This is one in a continuing series of articles outlining the options available to the Seattle Kraken during the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. To learn more about the draft, please see our Expansion Draft Primer.
Check out articles like this one for every NHL team on our Expansion Draft Previews page.
There’s something in the world of investing called the “barbell strategy.” Essentially it amounts to putting all of your eggs in two baskets — one at either end of the risk curve. So, as an example, you put 90% of your money in the safest security you can buy — US Treasury Bills — and the other 10% in the riskiest thing available — short-term, out-of-the-money put options on Tesla stock, for instance. Two balloons on opposite ends of a long stick.
The Los Angeles Kings find themselves in a similar position at this very moment. On one of the barbell they have $21 million per year invested in just 3 forwards; $17.6 million in their top 3 defensemen; and with a few exceptions the remainder of their roster earns at or near league minimum — and, as is the case with most investments, you get what you pay for.
On the other end of the barbell is their list of prospects, which is widely regarded to be the best in the NHL, full stop. Forwards Alex Iafallo and Adrian Kempe are merely the tip of the spear, with an astonishing treasure trove of young talent waiting in the wings.
Unfortunately, nearly all the players who will soon be household names for Kings fans are exempt from the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. This puts them out of reach to the Seattle Kraken.
Out of reach, that is, unless a deal can be struck. But first, the due diligence.
In arriving at our expected list of protected players, we have drawn on a number of sources, and made a few assumptions. Los Angeles is burdened with one no-movement clause — defenseman Drew Doughty — and we are assuming that he will decline to waive that clause for the expansion draft.
In the forward ranks, there are the three expensive contracts we mentioned earlier. One of those players, shockingly, is having a career year — Anze Kopitar has returned to the form we saw him at in his prime, notching 18 points in 14 games, logging a plus-2 rating on a losing team, and maintaining a 53% face-off win percentage. That makes his $10 million cap hit much easier to swallow.
The other two players, however — RW Dustin Brown and C Jeff Carter — are less impressive. Brown has a respectable 13 points thus far, all the more admirable due to his inability to stay out of the penalty box. Carter’s numbers are even worse, tallying just 8 points while slumping to a minus-5 rating. Neither is living up to his $5 million-plus cap hit, and for that reason we expect both to be left exposed in the draft.
Beyond that, we posit that anyone (else) under contract for next season who is currently in the Kings’ top-six forwards or top-two defense pairings will be protected. To do otherwise would be shooting themselves in the foot.
To mop up the remaining spots on the protected list, we have leveraged the opinions from Los Angeles media sources — print, broadcast, and online — who are intimately familiar with the team and its players, management, coaches, and history with cap management. This is no easy task, since the “middle-tier” of eligible players is a pool of about 6 forwards who all could, potentially, exceed what expectations the world has for them right now. So we’ll proceed with the caveat that ultimately this list could look moderately different after this season has separated the men from the boys.
So, firing up our Draft-O-Matic supercomputer with all the relevant variables, we have assumed that the Kings will adopt the 7-3-1 protection scheme, and the following players will be protected:
Forwards: Alex Iafallo, Adrian Kempe, Austin Wagner, Blake Lizotte, Lias Andersson, Trevor Moore, Martin Frk
Defense: Drew Doughty (NMC), Kale Clague, Matt Roy
Goaltender: Cal Petersen
No Thank You
There is really only one player who is decidedly out of any potential discussion for being the Kraken’s selection from Los Angeles, and that’s goaltender Jonathan Quick. Signed for 2 more seasons at $5.8 million AAV, he is currently the backup to starter Cal Petersen and has long since passed his prime.
The other three aging veterans in the Kings’ forward ranks can’t be so casually dismissed, because this is a team with which a mutually beneficial deal could very well be struck. To that end, the barbell strategy I mentioned earlier might suit the Kraken well.
If the Kraken aren’t interested in dealing, then the obvious choice off the Kings roster is Andreas Athanasiou. He suffered nearly 5 full seasons in Detroit before he was granted parole and traded to Edmonton last year. He signed with LA in the off-season, and it’s clear that his underwhelming plus-minus numbers in Hockeytown were a product of the shitty team surrounding him.
This year he has 5 points in 7 games and a flat plus-minus, and he will be RFA at the end of this year. His current $1.2 million cap hit gives an idea of what he can command in terms of his next deal, and it also makes him a marketable asset should the Kraken find they have no place for him. Maximum flexibility, potential upside, very little down-side.
But hopefully Kraken GM Ron Francis is thinking bigger than that.
As the Kings approach the free agent signing period, they have the flexibility of more than $25 million in cap room for next season. But that number is misleading. Los Angeles, like most teams, has structured its roster such that more than a third of the team has their contracts expire at the end of this season.
This is a particularly acute situation for the Kings, as the following promising young players are all due for new contracts at year’s end: Lias Andersson, Matt Roy, Blake Lizotte, Kale Clague, and 27-year-old Alex Iafallo, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent.
With so many core players due for new contracts, and Iafallo potentially wanting to test the free agent market to secure a huge raise over the $2.425 million he is currently earning, LA will be looking to shed salary. Having an extra $5+ million available to make sure they can re-sign all of their rising young talent will be an enticing prospect. And that’s where the Kraken come in.
