Kraken released: Top takeaways from the expansion draft, and what’s next

NHL News

The Seattle Kraken selected their first group of players in the expansion draft on Wednesday night. Some arrived in person, the first to wear the newest NHL jerseys. Some had their names announced by flying fish and an octopus in the local aquarium, and some by Seattle SuperSonics legends Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp.

The Kraken selected one player from 30 NHL teams, with the Vegas Golden Knights exempt from the draft. The result was a roster that was young and well under the salary cap; and an approach to the draft that was in stark contrast with the way Vegas handled it in 2017.

Here are 10 takeaways from the Kraken expansion draft:

Vegas set the template … almost

The Golden Knights and Kraken had the same rules for their respective expansion drafts. NHL teams could protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie; or they could protect eight skaters and one goalie, which is what the Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs opted to do this time around.

Same rules, similar results, at least when it came to the positions they drafted. The Golden Knights selected 14 forwards, 13 defensemen and three goaltenders in the 2017 expansion draft. The Kraken selected 15 forwards, 12 defensemen and three goaltenders in their expansion draft.

Both teams selected 20 players that were under contract for the following season, which was the minimum required by the NHL’s draft rules — although the Kraken selected three players that they themselves signed in Adam Larsson, Chris Driedger and Jamie Oleksiak. The Golden Knights selected six restricted free agents, while the Kraken selected seven.

Where the two teams diverge is space under the salary cap. The Golden Knights’ total cap hit from the 20 players they selected was $68.3 million, according to SinBin.net. The Kraken’s cap hit for their 20 players under contract was around $54 million.

Where were the trades?

There’s a trade freeze that ends at 1 p.m. ET on Thursday. At that time, the Kraken will announce a few of them, although “probably a lot less than you guys think there might be,” according to GM Ron Francis.

When the Vegas Golden Knights had their expansion draft in 2017, they famously squeezed teams around the league by using the expansion draft rules, forcing them to ante up assets so that the Knights wouldn’t select certain players exposed in the draft. The result was a massive bounty: Among the acquisitions for the Knights with that leverage were defenseman Shea Theodore, forwards Alex Tuch, Reilly Smith and Nikita Gusev, and several draft picks that included two first-rounders.

So where was that bounty for the Kraken?

“We talked about that going into this. This was going to be so much different than what Vegas went through. There hadn’t been an expansion draft in 17 years. Vegas did a good job taking advantage of the rules and everyone’s lack of experience in that environment. But the minute that one was done, they knew we were coming in. It was supposed to be three years and then it was four years. So they had a lot more time to prepare for us,” said Francis.

The Kraken GM said there was another factor that Vegas didn’t have to deal with, which was a team “sitting on the outside that could affect the other teams’ protection lists.” For Seattle, that team was the Golden Knights, who made a trade with the Nashville Predators last weekend that impacted the protection lists for the Predators and the Philadelphia Flyers; and a trade with the New York Rangers for forward Brett Howden.

Vegas, meanwhile, was exempt from the expansion draft.

But mostly, it was the change in behavior of the general managers around the league that hurt Seattle’s chance to leverage deals.

“Last time, general managers were more willing to overpay to protect certain assets. This time, they learned from that and they weren’t willing to make the mistakes that they made last time,” said Francis.

The Price was not right

It was Carey Price‘s decision to waive his no-movement clause. He wasn’t sure if he’d be available to begin next season, due to injuries, and didn’t want the Canadiens to lose Jake Allen in his absence. The 33-year-old Price also figured the Kraken would find his contract to be too much to take on.

He was right.

Francis didn’t divulge much on what went on behind the scenes. “I think anytime you see a name like Carey Price available, you have to consider it,” Francis said on the draft broadcast. “Certainly we did that. We had a lot of discussions. At the end of the day, we made the decision that we did and went in a different direction.”

According to sources, Price is scheduled to see a specialist in New York on Thursday to assess his knee and hip injuries, and determine whether he needs surgery. That uncertainty — plus the five years Price has remaining on his contract — seemed to be as big of a deterrent as his annual cap hit of $10.5 million, or the $11 million bonus the goaltender is due in September.

Betting on Driedger

The Kraken decided that Chris Driedger would be their No. 1A goaltender next season. Seattle informed Driedger of their plans last week, and the sides agreed to a three-year, $10.5 million contract. And then came a twist: Price surprisingly became available.

“I’m kind of just betting on myself in that situation,” Driedger said on Wednesday.

