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.
The Vancouver Canucks roster is, not to put too fine a point on it, a mess. You have Micheal Ferland and his $3.5 million salary sidelined with a head injury; you have Loui Eriksson and his $6 million salary playing so poorly he has been on the taxi squad for all but 7 games this season; and you have Sven Baertschi and his $3.36 million salary either so injured or so terrible that he’s been buried in the AHL for more than a year.
And we haven’t even talked about defense or goaltending yet. No wonder the Canucks are likely to miss the playoffs — again — despite having one of the biggest payrolls in the NHL. This will make 9 out of the past 10 years that Vancouver has either exited in the first round, or missed the post-season entirely.
You would think that this was just pre-expansion draft roster chaos — waiting until after Seattle steals somebody before you start dealing with re-assembling your roster. But for the most part, the issues that Canucks GM Jim Benning is dealing with this year he will still be dealing with next year. So barring some seismic shift in the performance of this wounded and wallowing squad, Canucks fans should probably get used to several more years of disappointment.
There’s a lot of trash to wade through, so let’s dive in.
Starting with the list above: Ferland is likely a write-off with his injury status; Eriksson is still under contract next season, but his play would preclude him from consideration; and Baertschi is an unrestricted free agent come summer. In addition to that, forward Jay Beagle is currently on long-term injured reserve, and there are rumors floating around that Beagle’s days in the NHL are over. No specifics have been made public, but that’s the scuttlebutt — and if there’s even a possibility that it’s true, the Kraken should steer clear.
In addition to Baertschi there are more players that are on the cusp of free agency, and as such likely won’t be either protected or selected. Those names include forwards Brandon Sutter, Jimmy Vesey, Travis Boyd, and Tyler Graovac; plus defensemen Alexander Edler, Travis Hamonic, and Jalen Chatfield.
And finally, rookie Nils Hoglander — currently logging minutes on the Canucks’ top line — is exempt from the draft; as is sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes, currently 3rd on the team in points (and dead last by a mile in plus-minus).
With so many free agents, and so many injured and/or under-performing (and expensive) veterans, it makes the task of assembling Vancouver’s protection list pretty simple. It’s a foregone conclusion that the Canucks will use the 7-3-1 protection scheme, and it’s pretty clear who will be protected.
Forwards: Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller, Tanner Pearson, Jake Virtanen, Tyler Motte, Elias Pettersson
Defensemen: Tyler Myers, Nate Schmidt, Olli Juolevi
Goaltender: Thatcher Demko
One other note for the record: the recent allegations against Jake Virtanen shouldn’t affect his status for the draft. No matter the veracity of the claims against him, Virtanen is an asset, and even if it turns out he is a PR nightmare the Canucks won’t risk losing him for nothing if they can avoid it. The off-ice distraction will play itself out in the off-season (or not), and whatever Vancouver decides to do following the situation’s resolution will be done independent of any draft-related influences.
Nearly nobody. First up are the skaters, then we’ll address the goaltending situation separately.
RW Kole Lind, $891,666 AAV, RFA. If there is any offensive power in this list, it resides here. Lind was a repeated point-per-game performer in Juniors, then put up 44 points and 61 games with the AHL Utica Comets last season. He’s more of a play-maker than a shooter, has a little work to do defensively, but could evolve into a middle-six forward in the coming years. He’s skating with the Canucks this season, but has only cracked the lineup 3 times.
C Zack MacEwen, $825,000 AAV, signed through 2022. Your typical bash-and-crash fourth-liner, except he can score — 96 points in 155 games with Utica over the last 3 seasons. He has definitely used his 6’3″, 205 lb. frame to his advantage during his 49 games in the NHL, and has the YouTube fight highlight reel to prove it. Has done some much-needed work on his defensive game, and his plus-minus numbers are improving.
RW Jayce Hawryluk, $800,000 AAV, RFA. Hawryluk is another point-per-game player from Juniors, but has morphed into more of a defensive forward in the AHL/NHL. His strength is winning individual battles, which he does both fore-checking and back-checking, and will drop the gloves when called upon.
