Kraken expansion draft: Best bargains, interesting players available

·10 min read

As of Sunday, hockey fans know which players NHL teams protected and exposed to the Seattle Kraken expansion draft. No doubt, there will be plenty of debate up until the Kraken’s expansion draft picks are revealed on Wednesday.

First: the elephant making a side deal in the room

Crucially, more might be known about potential “side deals” and other behind-the-scenes machinations between Sunday and Wednesday.

Right now, we’re raising our eyebrows at some big names like Carey Price becoming available to the Kraken in the expansion draft. We don’t yet know if teams pulled off bribes/side deals to convince the Kraken not to take Price-type players in the expansion draft.

Out of context, the Kraken picking Price seems like a dangerous case of recency bias. But what if the Canadiens bribe the Kraken to take Price in the expansion draft by sending a boatload of picks? Then that becomes a more complicated decision.

It also then becomes about perception. How much is a first-round pick or second-rounder worth? What about a prospect without many reps?

After the lists were revealed, media and armchair GMs have more information about the Kraken’s expansion draft options. By no means do people know everything, though.

That said, the guesses are at least more educated after Sunday’s reveals.

(Speaking of educated, if you need a refresher on expansion draft rules, check the bottom of this post.)

With those caveats in mind, let’s consider some of the best bargains/values among players available to the Kraken in the expansion draft.

An easy one for the Gourde

Without knowledge of bribes, it sure looks like the Lightning’s pain begins with the Kraken expansion draft.

Truly, there are some other nice options with Tampa Bay. Nothing wrong with Ondrej Palat. You could go younger with Ross Colton or Alex Barre-Boulet.

To me, and possibly others, Yanni Gourde is a no-brainer. Considering his age (29), his $5.167M cap hit may eventually look dicey (it expires after 2024-25). Yet, Gourde is a true rarity, even in an expansion draft with bigger names than expected. He’s a play-driving center with some scoring skill.

With 25 and 22-goal seasons under his belt, Gourde’s scored even when given secondary opportunities. He should thrive if that stays the same, and could conceivably take a step up — if not a leap — in a more prominent role.

You may say it makes him … drool-worthy?

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Contract years present great flexibility

While I like Nino Niederreiter, my reflex was to shrug at a play-driving, but occasionally light-scoring, winger. Couldn’t I get that just by waiting for Tomas Tatar during the normal free-agent period?

But Niederreiter, 28, carries his modest $5.25M cap hit for just one more year. This opens up some tantalizing possibilities.

  • The Kraken could offer Niederreiter some priceless peace of mind. Maybe he signs a team-friendly extension in exchange for trade protection?

  • Conversely, the Kraken could trade Niederreiter — either during the offseason, or at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline.

  • If nothing else, Niederreiter could put together a strong season driven by the motivation of a contract year.

While Niederreiter chases that big contract while he’s still somewhat in his prime, Mark Giordano, 37, is entering the twilight of his career. Still, Giordano being in a contract year mitigates the risks of aging. The Kraken could turn around and trade Giordano right after the expansion draft, or see if prices are right at the deadline. It’s hardest to imagine Giordano signing a new deal with the Kraken … but if he does, that’s probably a good sign for both parties, right?

Contract years are the least risky ways to get value from contracts that aren’t totally cheap, but shorter deals in general could be desirable. Would someone like Jonathan Drouin ($5.5M for two more seasons) be able to revamp their career? If so, the Kraken could get a lot in return by pumping up his market value up, then dumping him to a team wanting to make a run or two. At 26, Drouin could even turn his career around and become a fixture.

Technically, Giordano ($6.75M) and others might not be bargains from a pure cap perspective. They could be great values for the Kraken. That goes for if they net all of that value on the ice for the Kraken, in a trade with another team, or maybe both.

Personally, I’m not super-high on Max Domi, but maybe he’d explode offensively with his earning future on the line in a contract year? (Could be worthwhile just to see how he does without John Tortorella.)

Kraken have some intriguing opportunities with defensemen in expansion draft

Let’s run down some of the most desirable defensemen. To clarify, these are players who could still conceivably be trade-bait, but maybe wouldn’t lean as extremely in that direction as, say, Giordano.

  • As an RFA, what kind of contract would Vince Dunn fetch? If it’s a cheap one, would it be that surprising if the 24-year-old becomes the next, say, Nate Schmidt? (Asking Dunn to be Seattle’s Shea Theodore feels a bit much.)

  • How bold would the Kraken go after free-agent defensemen, in general? They get a three-day window to schmooze with Dougie Hamilton. Just saying.

