Up to this point, knowing that this off-season would bring a measure of chaos that would make a grade school playground look like a North Korean military parade, we have resisted the urge to join the throngs conducting and publishing mock drafts. The number of unsigned players combined with the inevitable shuffling during free agency made the exercise pretty much academic.
But now that (most of) the dust has settled on free agency, and (most of) the restricted free agents are under contract, we thought it was time to take our first crack at it. We now have a clearer picture of which players will be retained by their teams beyond the 2021 season, and by extension, who they will protect in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Time to get the ball rolling.
Having said that, since we have a full (or half, or no) season of hockey between us and when the real expansion draft will actually take place, this won’t be our only attempt at this. There will be trades and injuries and other unpredictable events; and if there is hockey in 2021 we will have a more timely idea of the potential productivity of eligible players.
Not A Fantasy
In this undertaking we decided not to try to answer the question, “What would be the most awesome opening night roster?” That’s for NHL ’21 and fantasy leagues. Instead we opted to pursue this as a “straight draft” — make educated guesses about which players on each team will be protected, and then choose the player that best suits our needs. To that end, we adhered to the following limits.
No to Unrestricted Free Agents: Seattle will have the opportunity to negotiate with any players whose contracts expire at the end of the 2020-21 season. We have not chosen any players that fall into this category, assuming that we will be able to use our remaining cap space to pursue free agents when the signing period opens up.
Yes to Restricted Free Agents: We did consider — and, as it happens, drafted — players with expiring contracts who would be restricted free agents with their current teams. Any RFA’s left unprotected are fair game, and what it amounts to is that Seattle is drafting their signing rights.
No to trades: Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis showed his propensity for wheeling and dealing during the expansion draft in 2017 — cutting two separate deals with Golden Knights GM George McPhee to manage the player given up by the Hurricanes, and acquire defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk after (not Las) Vegas selected him from the Chicago Blackhawks. Opening up the tens of millions of possible trade permutations is outside the scope of our comprehension, so we adhered to a strict draft-only policy.
No to “Deals With The Devil”: In 2017 we saw a fair number of, “I’ll give you this draft pick if you agree to agree to select this declining veteran with a huge contract” arrangements with the (not Las) Vegas Golden Knights. Again, the possible permutations were beyond the capacity of our Draft-O-Matic supercomputer, so we did not consider such deals.
No to waived NMC’s: Players with a no-movement clause must be protected by their clubs, unless they explicitly waive that clause for the purpose of the expansion draft. We conducted the draft based on the assumption that no players are willing to do so.
No to senior citizens: We did not consider players age 35 and older, no matter their contract or protected status.
No to huge contracts: There are some teams that we expect to leave experienced veterans exposed in the draft, hoping that their expensive, long-term contracts will scare Seattle into selecting someone else. Shea Weber (MTL) is a possible example — $7.8 million through 2026? That’s enough to scare us, so we left Weber and any other such players alone.
Yes to official draft rules: The Seattle Kraken have rules that they have to adhere to during the draft — minimum number of players at each position, limits on cap spending, minimum number of players under contract, etc. We ensured that we adhered to all of these, so in a very real sense this is a compliant draft selection list.
What To Look For?
With over 500 players available, what are the criteria we were using to select the team? First, we want to be competitive out of the gate. Seattle is going to be measured against the success the (not Las) Vegas Golden Knights had in their first year, so building a team of youngsters with possible upside wasn’t an option.
Second, experience — specifically, playoff experience. Seattle fans will want its new team to get past the first round in its inaugural season, so we built a team with 8 players who already have hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup, and can mentor the younger players on what it takes to go deep in the playoffs.
Third, youth (within limits). The oldest player on this list is 32, meaning those guys that work out well have many productive years still to come.
Fourth, budget. We know conducting a draft in this manner will necessarily leave holes in the roster that will need filling. So we kept to the low side of the salary cap limitations, allowing for a sizable chunk of cash available to sign free agents. More on that later.
Finally, drive. We weren’t looking for one-and-done guys who would just coast through the last year of their contract and then skate off to greener pastures. We wanted players who would come here to win, and stay here to continue winning.
So, with those parameters guiding us, here we go! By selecting one player from each of the 30 participating teams, we present to you Version 1.0 of the Jet City Ice 2021 Seattle Kraken opening night lineup.
Andre Burakovsky – Colorado Avalanche: Big, versatile power forward with decent wheels who prefers top-shelf snipes; won the Stanley Cup with Washington.
Zack Kassian – Edmonton Oilers: Fan favorite pest who delivers crushing checks and fisticuffs when necessary, yet still has offensive upside.
Carl Hagelin – Washington Capitals: No, not T.J. Oshie — we don’t draft hockey players for PR reasons. Hagelin is a dependable two-way forward who delivers 20 points a year; two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh.
Sam Bennett – Calgary Flames: Affordable middle-six center with consistently above-average face-off percentage. One of our restricted free agent (RFA) acquisitions, will need a new contract.
Zach Sanford – St. Louis Blues: Young talent with his name on the Stanley Cup; big kid who holds his own in the dirty areas, yet has sparkling plus-minus numbers. (RFA)
Jason Dickinson – Dallas Stars: Promising youngster who plays a 200-foot game and can deliver 20 points. (RFA)
Anthony Beauvillier – New York Islanders: Could slot into the middle-six on the left wing; will likely claim a spot on the 2nd power play unit. (RFA)
Jesper Fast – Carolina Hurricanes: A penalty-kill specialist with the Rangers before signing in Carolina this off-season.