LW Matthew Highmore, $725,000 AAV, signed through 2022. The 25-year-old has been underwhelming with the Blackhawks for the past several years, and is unlikely to exceed anyone’s already low expectations.
RD Madison Bowey, $725,000 AAV, signed through 2022. Vancouver acquired Bowey from Chicago for the purpose of having somebody to expose who meets the draft requirements. That’s his only value.
Hold On Holtby
When the dust settled on free agency last fall, and Goalie Musical Chairs had wrapped up for the season, I was convinced that Seattle had a can’t-miss candidate for their starting goaltender. The Vancouver Canucks snapped up former Capitals starter Braden Holtby and signed him to a 2-year contract, expecting to keep him as the backup and mentor for young Thatcher Demko as he got his feet under him in the NHL.
A lot of people, myself included, thought the die was cast, and Seattle would jump at the chance to grab him. Former #1 goaltender, young enough to have some good years left in him, signed to a short-term deal, under $5 million cap hit, and a Stanley Cup ring on his finger. Even the terms of the contract itself seemed to indicate that Vancouver expected Seattle to come calling, as the financial arrangements were back-loaded to act as a poison pill to deter Seattle from selecting him in the expansion draft.
The lingering question mark was his play. Washington had allowed Holtby to fly the coop in favor of Ilya Samsonov, expecting veteran Henrik Lundqvist to act as mentor to the young Russian in the 2020-21 season. (Lundqvist was sidelined with a heart condition, but as luck would have it Washington found out that their other young netminder Vitek Vanecek was ready for prime time). Washington plainly thought that the decline in Holtby’s numbers was not a fluke, and was so convinced of that assertion that they let him walk during free agency. Was Vancouver getting a steal? Or were the Capitals merely seeing the beginning of a slow and inevitable decline? Both Vancouver, and Seattle fans, were hoping it was the former.
Turns out, it was the latter. Holtby’s numbers aren’t just down this season over last; in every measurable way this is the worst season of his 486-game career. He has started 18 games this year, and has allowed 4 goals against in half of them. He has occasional flashes of his old self, as in April when he led Vancouver to back-to-back wins over division leading Toronto, racking up 37 saves in both tilts. But then he gives up 4 goals in each of his two outings the following week, and it’s back to the doldrums.
Deciding on the starting goaltender is arguably the most important decision the Seattle Kraken front office will make for the upcoming season (aside from choosing a coach). No other on-ice role has more impact on a team’s success or failure during a season. Performance will be important, but equally so reliability. By both standards the Canucks’ #2 netminder has clearly taken himself out of the running. And so as much as it pains me to say it, the Kraken should not select Braden Holtby in the expansion draft.
Given all of the issues that Vancouver is contending with, it might just behoove them to try to cut a deal with Seattle to solve one or more problems. For instance, the Kraken will have a lengthy list of middle-pairing defensemen to choose from in the expansion draft. Perhaps the Canucks would consider sending an early-round draft pick our way if we did a select-and-trade for somebody like Calvin DeHaan or Justin Faulk, then took some salary off their hands by selecting Roussel. Or maybe go big or go home, agreeing to select Eriksson in exchange for a first round pick and one of their top prospects.
Unless the Kraken can order something not on the menu, it’s going to be slim pickings. On the other hand, with the Canucks likely to be Seattle’s chief rival, maybe it’s wise not to do them any favors. Kraken GM Ron Francis may simply opt to select a pending free agent from Vancouver then decline to re-sign them, and count himself lucky it didn’t turn out worse. Given the feeble options available, that may end up being the smartest choice.
Vancouver has the busiest schedule of any team in the league right now, and you’ll get a chance to check them out this weekend. Tune in as the Canucks take on the Edmonton Oilers this Saturday, May 8th. Game time is 7:00pm Pacific on the NHL Network.