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.
Minnesota Wild General Manager Bill Guerin, less than two years on the job, has an unpleasant task. His team is performing above expectations, riding a 7-game win streak, nicely perched in playoff position; and like all GM’s Guerin is trying to juggle his roster in preparation for the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. This is difficult enough under normal circumstances.
But Guerin’s predecessors saddled him with five contracts containing full no-movement clauses, which requires that those players be protected in the expansion draft, making a difficult situation nearly impossible. He has had less than two years to prepare for this event, and time is running out. His success or failure in maintaining his team’s core will likely depend on the cooperation of at least one of his veteran players.
The alternative is paying the King’s ransom to Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis to dictate the terms of who will — and more importantly, won’t — be selected in the draft. I wish I could tell you that Guerin’s situation means that the Seattle Kraken will land a superstar player from the Wild. Unfortunately I think the chances of that happening are quite low. We’ll get to the reasons why in a moment.
The two biggest problems Guerin has on his hands are the twin 13-year, $7.5 million AAV contracts of forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, both of which contain a full no-movement clause. There are still 4 years left on each of those albatross contracts, and the players attached to them will both hit their 40th birthday before their deals expire. The contracts are untradable in any practical sense, and while buyouts are theoretically an option, it appears Guerin is up a creek with both of them.
Parise’s NMC is less of a concern; it’s much easier to manage the protection of 7 forwards than it is 3 defenseman. Which is why Suter’s NMC is such a huge issue: 3 of the 5 NMC’s the Wild have on the books are for blueliners. So if they choose to use the 7-3-1 protection scheme, barring waivers of those clauses by one or more players, those 3 defenseman are set in stone. That’s all the more reason why Ryan Suter is likely the sole focus of Bill Guerin’s attention.
Wheeling And Dealing
As we mentioned, Suter is one of 3 no-movement clauses among the Wild’s defenders. Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin are the other two. The fourth member of the Wild’s top two pairings is Matt Dumba, who has been the target of trade speculation since almost the minute the ink dried on his 5-year, $6 million AAV contract. He would be left exposed in the event that Minnesota opted for the 7-3-1 protection scheme.
Dumba has poison pills built into his contract — he is owed $7.4 million in actual salary next year, which is also when his limited no-trade clause kicks in — but I believe that despite these hurdles, if Dumba is left exposed Seattle will grab him. I also think Bill Guerin knows this, and wants to avoid it. Retaining Dumba means his formidable top two pairings will be together for a minimum of another two seasons beyond this one. That’s plainly the best outcome.
But absent some wheeling and dealing, Guerin would have to use the 8-and-1 protection scheme to protect Dumba as well as his other 3 top pairing defenders. That would leave Guerin facing the inevitability of leaving three additional forwards exposed: players such as Kevin Fiala, Marcus Foligno, Ryan Hartman, Joel Eriksson Ek, or the afore-mentioned Greenway. Clearly that’s a worse outcome than leaving Dumba exposed.
Such is Bill Guerin’s quandary: how to keep his top four defensemen in tact while still hanging on to the forwards he needs to provide goal support to those defenders. There exist a lot of options, up to and including paying the price the Kraken are likely to ask in order to protect the players he wants to keep with the team. But plainly the goal here is to minimize the price paid to achieve the desired goal. So Guerin is likely going to have to enlist the help of his players.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. In this case, the shortest distance between Bill Guerin and being able to protect the players he wants is for Ryan Suter to waive his no-movement clause for the expansion draft. That means Guerin can protect the remaining 3 top defenders plus 7 forwards, and can do so without having to cough up draft picks or prospects to the Kraken. So you have to believe that will the the focus of Guerin’s effort.
Which is not to say that exposing Suter is a risk-free option for Minnesota. The 36-year-old still puts up 22 minutes a night, still puts points on the board, is regularly among the contenders for the Norris Trophy, and has missed a total of 9 games since he signed his contract with Minnesota 9 years ago. He’s plainly still capable of playing at the NHL level, and if Ron Francis is looking for a top-four defenseman with 15 years experience, Suter could fit the bill.