Anders Bjork – Boston Bruins: Skilled youngster out of USNTDP and Notre Dame; has shown point-per-game potential at the NCAA level.
Patrick Maroon – Tampa Bay Lightning: This guy is on everyone’s mock draft, and it’s not unreasonable to think we’ll actually get him. Won back-to-back Stanley Cups with St. Louis and Tampa the past two seasons.
Jansen Harkins – Winnipeg Jets: Harkins had his first 29 NHL games this past year; dependable two-way center with point-per-game potential and an NHL bloodline.
Brayden Burke – Arizona Coyotes: Speedy, playmaking winger has crushed it at all levels; will look to make the jump to the NHL this upcoming season. (RFA)
Michael Rasmussen – Detroit Red Wings: Drafted 9th overall in 2017; 6’6″ and 220 lbs.; can play all forward positions; hopefully a change of scenery will improve his development.
Rasmus Asplund – Buffalo Sabres: Versatile, quick, good hockey sense; has delivered some output in the minors.
Janne Kuokkanen – New Jersey Devils: Slim pickin’s in New Jersey, but this lad has developed well so far; will start his career in Palm Springs.
You’ll notice there isn’t a #1 center on this list. I’ve got plans for that.
Kevin Shattenkirk – Anaheim Ducks: Power play quarterback on every team he’s played for; Stanley Cup with Tampa last season.
Calvin De Haan – Chicago Blackhawks: Hybrid defenseman De Haan is the best available, though a bit pricey. Confirmed that he is back from shoulder surgery at full capacity with a strong showing in the playoff bubble.
Brian Dumoulin – Pittsburgh Penguins: Stay-at-home workhorse boasting two Stanley Cups with the Penguins.
Markus Nutivaara – Florida Panthers: Another stay-at-home defenseman with playmaking potential.
Justin Holl – Toronto Maple Leafs: The big-dollar lineup in Toronto forces them to leave this versatile penalty-killer unprotected. Established himself respectably with the Leafs last season.
Ryan Lindgren – New York Rangers: The former Golden Gopher delivers crushing checks and will bring his physical style to the bottom pairing. (RFA)
Robert Hagg – Philadelphia Flyers: Up-and-coming player with good hockey sense and a good first pass on the breakout; will compete for time in the bottom pairing.
Kurtis MacDermid – Los Angeles Kings: A 6’5″, 233 lb. wall that you do not want to tangle with.
Gabriel Carlsson – Columbus Blue Jackets: Another imposing blueliner with good reach; developing into a shut-down defenseman who can take on opponents’ top lines.
Christian Wolanin – Ottawa Senators: Likely to fill out the blue line in the AHL. (RFA)
Jacob Middleton – San Jose Sharks: Another blueliner for Palm Springs.
Now for the fun part!
Brayden Holtby – Vancouver Canucks: Vancouver’s off-season acquisition becomes your starting goaltender for the Seattle Kraken on opening night. Stanley Cup winner with Washington: check.
Jake Allen – Montreal Canadiens: A capable backup in St. Louis and Montreal; likely the heir apparent to the starter’s mantle upon Holtby’s exit. Stanley Cup winner with St. Louis: check.
Kaapo Kahkonen – Minnesota Wild: We’re assuming that the Wild protect newly-acquired Cam Talbot, leaving this potential future #1 available for Seattle.
Connor Ingram – Nashville Predators: Will continue his development in the AHL backing up Kahkonen.
The Final Product
15 forwards, 11 defensemen, and 4 goalies — 30 players, 20 of whom are under contract for the 2021-22 season. 3 or 4 NHL-level players will need new deals prior to the season opener. We end up with a cap hit of $60.3 million, assuming we re-sign our NHL-level restricted free agents at their current levels — leaving a full $21 million in cap space.
With that available cash, we are still in need of a number one center. Somebody who is going to deliver 50 points a year; somebody who can lead a team for the next 5 to 8 years; a generational talent that is available on the free agent market in the summer of 2021. And in this case, somebody who would be the marquee star on most other teams in the league, but instead finds himself in the shadow of a leviathan talent who gets all the glory.
To remedy this, we would wade neck-deep into the free agent market and make a 7-year, $8.5 million AAV contract offer to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
If there was enough left over, we’d sign Dougie Hamilton to round out the defensive corps, and we’d be playoff bound.
Just The Beginning
As the title suggests, this is just the initial installment of our coverage of next year’s expansion draft. This version limited the scope of players under consideration; the next step will be to remove those limits and analyze each team, one by one, to see what the realistic possibilities are for the Kraken.
Just to give you a short preview: St. Louis has 5 quality defensemen, but they can’t protect them all; Toronto is in cap hell, and could cut a deal sending a full-on superstar to Seattle; there is the possibility that one of the four players with NMC’s in Chicago could waive for the draft, unhappy with the GM’s “rebuild” declaration; and Los Angeles may be willing to part with a top-tier prospect in exchange for ridding themselves of an aging veteran forward and his expensive contract.
In the coming months we’re going to explore all of that and much more in great detail. Our goal is to make Jet City Ice your one-stop shop for everything draft related, culminating with an end-of-season mock draft; another mock draft once teams have officially filed their protected lists; and then full analysis of the actual draft once the roster is set for opening night.