Players like Toronto’s Alex Kerfoot and Ottawa’s Matt Murray, both pictured above, could be exposed to the Seattle Kraken in their upcoming expansion draft. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

Who Every Team Will Protect In The Expansion Draft: North 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 until 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. We saw very few trades 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 (the same one as when Vegas entered), these are 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 cannot 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 however count as their selection from that team.

One last thing before we get underway: this article would not 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 are done reading this article, of course).

This is the fourth 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 those are done, we will take a look at who Seattle is most likely to select from each club. And of course, we will be covering the Expansion Draft when it happens on July 21, analyzing each of Seattle’s picks and the impact they have on the rest of the NHL. We have already tackled the East, Central, and West Division; today, we shall conclude the protection lists series, finishing with the North Division.

Calgary Flames (26-27-3, Missed Playoffs)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, Dillon Dubé

Defensemen: Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson

Goaltender: Jacob Markström (NMC)

I do not think Milan Lucic will mind waiving his no-move clause; the gritty winger has regressed heavily since signing his 7-year, $42 million contract, a price way too high for Seattle to take on. I am expecting big changes for the Flames this offseason, which could start as soon as the expansion draft. Calgary’s back-end is very difficult to project and comes down to what they want to do with Chris Tanev. Tanev had a legitimately strong first year in Calgary, but the 31-year old is signed for three more years at $4.5 million. Could that contract, combined with Tanev’s age, scare off Seattle? Or did Tanev’s great first year in Calgary put him on Ron Francis’s radar?

GM Brad Treliving may have to make a side deal to keep Tanev and therefore his top-four intact. There is potential that 37-year old captain Mark Giordano, signed for one more year at $6.75 million, is exposed, but that would be a foolish decision because Giordano’s value both on and off the ice is something the Flames could get a lot for in a trade depending on how drastically they want to change course. Losing him would send shockwaves through the organization and the dressing room. It would also set a precedent that no one is safe this offseason in the C of Red. Giordano is still a good player, but at his age, it is fair for Calgary to start considering a break-up.

If neither Tanev (or Giordano) is picked, there are a couple of intriguing 23-year olds for Seattle to consider. Forward Matthew Phillips has scored at just under a point-a-game rate in the AHL over the last two seasons. There is also goaltender Tyler Parsons, a 2016 2nd rounder who put a .800 save percentage in the only game he played professionally this year (it was in the AHL). Parsons did have solid numbers in the ECHL last year, but Phillips seems like the next best option outside of one of those veteran defensemen.

Edmonton Oilers (35-19-2, Lost to Winnipeg in Round 1)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jesse Puljüjarvi, Cooper Marody, Kailer Yamamoto, Tyler Benson

Defensemen: Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, Ethan Bear

Goaltender: Stuart Skinner

Were you today years old when you learned Connor McDavid, the best player in the world, does not have any no-move or no-trade protection? Will not really matter here. If the Oilers waited to extend Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, I would have opted to go eight skaters, protecting the two reigning Hart winners, Puljüjarvi, Yamamoto, and the three defensemen above plus 24-year old Caleb Jones, but, of course, that is not what happened.

Ultimately, I doubt Ken Holland prioritizes Jones over Puljüjarvi, who had a respectable return to North America after spending all of 2019-20 overseas. The former #4 overall pick’s value is too high to lose for nothing; especially considering quality wingers are a big need for Edmonton. Jones is a solid third-pair defenseman with the chance to become maybe a little bit more. He would make a fine pick for Seattle. Dominik Kahun is a sleeper pick here; he scored at a 45-point pace in 2019-20 and is the perfect low-risk, high-reward candidate the Kraken should be hunting for. The pending RFA would come cheap, too.

It is also possible that GM Ken Holland tries to lure the Kraken to one of their more expensive options to clear cap space. Kyle Turris is a possible change of scenery candidate (again, I know). He could be a very good 3C if Seattle can maximize his skill-set. If you are looking for players who would likely require a sweetener to be taken: Zack Kassian scored at a 47-point pace in 2019-20 and brings plenty of physicality to the table.

Looking at players who would likely require a major sweetener: James Neal was very successful for Vegas in their inaugural season and scored at a 28-goal pace in 2019-20, though most of that came from an early-season surge. Goaltender Mikko Koskinen was also strong in 19-20 (.917 SV%, 9.3 goals saved above average) but regressed this past year. He makes $4.5 million for one year; Neal clocks in at $5.75 million for two, Kassian at $3.2 million for three.

