So, let’s say you’re an NHL team general manager. You got your ass handed to you in 2017, when a short lead-up to the expansion draft let George McPhee and the (not Las) Vegas Golden Knights pillage your lineup. You want to make damn good and sure that doesn’t happen again in 2021. So what do you do?
You craft your lineup such that as many contracts as possible will terminate at the end of the 2020-21 season. You figure out which players you can’t live without, and only sign the number of players you can protect beyond that date: 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goaltender. Once the expansion draft is over, you can then begin the process of re-assembling your team beyond the 11 guys you have under contract.
That has been essentially the standard playbook for nearly every team in the league over the last 2 years. As a result, what we see now is that out of 995 draft-eligible players, 642 of them — nearly two-thirds — have their contracts expire at the end of the 2020-21 season. More than third of those free agents — 277 to be precise — will be unrestricted free agents when free agency opens next summer.
That’s a huge chunk of the league, more than one quarter of draft-eligible players. Furthermore, unrestricted free agents are a group of players who are essentially in limbo: their current teams don’t want them enough to re-sign them beyond the expansion draft (essentially making it a requirement to protect them), and Seattle will be reluctant to take a chance on them, knowing they could refuse to sign with the Kraken and jump ship for free agency a week after they were named as a draft selection.
First To The Table
But the Kraken have an ace up their sleeve. The draft rules provide for an exclusive negotiating period for Seattle with any pending free agent, restricted or unrestricted, between when the protected lists are submitted and the conclusion of the draft when Seattle finalizes its selections. A week before anyone else can talk to them, the Kraken get to be first to the bargaining table to try to sign them to a deal. If they reach an agreement, then that player is selected from their former team, they are no longer a free agent, and they will be in a Kraken jersey on opening night.
In the previous version of our mock draft, we ignored unrestricted free agents entirely: we assumed that their current teams would not protect them; and we did not select any. This time, we’re doing exactly the opposite: the only players we select will be unrestricted free agents. No RFA’s, no players with existing contracts, just guys we sign to our terms for our team.
The purpose of this isn’t to really build a fully functional team, though we did come pretty close. What we’re really trying to do is give some insight into what we feel is the best (value) UFA player available from each team. It’s not impossible that some of these guys end up in a Kraken sweater on opening night. But it’s also likely that there are other players left unprotected that might better fit what Seattle is looking for.
Is This Legal?
There is nothing stopping Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis from doing exactly what we’ve done here. If he wants, he can ignore any players with existing contracts and attempt to sign nothing but free agents to the new team. There is nothing in the rules preventing this, and in fact, it is explicitly permitted.
In practice, however, it’s as likely to happen as the Kraken naming the Hanson Brothers as the team’s coaching staff. To my knowledge the Golden Knights did not take advantage of this benefit even once, owing largely to the virtual buffet of unprotected players available who were already under contract. I believe we’ll see more such UFA signings during the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, but not all 30 selections.
Beyond the unrestricted free agent status, we continue to adhere to the standard draft rules, including the minimum number of players by position and the salary cap ceiling and floor. We have made assumptions about who is going to be protected based on common sense, published reports, and community consensus from the teams’ cities’ media outlets.
This does put us in a bit of a quandary, however: if a player is not under contract, what’s their cap hit? In most instances we are assuming that a player will receive a 10% raise over their previous year’s AAV. In instances where it is plain that based on a player’s performance they are due for a raise, we have used comparable players’ contracts for comparison based on age, experience, and performance. In the “flat cap” universe, this likely resembles reality pretty closely.
And again, as with version 1.0 of our mock draft, we have resisted the urge to take high-priced, name-brand (and usually overpaid) veterans left dangling in the unprotected list by teams looking to shed their salaries. In the “flat cap” universe, this strategy helps keep the team on stable financial footing.
All right? Then without further ado, here is your All-UFA Edition of the Jet City Ice Mock Draft, v2.0.
Nick Bonino, Minnesota Wild, $4.6 million AAV. A reliable two-way center who literally does it all, playing at even strength, PP, and PK and leading the team in plus-minus.
Joel Armia, Montreal Canadiens, $2.85 mil. AAV. The 6′ 4″ Finn is good for 30 points a year on top of his crushing checks.
Alex Chiasson, Edmonton Oilers, $2.375 mil. AAV. This big right winger will be a staple on the power play.
Jordan Martinook, Carolina Hurricanes, $2.2 mil. AAV. Usually leads the team in hits, blocked shots (by a forward), and hustle.
Blake Coleman, Tampa Bay Lightning, $2 mil. AAV. Tenacious in pursuit of the puck, he forces his way into the slot and scoops in rebounds to the tune of 20 goals a season.