But Francis would have to be willing to eat over $30 million in cap space over the next four years, and eat it he would. When a player waives his no-movement clause for the expansion draft, it is waived exclusively for the draft. That NMC clamps right back down the minute the expansion draft is over, and the Kraken would have to accept the fact that they were stuck with a 36-year-old defenseman with 4 years left on his contract.
So having Suter agree to waive his NMC is a calculated risk: Seattle could select him in the expansion draft, and Guerin’s goal of keeping his top two pairings together would be thwarted. The Wild will have to factor that in when they decide what route to take — because it’s not the only route.
Shoot The Hostage
Ron Francis has made it known to league GM’s that he’s not screwing around when it comes to side deals. Multiple media sources have reported that GM’s quickly found out from Francis that the price for averting his eyes from one or more of their players starts with a first round pick, plus at least one more asset depending on the desirability of the player in question.
That level of hardball may work in some instances, but it also may align the league’s GM’s against him — choosing instead to shoot the hostage rather than give in to Francis’ demands. To wit: faced with the situation where he does not get Ryan Suter’s cooperation in waiving his NMC, and not wanting to lose Matt Dumba for nothing, he may choose to trade Dumba before the draft takes place — acquiring a draft pick, a prospect, or an exempt player in the transaction.
But shooting the hostage might not be required. Merely the threat that he would shoot the hostage could gain him enough leverage to reduce the Kraken’s demands. I’ll show you what I mean.
Let’s say Francis wants Dumba as a first choice, but will agree to take a pass on Dumba in exchange for a first-round pick and Joel Eriksson Ek. Guerin doesn’t want to give up Matt Dumba, nor does he want to acquiesce to relinquishing a first-round pick. So he hits up the New Jersey Devils, who agree to a straight up swap of Dumba for exempt defenseman Ty Smith.
Let’s ignore how stupid this would be for a moment, it’s just an example; if trading Dumba for a second-round pick helps you sleep at night, then go with that. Either one suits our purpose.
So now Guerin calls Francis back and gives him his options: either agree to ignore Matt Dumba in exchange for a third round pick and Joel Eriksson Ek; or he pulls the trigger on the trade he has arranged for Dumba, protects the rest of the top two pairings and all of the forwards worth keeping (including Eriksson Ek) and the Kraken end up with a stay-at-home defenseman, an aging and expensive forward, or a bottom-six winger — and no draft pick.
Faced with that decision, I expect Francis might just be willing to talk turkey. This is pretty extreme brinksmanship, and Guerin would have to be willing to follow through on the threat. But if I were in Guerin’s shoes I would be looking for any form of leverage I could muster. When the draft dust settles, it will be interesting to see exactly how many first round picks Francis is able to acquire by playing hardball in draft negotiations.
The other possibility is that Guerin reaches a deal with Francis to acquire Dumba, instead of selecting him. If Guerin is willing to part with Dumba if the price is right, then Francis should explore the price. All of this (and much more) is possible in the days comprising the expansion draft.
The Most Boring Outcome
My rule of thumb for most of these analyses is, the outcome that is either 1) the most boring, or 2) the worst for the Kraken is the one most likely to happen. That’s been my experience watching teams’ transactions over the last 25 years; how accurate it is for the expansion draft remains to be seen. But following this rule I am predicting that Guerin likely has already convinced Ryan Suter to waive his NMC. This will allow Minnesota to utilize the 7-3-1 protection scheme without cutting a deal with Seattle.
There is already evidence to support this hypothesis. First, Dumba was not moved at the trade deadline, nor was there any postmortem discussion about teams just “not able to meet the asking price”. And secondly, forward Ryan Hartman was just signed to a 3-year contract extension below his current AAV. You don’t spend dozens of hours haggling with a player’s agent just to serve the guy up on a silver platter to another team, budget-friendly contract and all. Guerin had to be confident that he could protect Hartman before he went down that path.