The Oilers need to have a good offseason to nip this potential problem in the bud.

Montréal Canadiens (24-21-11, Trailing Tampa Bay 3-1 in Stanley Cup Final)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Jonathan Drouin, Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli, Brendan Gallagher (NMC), Artturi Lehkonen, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jake Evans

Defensemen: Jeff Petry (NMC), Ben Chiarot, Joel Edmundson

Goaltender: Carey Price (NMC)

You are probably wondering where Shea Weber is right now. As with San Jose’s Brent Burns (who is not as good as Weber), it seems unlikely Seattle would be willing to take on such a massive contract for an aging player. Weber makes just over $7.8 million through the next five years, and selecting him could make Seattle liable for a cap recapture penalty if he retires before the deal is up. In this scenario, Weber would probably be the best player exposed to Seattle but the Kraken, like Vegas, will not be looking to take the best player available if their overall fit in the organization and its cap structure is dicey. I doubt Seattle will take such a gamble on an aging player, albeit a good one, in Montréal’s captain Weber.

The obvious pick for Seattle here seems to be goaltender Jake Allen. After losing his starting job in St. Louis to rookie sensation Jordan Binnington in 2018-19, Allen turned in an outstanding 2019-20 season followed by a respectable showing this year, his first in Montréal. Marc Bergevin, who knows what he is doing these days, has already signed him to a two-year extension at an affordable $2.875 million, a fair price for a 1B goaltender. Seattle should not mark Allen as their full-time starter, but pairing him in a tandem with someone like Dallas’ Anton Khudobin or Vancouver’s Braden Holtby would be a sound plan.

I could see Bergevin paying Seattle to stay away here, allowing Montréal to keep Allen, which allows the Habs to keep Carey Price’s regular-season workload down. In that case, taking defenseman Brett Kulak would make a ton of sense; Kulak has posted phenomenal underlying numbers for four years running (over 52% Corsi and Expected Goals since 17-18) and makes just $1.8 million this year. Seattle could also take a riskier approach and bet on the potential of 22-year old Cale Fleury, who played 41 games for the Habs in 19-20.

Ottawa Senators (23-28-5, Missed Playoffs)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Evgeni Dadonov, Colin White, Connor Brown, Brady Tkachuk, Logan Brown, Drake Batherson, Vitaly Abramov

Defensemen: Thomas Chabot, Joshua Brown, Victor Mete

Goaltender: Filip Gustavsson

For a rebuilding team, there sure are a lot of moving parts for the Sens to consider here. A surprising amount of their young forwards are eligible and not they have a plethora of goaltending options to consider.

Starting in the net, the Kraken would not take Matt Murray’s $6.75 million cap hit straight up considering his last two seasons, so it makes no sense to protect him. Among Ottawa’s four(!) other goalie options, Gustavsson stands out. He is a former second-round pick acquired in the Derick Brassard trade from Pittsburgh at the 2018 deadline. At 23, he is the youngest of the bunch, and he had an excellent 2020-21 season, putting up good numbers overseas (.919 SV% in 19 games in Sweden’s Allsvenskan) and in the AHL (.910 SV%, 13 games) before dominating in the NHL to close out his year (.933 SV%, 7 games). Small sample size? Sure, but Gustavsson has starter potential, and it would be foolish for the Sens to even think about exposing their potential goaltender of the future.

I protected a few of Ottawa’s top forwards now (Dadonov – rough year and all, White, Brown), but made the difficult decision to expose Chris Tierney. He is a solid middle-six center, but his underlying numbers relative to his teammates have been negative every year of his career and his offense fell off hard this year after scoring at a 40-plus-point pace the last three seasons. He is still a useful player and likely the favorite to be selected by Seattle. He seems like someone who would be a great fit for the Kraken in this expansion draft.

Jonathan Davidsson, a key piece of the Matt Duchene to Columbus trade, is also exposed. The 24-year old has not been able to carve out a full-time NHL role to this point and I simply ran out of protection spots upfront. Of all of those other three goalies I mentioned earlier, only Anton Forsberg had a save percentage above .900. All three are cheap and would help Seattle reach the three-goalie requirement, but there is much better value for Seattle to find in Canada’s capital.