Luke Glendening, Detroit Red Wings, $2 mil. AAV. Long-suffering Detroit utility forward has an astounding 55% lifetime face-off win percentage.
Michael Raffl, Philadelphia Flyers, $1.75 mil. AAV. Stable middle-six winger from Austria will be a boost to the penalty-killing unit.
Sean Kuraly, Boston Bruins, $1.4 mil. AAV. A product of the US National Team and Miami of Ohio University, this two-way center will slot into the 3rd line.
Mikhail Grigorenko, Columbus Blue Jackets, $1.32 mil. AAV. Grigorenko returns to the NHL following a 3-year stint playing in his native Russia. His stats suggest he’s primed for a breakout year.
Alex Galchenyuk, Ottawa Senators, $1.2 mil. AAV. This enigmatic forward has 50-point upside — when he decides he wants to; just don’t expect him to back-check.
Vincent Hinostroza, Arizona Coyotes, $1.1 mil. AAV. This speedy, budget-friendly utility forward delivers 10 minutes a night in the bottom-six.
Brandon Pirri, Chicago Blackhawks, $850K AAV. The Blackhawks’ 2nd round pick in 2009, he will provide veteran leadership in Palm Springs.
Matt Nieto, San Jose Sharks, $770K AAV. Reliable utility forward and penalty killing specialist for the bottom six.
Sam Carrick, Anaheim Ducks, $770K AAV. Another depth center for the AHL club, where he has consistently performed at nearly a point-per-game pace.
Tanner Fritz, New York Islanders, $770K AAV. A 13th forward and AHL right-handed center will continue his development in Palm Springs.
Ian Cole, Colorado Avalanche, $4.675 mil. AAV. Smart, hybrid-style blueliner with solid defensive numbers, a seeing-eye slap shot, and the ability to pound you like a flank steak.
Jason Demers, Arizona Coyotes, $4.4 mil. AAV. Respectable plus-minus numbers for this play-making defenseman; will take the right side on the top pairing.
Jake McCabe, Buffalo Sabres, $3.135 mil. AAV. Unrealized potential here, playing 6 seasons in Buffalo will do that to a guy. Grit, intensity, and decent offensive capabilities.
Jordie Benn, Vancouver Canucks, $2.2 mil. AAV. Some offensive output from this hybrid-style defenseman.
Connor Carrick, New Jersey Devils, $1.65 mil. AAV. Speedy offensive defenseman who can quarterback the 2nd power play unit.
Cody Ceci, Pittsburgh Penguins, $1.375 mil. AAV. Tremendous up-side on this middle-pairing youngster who spent 6 seasons suffering in Ottawa.
Jack Johnson, New York Rangers, $1.265 mil AAV. 14 seasons in the league and an Olympic silver medal; 302 points in 937 games; he’s the elder statesman and locker room leader on the blue line.
Trevor van Riemsdyk, Washington Capitals, $880K AAV. This once-promising right-handed shot youngster will fit nicely into the 7th d-man role.
Mark Pysyk, Dallas Stars, $825K AAV. A cost-conscious bottom-pairing defenseman with decent stats considering he’s played on garbage teams.
Jarred Tinordi, Nashville Predators, $770K AAV. An experienced veteran to lead the defensive corps in the AHL.
Mark Alt, Los Angeles Kings, $770K AAV. If there was anyone else to pick from the Kings, we would have. Hope he enjoys Palm Springs.
Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs, $5.5 mil. AAV. The whipping boy of the Toronto media will get a fresh start in Seattle, hopefully returning to the form that he had in Anaheim.
Davit Rittich, Calgary Flames, $3.25 mil. AAV. Expensive for a backup, but at 28 years old has time to evolve into a starter as Andersen approaches his twilight years.
Laurent Brossoit, Winnipeg Jets, $1.65 mil. AAV. Has had up years and down years; will duke it out with Rittich for the backup job.
Jon Gilles, St. Louis Blues, $770K AAV. Solid performer in the AHL, which is where he’ll stay.
That’s it: 15 forwards, 11 defensemen, and 4 netminders. Total cap hit: $59.7 million once all the ink is dry.
Two mock drafts down, three to go. Look for v3.0 in the days leading up to the start of the NHL season, when we will explore what kind of players might be had if a deal is to be made with any given team.
Once the NHL regular season starts we’ll be breaking down the situation with each team, one at a time. This is when we’ll get the most realistic picture of which players have the best chance of landing in Seattle on opening night.
When the season wraps up and we’re in final approach to the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, we will release v4.0 which will summarize our thoughts on each team’s selection based on our previous analysis. Then when the teams submit their final protected lists, we will give you our final attempt at guessing what the Seattle Kraken inaugural season lineup will be.
We predict that our level of accuracy will be between 0 and 100 percent, with a 10% margin of error.