  • The Capitals boast two intriguing 30-year-old defensemen in Brenden Dillon ($3.9M for three more seasons) and Nick Jensen ($2.5M through 2022-23).

  • For a team that struggles so much on defense, you’d think the Jets would covet Dylan DeMelo. Especially since the 28-year-old is very affordable at $3M AAV for three more seasons. Instead, they exposed him, and the Kraken should pounce.

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  • There are also quite a few low-cost “speculative” possibilities on defense. Jake Bean, 23, likely wouldn’t cost much as an RFA with his limited experience. These are areas where the Kraken’s growing scouting staff can shine. Is Haydn Fleury worth that Ducks choice?

Steady forward options beyond the stars

Yes, the Kraken could go bold with big names during the expansion draft. For all of the risks with Vladimir Tarasenko, it would still be two seasons of risks, then they could move on.

(He’s definitely not a bargain in the purest sense, though. That’s particularly true next season. His $7.5M cap hit is already pricey, but it’s his $9.5M actual salary that makes him an expensive gamble. Now, in 2022-23? He could be a bargain with a $5.5M salary vs. that $7.5M AAV.)

If the Kraken would rather go safe, or merely focus on flexibility/youth, there are plenty of options.

  • Being that the Maple Leafs just traded for him, I wonder if there’s a side deal around Jared McCann. If not, the Kraken should get cracking on snatching him up. At 25, he’s entering his own contract year at just under $3M. Really, a bribery from the Maple Leafs would be the only way I’d understand the Kraken not taking McCann with their Toronto pick.

Kraken expansion draft: Best bargains, interesting players available McCann player card
  • The Kraken could take multiple expansion draft stabs at “the next William Karlsson.” Who’s a skilled player, yet one who hasn’t really done a ton of tangible things to seem like a star? Again, that’s a matter of the scouting staff identifying quality (possibly over-ripe) prospects. Would Tyler Benson be worth a shot? As a fairly recent departure from the Lightning (now with Anaheim), maybe Alexander Volkov could be the next Carter Verhaeghe or Jonathan Marchessault?

Plenty of room to work with

Truly, it’s all pretty head-spinning. The Kraken could go almost all-young, and laugh their way to the victory bank. Or, they could try to emulate the Golden Knights by becoming instant successes. Perhaps they’d try to shoot for a little of both?

Surprisingly, there are paths forward for a number of team-building options. Even when talking about value, it boils down to where the Kraken will identify value in the expansion draft. Maybe they’ll shrug off Carey Price’s $10.5M, noting how pivotal goaltending can be. (Ron Francis watched several Hurricanes teams fall apart thanks, in part, to goalies struggling.)

They might try to engineer even more trades than the Golden Knights did in their infancy.

Who knows? Whatever happens, it figures to be exciting. That goes for debating roster construction heading into Wednesday’s official Kraken expansion draft picks, to how they navigate the 2021 NHL Draft/offseason, and then watching them sink or swim during the season.

Which values would you chase? Which treasures wouldn’t be worth digging for?

Seattle Kraken expansion draft rules refresher

Now, you might want a refresher on the Seattle Kraken expansion draft rules. (If not, scroll to the next section.)

Each NHL team (except the Golden Knights) needed to choose to protect players under two alignment options:

  1. Protecting seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie.

  2. Protecting any combination of eight skaters (example: four forwards, four defensemen), and a goalie.

That said, not every NHL player is involved, so some prospects were not available to the expansion draft. Meanwhile, NHL teams were forced to protect certain players because of contract factors. As the NHL explains:

* All players with no movement clauses at the time of the draft, and who decline to waive those clauses, must be protected and will be counted toward their team’s applicable protection limits.

* All first- and second-year professionals, and all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection and will not be counted toward protection limits.

So, the 30 NHL teams involved faced those considerations. What about some of the minimums and other factors for the Kraken in selecting players in the expansion draft? Here are some key details:

  • The Kraken must select at least: 14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goalies. They’ll need to select one player from all 30 teams in the expansion draft.

  • At least 20 players must be under contract for the 2021-22 season. That part of the process once made it tougher to put together these PHT lists.

  • The total cap hit must fall somewhere between 60-percent and 100-percent of the upper limit of the salary cap.

  • Starting on Sunday (July 18), the Kraken open a window to exclusively negotiate with pending free agents who were not protected by NHL teams. If the Kraken signed one of those free agents, that player would count as Seattle’s pick for a given team.

Want even more detail? The NHL’s rules explained how injuries and other factors work.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Kraken expansion draft: Best bargains, interesting players available originally appeared on NBCSports.com