Toronto Maple Leafs (35-14-7, Lost to Montréal in Round 1)

Projected Format: 8-1

Forwards: Auston Matthews, John Tavares (NMC), Mitchell Marner, William Nylander

Defensemen: Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie, Justin Holl

Goaltender: Jack Campbell

After another disappointing (to put it mildly) first-round exit, the debate is raging about what changes should be made in Toronto. Maybe Mitch Marner or Morgan Reilly depart, but those players are certainly safe from Seattle. Justin Holl’s emergence as a solid top-four right-handed defenseman means the Maple Leafs should be one of the few teams to protect eight skaters. Their entire top-four on D, core four upfront, and emerging starter Jack Campbell are pretty easy protection decisions.

On the exposed side, all signs point to Alexander Kerfoot heading to the Kraken. Kerfoot is a solid third-liner who can play center or the wing and is good defensively at both 5v5 and the penalty kill. It is disappointing that his scoring pace has declined each of the last three seasons following a 43-point rookie campaign in 2017-18, but perhaps Seattle can unlock his offensive game. If Seattle wants someone a little younger or/and cheaper, there are three other players to consider. Ilya Mikheyev is a very fast bottom-six winger who kills penalties and creates lots of chances but has no finishing touch (Michael Grabner 2.0, anyone?), Joey Anderson, acquired for Andreas Johnsson last offseason, has 13 points in 53 NHL games (only one of which came last season), and Travis Dermott is a solid third-pair defenseman with limited offensive upside; both he and Anderson are under 24 years old.

Vancouver Canucks (23-29-4, Missed Playoffs)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller, Tyler Motte, Elias Pettersson, Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich

Defensemen: Tyler Myers, Nate Schmidt, Olli Juolevi

Goaltender: Thatcher Demko

The plan in Vancouver always seemed to be for Braden Holtby to split the net with Thatcher Demko in year one of his two-year deal, then spend the second season in Seattle. You cannot protect two goalies in this expansion draft, after all, and Vancouver is certainly going with the better, younger, and cheaper option in Demko. The 25-year old emerged as a full-time starter this year, sporting a .915 save percentage and stopping 8.2 goals above expected. Holtby, on the other hand, struggled in his new surroundings. It would be one thing if Holtby’s struggles were isolated to this unique season, but over the last two seasons, Holtby .895 SV% ranks 47th out of 50 NHL goalies with at least 40 games played. Vancouver bet on a bounce-back that did not come; would Seattle be willing to take a similar short-term risk?

The answer might be yes simply because the Canucks do not have much else to offer. The Canucks would have to pony up big-time for Seattle to consider taking one of their bloated contracts (ex. Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel; Loui Eriksson’s deal is all but unmovable at this point). Perhaps the Kraken take one of the younger players the Canucks will likely be exposing; 24-year old Zack MacEwen already has 53 NHL games of experience, accumulated over the last three seasons.

Winnipeg Jets (30-23-3, Lost to Montréal in Round 2)

Projected Format: 7-3-1

Forwards: Blake Wheeler (NMC), Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp

Defensemen: Joshua Morrissey, Dylan DeMelo, Neal Pionk

Goaltender: Connor Hellebuyck

I know this sounds hard to believe, but Winnipeg’s biggest liability in terms of players exposed here is on defense. Ironic considering the Jets’ defense has been one of the league’s worst the past two years, leading to some of the worst 5v5 numbers in the sport. But Winnipeg has a couple of promising young players that they do not want to see Seattle scoop up. The first is towering 6’7” Logan Stanley, a 2016 1st round pick who has played 37 NHL games. Then there’s Sami Niku, winner of the Eddie Shore Award for best AHL defenseman in 2017-18. He has not yet translated that success to the NHL, but being in the same company as previous Shore winners like Nicklas Kronwall, Johnny Boychuk, and Justin Schultz probably makes the thought of losing him for nothing uncomfortable.

The gutsy move would be to expose Morrissey, a possession nightmare since being hung out to dry as Winnipeg’s only quality defender left from their 2018 Western Conference Final run. You could bet that the analytically inclined Kraken would not want his steep contract, a $6.25 million cap hit through 2028. But Morrissey’s numbers were solid in the years prior when paired with a good partner in more manageable second-pair or so minutes, and he is not a player the Jets should give up on (assuming they believe they can/will acquire a legit top-pair defender this offseason to either play with Morrissey or jettison him off the top pair).

Dylan DeMelo and Neal Pionk seem like locks to be protected, so it comes down to Morrissey and the youngsters. Ultimately, I think GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will play it safe and protect Morrissey. Seattle will have their pick of the two young defensemen. Or perhaps someone else they take someone else, namely forward Mason Appleton. The 25-year had a breakout season offensively, scoring at a solid 37-point pace. All three (probably especially Stanley and Appleton) could be useful pieces for constructing the Kraken.

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