Cam Talbot was excellent for the club this year (.915 save percentage, 6.9 goals saved above average) and is signed to a very reasonable deal ($3,666,667 through 2023). On the other, Kähkönen was doing just as well before a nightmare April/May (.849 save percentage in six starts) skewed his numbers. He’s 24 and is considered the team’s future in net after being named AHL goalie of the year in 2019-20. He’s an RFA when his meager two-year, $750K deal expires in 2022. It’s close, but I’m betting on Kähkönen’s upside and there being options to replace Talbot if the Kraken takes him (namely Buffalo’s Linus Ullmark if Bill Guerin doesn’t want to shell out big bucks to a potential Talbot replacement).

The good(?) news for the Wild is that it isn’t a lock that Talbot is taken; there are plenty of other quality players available. Upfront, there’s a pair of physical and recently extended bottom-sixers in Marcus Foligno and Ryan Hartman. Foligno, in particular, had a breakout year, scoring at a 55-point pace with a 57.19% Expected Goals%. On the back-end, Carson Soucy is a quality third-pair option who reminds me of the types of players Vegas elevated into bigger roles that helped them reach the Final in year one. And he makes a reasonable $2.75 million for the next two seasons. He’s posted a goals for percentage of over 60% each of the last two years, though his underlying numbers (especially this season) haven’t been as strong.

Want a breakdown of Joel Eriksson Ek’s massive extension? You’ve got it!

San Jose Sharks (21-28-7, Missed Playoffs)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, Kevin Labanc, Ryan Donato, Rüdolfs Balcers

Defensemen: Erik Karlsson (NMC), Marc-Éduoard Vlasic (NMC), Radim Simek

Goaltender: Josef Korenar

How San Jose’s protection list depends on how far GM Doug Wilson’s head is into the proverbial sand. The Sharks’ best days are behind them, and considering the massive contracts they’ve handed out to several aging veterans, I’m not sure if they can turn it around without a full rebuild. But as long as Wilson’s here, that doesn’t feel very likely. I don’t see Wilson asking Karlsson or Vlasic to waive their no-move clauses, even though their massive contracts would certainly scare off Seattle. I’m at least hoping he’ll be smart enough to realize Brent Burns, while still serviceable, also fits in this category. Exposing him would allow the Sharks to protect Radim Simek, a rare Sharks defenseman whose AAV isn’t breaking the bank. Bleak stuff here.

Cap HitYears LeftNo-Move Clause?Age At Expiry
Erik Karlsson$11.5 Million6Yes37
Brent Burns$8 Million4No40
Marc-Édouard Vlasic$7 Million5Yes39
Comparing the nightmare contracts of San Jose’s big three on defense.

Speaking of bad contracts, I’m also exposing Martin Jones here. Over the last three seasons, Jones’ .896 save percentage is tied for 67th among 72 goalies with at least 30 games played. He’s actually posted exactly a .896 save percentage. In that span, he’s allowed 49.6 goals above expected, a major reason why San Jose has missed the playoffs each of the last two years.

You could make the argument that the Sharks should protect Jones since his contract is unmovable, so you might as well maintain morale. And it’s not like Korenar is a world-beater or even projected to be San Jose’s future in net (he posted a sub .900 save percentage in 10 NHL and 8 AHL games in 2021). But I just can’t justify protecting that horrible contract, so sure, expose Jones. Dylan Gambrell is a decent 24-yea old center with 110 NHL games of experience. He’s as good a choice as anyone for Seattle.

St. Louis Blues (27-20-9, Lost to Colorado in Round 1)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn, David Perron, Oskar Sundqvist, Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas

Defensemen: Torey Krug, Colton Parayko, Vince Dunn

Goaltender: Jordan Binnington

Yes, Vince Dunn’s days here are likely numbered, but exposing and losing him for nothing would be poor asset management. To me, it would make the most sense for the Blues to trade Dunn before the expansion draft. Doing so would allow them to protect (likely) Marco Scandella, a solid defenseman who they paid a 2nd and 4th round pick to acquire at the 2020 trade deadline. He’s not a slam dunk for Seattle to take if exposed; in fact, I wouldn’t even say it’s likely. Seattle could either add a cheap young goaltender or a quality bottom-sixer who they could try to elevate in true Vegas fashion. Justin Faulk’s hefty contract (6 years left at $5.75 million) very likely prices him out of Ron Francis’s comfort zone, barring major sweeteners.

Let’s look at the goalies first. Evan Fitzpatrick is a 23-year-old taken in the second round of the 2016 draft. He had a .930 save percentage in AHL games this year but has struggled at both the AHL and ECHL levels each of the last two years. Goalies are weird, so maybe the Kraken take a flier here if they want someone to reach the three goalie requirement. Ville Husso would also help with that obligation. He has the higher floor with 17 NHL games to his name this year, although he posted a lackluster .893 save percentage in those games.

If the Kraken is looking for the best player from Seattle, they’ll go forward (or maybe Scandella) if Dunn isn’t available. The choice for the last two forward spots is tough; you could easily argue for Zach Sanford, Ivan Barbashev, or Sammy Blais to take Sundqvist’s spot. Robert Thomas took a bit of a step back offensively this year, but I’d be stunned if the Blues exposed him.

If I were Seattle, Sanford seems to be the best option; he scored at a 42-point pace in 2019-20 and is just as physical as Barbashev and Blais. All three had tough years in terms of possession numbers, but Sanford has also been the better of the three over the last two years. Though it’s worth noting Barbashev is a center that could be of interest to Seattle as that seems to be the weakest crop they’ll have to pick from in the expansion draft.

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Advanced Stats are 5-on-5, Score and Venue Adjusted, unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick (except for goals saved above average, which is via Hockey-Reference