Let’s Make A Deal
Let’s start by saying that Drew Doughty will not waive his no-movement clause. He has an impressive stable of young talent about to assume major roles on the roster. And with the new-look Los Angeles Kings about to take the ice, assuming his health allows it, he might just stick around for another run at Lord Stanley’s Cup. He won’t toss that away for a team he knows nothing about.
But there remains the question of the aforementioned Kopitar, Brown, and Carter. I think going all-in on Kopitar with his $10 million cap hit is beyond the scope of reasonable discussion. Regardless of the enticement LA might offer, that huge number hamstrings the Kraken’s front office for a further 3 seasons.
But Brown and Carter are only signed for the 2021-22 season, and at much more reasonable cap hits — if you consider more than $5 million AAV “reasonable.” The knock on Carter has been attitude and consistency, and looking at his performance of late it is clear that his best days are behind him. Which leaves Dustin Brown.
Brown is the higher-paid of the two at $5.875 million, but he also currently sits 2nd on the team in points. He’s an opportunistic goal scorer, and pots most of his tallies from within arm’s reach of the crease: deflections, rebounds, and scooping in garbage. He’s a big body who’s hard to move off the puck, and he has a Stanley Cup ring with Los Angeles — an invaluable but often overlooked factor. On two otherwise equally matched teams, it’s the guys who have hoisted the venerable silver chalice who are the deciding factor.
So Brown is a serviceable forward, and a solid veteran presence to help establish a winning culture and mentor the younger guys. He’s also a potential candidate for the first Seattle Kraken captain in franchise history, having worn both the ‘A’ and the ‘C’ for the Kings over the years.
But if we’re going to take on a 36-year-old right winger eating up close to $6 million in cap space, we’re going to want a sweetener — something to help even out this barbell. Some would argue the Kraken will want a draft pick, and while that does offer flexibility, I say why not dip directly into the pool of young talent the Los Angeles organ-eye-zation has been so kind to put together for us.
In other words, let’s go shopping!
Inventory Reduction Sale
It goes without saying that there are a few names that LA will simply shut the door on before any substantive discussion is held. Those are: Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, and Arthur Kaliyev. Those three represent the future of the club in the next 3 seasons, and the Kings won’t consider parting with them.
Beyond that, however, there are a lot — a lot — of talented young kids waiting in the wings. It’s better than even money that LA will agree to part with one of them. This isn’t a comprehensive list, mind you — these are just the juiciest morsels below the top tier guys LA considers untouchable.
C Gabriel Villardi, $894,000, signed through 2022 (exempt). Currently playing pivot on Los Angeles’ 2nd line, Vilardi put up two point-per-game seasons in the OHL before turning pro. However, Vilardi is a two-way center, in the mold of Jonathan Toews, so he won’t ever produce at that level in the NHL. He is smart, skilled, and has imposing size — 6’3″, and 201 lbs. — which he uses to cycle below the hash marks and create opportunities where none existed. And as if that wasn’t enough, he turns it up a notch in the playoffs.
C/LW Jaret Anderson-Dolan, $747,500, signed through 2022 (exempt). Anderson-Dolan is in his first full season with the big club, logging minutes in the bottom-six with 5 points in as many games and a plus-2 rating. The former Spokane Chief put up staggering numbers in Juniors, posting 3 consecutive point-per-game seasons before dipping his feet into the professional waters. A 2nd-round steal in 2017, it’s likely we will see him unleashing his sniper skills before long.
RW Alex Laferriere, unsigned (exempt). Now we’re getting to the raw talent pool, as opposed to the developed players. Laferriere (not LaFreniere) has produced at or near point–per game numbers at literally every level he has played at. Currently with the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers, he will be attending and playing for Harvard when NCAA hockey resumes. Just 19 years old, he is a long-term prospect that offers a lot of promise.
LD Mikey Anderson, $925,000, signed through 2022 (exempt). With Los Angeles being thin on defenseman, Anderson is now getting top-pairing minutes alongside Drew Doughty — not a bad way to start your career, eh? His last season with the University of Minnesota — Duluth varsity club tells you the story of his play: 40 games played; 6 goals, 21 assists; plus-22. If he can perform at that level in the NHL, he’s Duncan Keith.
LD Tobias Bjornfot, $894,000, signed through 2023 (exempt). Bjornfot is billed as a two-way defenseman, but he leans more towards the defensive side of things. He ticks all the boxes: smart, good vision, fast, quick decision-maker, excellent first pass, and able to join the rush. He got his first taste of pro action with the Kings last season, and is currently getting middle-pairing minutes with LA. Hard to go wrong with a first-round pick Swedish defenseman.
You Scratch Our Back
In order to help clear some cap room for their young and blossoming roster, Los Angeles would probably love it if the Seattle Kraken would take one of its sizable contracts off the books. Seattle can do that, if the price is right.
The price should be somebody that the Kraken can give a prominent place on their roster, and also include in their marketing outreach to young athletes as they continue their efforts to grow the game in the Pacific Northwest. A young, talented forward would fit that bill nicely.
The stage is set for a deal that benefits both the Kings and the Kraken. With luck, both front offices see it that way too. Nobody needs to turn themselves in knots trying to get at that pesky itch: you scratch our back, Los Angeles — Seattle will scratch yours.