Boy, it has been a whirlwind few weeks, huh? The Seattle team name and branding announcement, the playoffs got underway, and just this Tuesday the Kraken started the seat selection process for those lucky season ticket depositors!
We have some serious FOMO happening here as all of this is going on; we’re just itching to get some swear-to-God hockey happening here in Seattle! But there are still a few things to keep us busy in the meantime…
One of the treats we have for you here at Jet City Ice is a complete primer on the upcoming 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. For those of you new to hockey, this is the process through which Seattle will acquire most of the players you will see on opening night.
It’s a five-part series covering everything from the rules and vocabulary to the announcement of the Seattle Kraken lineup, and everything in between. So dive in here, and find out everything you wanted to know about the expansion draft.
Don’t Get Too Excited
One of the casualties of this COVID-19 pandemic was the NHL salary cap. With profits turning to punishing losses for nearly every team in the league, the player’s union was lucky to be able to negotiate a flat salary cap for not just next year, but the 2021-22 season as well. That $81.5 million number is neither good news nor bad for Seattle, though a certain subset of internet amateur prognosticators would have you believe otherwise.
Don’t get too excited. The reality is, as far as Seattle is concerned nothing has really changed. Teams can still protect the same number of players, and the difference between what the salary cap is now and what it might have been is, with respect to the expansion draft, insignificant. The chances that an impact player will become available to the Kraken because of the lower cap are almost certainly zero.
The reason why is simple: nobody is going to hand a good player over to Seattle for nothing unless they have absolutely no choice. Instead, if they can’t cut a deal with Kraken GM Ron Francis, they’re going to adjust their roster via trade and extract some value from their existing marketable assets. Here’s an example.
If this lower salary cap means that the Jets don’t have enough cap space to re-sign Patrick Laine at the end of the 2020-21 season, they are not going to just throw up their hands and say, “Oh well, guess we have to expose him…” There is no universe in which that happens.
The week before the expansion draft the Jets will trade other players that they otherwise would have kept in order to free up cap room. They’ll sign Laine, then trade Neal Pionk and Andrew Copp (for instance) to New Jersey for two second round draft picks, because New Jersey has plenty of cap room and barely anyone worth protecting. And the Devils are going to laugh, and laugh, and laugh…
The result of this flurry of activity from Seattle’s perspective is: Laine stays protected, Copp and Pionk are protected by New Jersey. So Seattle gets the same list of exposed players from Winnipeg, and gets a list of exposed players from New Jersey containing two additional middling restricted free agents who they wouldn’t choose anyhow.
This is an extreme example, but the principle is the same at any salary level. The net of it is, the Kraken will not realize any material gains from the lower salary cap. Sorry, but remember — they haven’t lost anything, there just isn’t any substantial benefit. They’re no worse off than they were 6 months ago.
The real beneficiaries of the flat salary cap will be the teams with cap room to spare as the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft approaches. They are going to find bargains galore from teams scrambling to extract value from players they can’t afford to keep, and Seattle will likely end up with just about the same team they would have with an $84 million salary cap.
As we mentioned, the NHL is underway again, with 16 teams playing 5 games for the right to play 7 games with 8 other teams for 1 shot at the Stanley Cup. If you were confused by that sentence, you’re not alone. What I do know is, there are hockey games on TV again, and that’s the best damn news I’ve heard since Christmas.
But I’m also mindful of the fact that this may be the most idiotic and irresponsible thing NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has ever done — and that’s a pretty damn high bar to get over.
If the safety measures inside the bubble fail, this has the potential to explode into widespread exposure to COVID-19 among the players. Coronavirus attacks the lungs, and while these are young men in the prime of their life and in astonishingly good physical condition, any damage to a player’s lungs could be career-ending. In a very real sense, contracting this disease could take their livelihood away from them in a matter of days.
In that respect, even with draconian — though thus far, successful — restrictions in place to help keep players safe, putting them all together in two locations was the second-dumbest thing imaginable. The dumbest thing would have been all the players in one location; the smartest thing would have been to leave everyone at home playing virtual tournaments on NHL20 and minimizing the potential spread of the coronavirus among the players.
But if you want sports, the athletes have to be there to play. The Big Ten and PAC-12 weren’t willing to risk their students’ health, and earlier this week both canceled (postponed, officially) their football seasons for the calendar year. Major League Baseball said “screw it,” started playing as if nothing was wrong, and is now facing a rash of player outbreaks and game cancellations.
The NHL split the difference, and while I blame Bettman for moving forward with the Stanley Cup Playoffs, players did agree to take the risk. The worst part of it is, there won’t be any way to know if the risk was worth it or not until the damage is already done.
So while we’re all happy to have hockey back in front of our eyeballs again, let’s keep in mind that these guys aren’t just out there playing for the glory of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup. They are, without question, risking literally everything — including their lives — to do so.