Seattle Kraken Pass On Carey Price, Stay Nimble At 2021 NHL Expansion Draft
Eager to free up salary-cap space, teams around the NHL left a significant collection of star players unprotected heading into Wednesday’s NHL Expansion Draft.
But when the announcement of the Seattle Kraken’s inaugural list of 30 players was complete, disgruntled scoring ace Vladimir Tarasenko was still a member of the St. Louis Blues. Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk remained with the Philadelphia Flyers. Even goaltender Carey Price, whose availability caused a frenzy in NHL circles, stayed with the Montreal Canadiens.
Kraken general manager Ron Francis had the opportunity to spend up to the NHL’s salary-cap ceiling of $81.5 million, and permission from his ownership group to do so. But when his player list was completed, it came in at $54.4 million — including three free-agent signings. That’s less than $5 million above the $49.8 million cap floor that was set by the NHL’s expansion rules.
Here are a few key notes about the players who were selected:
Francis was required to take a minimum of 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies, then use the final four picks as he desired. He ended up with 15 forwards, 12 defensemen and three goalies.
He was required to take a minimum of 20 players who are under contract for next season. He ended up with 21, along with seven restricted free agents and two unrestricted free agents.
Of the 18 acquired contracts, most are short term. Eleven expire in 2022, four expire in 2023, one expires in 2024 and two expire in 2025.
All but two players are in their 20s. The two thirtysomethings represent two of the three who carry cap hits of more than $5 million. Former Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano, 37, has one year remaining on a deal worth $6.75 million — the most expensive player selected by Seattle. Forward Jordan Eberle, 31, comes from the New York Islanders with three years remaining and a cap hit of $5.5 million.
The Kraken selected two recent Stanley Cup winners. Center Yanni Gourde is the third player carrying a cap hit north of $5 million. He just won his second-straight title with the Tampa Bay Lightning and is signed for four more years at a cap hit of $5.17 million. Defenseman Vince Dunn, from the St. Louis Blues, is a restricted free agent.
Using their exclusive window this week, the Kraken signed three players who were set to hit free agency on July 28. According to CapFriendly, Florida Panthers goaltender Chris Driedger was signed to a three-year contract with a cap hit of $3.5 million, Edmonton Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson signed a four-year deal with a cap hit of $4 million, and Dallas Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak inked a five-year contract that carries a cap hit of $4.6 million per season.
Francis’s selection list includes two players that he originally drafted when he served as general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes. Forward Morgan Geekie, a third-round pick from 2017, will join the Kraken along with defenseman Haydn Fleury, a first-round pick from 2014 who was selected from the Anaheim Ducks. Fleury’s younger brother Cale, another defenseman, was also selected from the Montreal Canadiens. The pair will be teammates for the first time since they were preschoolers.
When the Vegas Golden Knights drafted their inaugural roster in 2017, GM George McPhee also kept an eye on flexibility, selecting mostly players on short-term contracts. But he also executed a long list of side deals which allowed him to snag draft picks or additional prospects in return for staying away for certain players, and those extra assets turned Vegas into an instant contender.
“This was going to be so much different than what Vegas went through,” said Francis. “There hadn’t been an expension draft for 17 years. Vegas did a good job taking advantage of the rules and everyone’s lack of experience in that environment.
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“But the minute that one was done, they knew we were coming in. It was supposed to be three years, ended up four years. So they have a lot more time to prepare for us.”
The expansion draft roster freeze lifts on Thursday morning. Rumors have swirled that some of Seattle’s selections might immediately be flipped to other teams, but when asked how many deals he had ‘in the drawer’ waiting to be completed, Francis chuckled. “Probably a lot less than you guys think.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be more changes or additions over the days and weeks to come. The Kraken hold the valuable second-overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, which runs Friday and Saturday and is typically the focal point for player movement in a normal NHL season.
When asked whether he’d try to continue adding more free agents when the market opens next Wednesday, Francis didn’t hesitate.
“That would be our plan,” he said. “I mean certainly, there’s guys that were protected that might be available. So we’ll certainly look at who’s out there on the 28th and hopefully we can entice more guys to come and join us.”
Pending unrestricted free agents who have been rumored to have attracted interest from Seattle include Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and the Montreal Canadiens’ ace defensive center, Phillip Danault.
During Wednesday’s expansion draft broadcast, in front of a spectacular backdrop that included Lake Union and the Space Needle, the Kraken also announced that their renovated Climate Pledge Arena is now 90% complete. They’ll start their season on the road, then play their franchise home opener against their new geographic rivals, the Vancouver Canucks, on Saturday, October 23.