Both of these facts together suggest very strongly that Guerin knows he is able to use the 7-3-1 protection scheme, and with that in mind, we assume that the following players will be protected:
Forwards: Zach Parise (NMC), Mats Zuccarello (NMC), Kevin Fiala, Marcus Foligno, Jordan Greenway, Ryan Hartman, Joel Eriksson Ek
Defensemen: Jared Spurgeon (NMC), Jonas Brodin (NMC), Matt Dumba
Goaltender: Kaapo Kahkonen
To be thorough we’ll tell you that the following players are set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, and as such will be neither protected nor selected: forwards Marcus Johansson, Nick Bonino, and Nick Bjugstad, and defenseman Ian Cole. We’ll note here also that phenom Kirill Kaprizov is exempt from the expansion draft.
Two forwards, one defenseman, and a goalie. We’ll start with the netminder.
G Cam Talbot, $3.667 million AAV, signed through 2023. With goaltending proving to be such a glaring hole in many teams’ lineups, and some teams recognizing the benefits of changing from a starter/backup configuration to a 1A/1B tandem, selecting Talbot can’t be simply dismissed. If a trading partner can be found for Talbot — Buffalo, Ottawa, and Detroit are likely looking for affordable options to help stop the bleeding — then he’s easily the best option of the four listed here. He’s 17-6-3 this year with a 2.33 GAA and .926 SV%, so he should garner more than a little interest. If there are no takers on the trade market, then there are still the three options below.
C Victor Rask, $4 million AAV, signed through 2022. It seems nearly every team has a Carolina Connection, and on the Wild it’s Victor Rask. The 6’2″ Swedish center played for the Hurricanes all through the Ron Francis era, and his best years were spent there. He’s currently logging minutes on the top line for Minnesota, and you would think that his numbers would be through the roof playing between Zuccarello and Kaprizov. But in 41 games he has logged just 7 goals and 10 assists, leading one to wonder what he’s doing while his linemates are scoring goals. Hopefully Rask’s lackluster point production will break the draw of the Carolina Connection and encourage the Kraken to look elsewhere.
C Nico Sturm, $725,000 AAV, signed through 2022. More goals and a markedly better plus-minus than Rask, similar face-off win percentage, and one-fifth the cost. He’s a big, meat-and-potatoes forward, working the cycle and driving the net to look for loose change. This is the German’s first full season in the NHL, but he has impressive years under his belt in the USHL, NCAA, and AHL, most recently posting 32 points in 53 games and a plus-9 rating with the Iowa Wild. He needs some seasoning, but in the mean time he’s a cheap and capable bottom-six option.
LD Carson Soucy, $2.75 million AAV, signed through 2023. The Kraken could do a lot worse, though the price tag is a little high. Soucy is a mountain on the blueline, 6’5″ and 211 lbs, and maintains order in his own zone. In 41 games this year he has a goal and 16 assists, but has a team-leading plus-23 rating. You also get a healthy dose of hits and blocked shots, as you would expect from a stay-at-home defenseman. With the plentiful d-man options available around the league, Soucy would likely wind up where he is now, on the bottom pairing, where his salary becomes a bit of an issue.
Even if the Wild are able to protect the juiciest morsels in their lineup, the Kraken still have better choices than what is available from a third of the teams in the league. Finding a buyer for Talbot honestly shouldn’t be too difficult, but if that doesn’t happen then Soucy is probably the most reliable choice. He’s just 26 years old, offering the possibility of staying with the team for a good number of years if he works out. And if this upcoming season’s trade deadline is like this past one — everyone looking for defense and depth scoring — then Soucy is a marketable asset.
The Wild are in action tomorrow night against St. Louis, and you should be able to see all four of these players (plus the ones the Kraken won’t get their hands on) in action. Game time is 4:00pm Pacific this Wednesday, April 28th, on NBCSN.