The gamble paid off, as the Kraken stayed loyal to Driedger as their top guy after all. Backing up Driedger will be 25-year-old Vitek Vanecek (formerly of the Washington Capitals) and 24-year-old Joey Daccord (of the Ottawa Senators). Driedger was one of 2021’s great success stories. The 27-year-old had just 11 career NHL starts before last season, then broke out for the Florida Panthers. In 23 starts, Driedger posted a .927 save percentage, which ranked fifth among qualifying goaltenders.

“I had no idea who my goalie partner would be,” Driedger said. “In the NHL there’s going to be competition wherever you go. I try not to focus as much on that, I’m confident in my game.”

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Former Panthers goaltender Chris Driedger reacts to being selected by the Seattle Kraken in the NHL expansion draft.

Cap space was the key

The Kraken didn’t select the galaxy of star players that were available in the expansion draft, many of whom carried significant cap hits — from Price ($10.5 million AAV) to James van Riemsdyk ($7 million) to P.K. Subban ($9 million) to Vladimir Tarasenko ($7.5 million).

In fact, there are only four players in the Seattle roster that have a cap hit higher than $4.5 million: Mark Giordano ($6.75 million), Jordan Eberle ($5.5M), Yanni Gourde ($5,166,666) and Jamie Oleksiak ($4.6M), with Oleksiak signing a new deal with the Kraken. According to Cap Friendly, the Kraken had $28,951,667 in open space under the $81.5 million salary cap ceiling.

“We think that’s a valuable thing to have right now, especially due to the COVID environment and the flat cap. We looked over our choices. There are good players that are out there where maybe we weren’t comfortable with the cap hit on some of them,” said Francis. “We tried to draft the best team possible that we could while still keeping our cap space available. So we can do some things as we move forward.”

Francis said the Kraken plan on getting involved in the free agent market when it opens on July 28. “There are guys that were protected that might be available. Hopefully we can entice more guys to join us,” said Francis.

Giordano the guy?

The Kraken passed on a lot of highly paid veterans. They didn’t shy away from Mark Giordano, who has a $6.75 million cap hit through this season.

The Flames left their 37-year-old captain exposed. Calgary asked the Kraken what it would take not to select Giordano, but Flames GM Brad Treliving said: “It was a price we couldn’t pay.”

And so the Flames lose their captain, whom Treliving called the team’s “moral compass.”

Giordano flew out to Seattle for the expansion draft, and admitted the situation felt surreal. The defenseman, who was originally undrafted, played his entire 15-year career with Calgary.

“I’m not going to lie, it feels a little bit different today,” Giordano told the crowd. “It’s been a crazy last day or so. This is the first time in my career I’ve ever been drafted, so thank you to the Kraken. I’m happy to be here.”

Giordano should be the leader on Day 1 in the locker room and also on the blue line. He is only two years removed from winning the Norris Trophy. “His reputation speaks for itself,” new teammate Jamie Oleksiak said. “He’s got a lot of class. He’s someone we’ll want to rally around.”

Should the Kraken announce a captain in year one, Francis said Giordano would certainly be in contention.

But everyone in the league is wondering: how long will Giordano be a Kraken? There is a ton of interest in trading for Giordano, especially if the Kraken are willing to retain salary. The New York Rangers reportedly are one of those interested teams. And if the Kraken aren’t in playoff position by February, Giordano could be on the move by the trade deadline.

Focus on physicality, character

The player signed under contract the longest with the Kraken is Jamie Oleksiak, who signed a five-year deal. One of the first things Francis mentioned about Oleksiak is that he’s 6-foot-7, and “one of the heaviest players in the game.”

Physicality was a throughline for a lot of players selected by the Kraken. On the broadcast, Brandon Tanev was lauded for his propensity to block shots. Adam Larsson, who signed a four-year contract, is also known for his physicality.

Locker room culture was just as important, as the Kraken wanted players willing to buy in to be part of something greater than themselves.

“The message is this: Let’s come together, let’s play hard for one another and let’s play hard for the city of Seattle,” coach Dave Hakstol said on the broadcast. “We want to have a group of guys that know what it is to be a great teammate, know what it is to be a competitive teammate, and push one another to be at their very best. We want to have a bunch of selfless guys in our locker room that know how to go out and play hard together, and win together.”

Yanni, but not yet

By now, we all know the Lightning were over the salary cap (legally!) as they won their second straight Stanley Cup last month. That can’t fly when the season opens again in October, and tough financial decisions await GM Julien BriseBois.

Combine the Lightning’s salary cap duress with the fact they have one of the deepest rosters in the league, and several solid options were available for the Kraken’s choosing. Seattle could have selected veteran forwards Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn or young promising defenseman Cal Foote.

Seattle chose Yanni Gourde, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Gourde, 29, has already established himself as one of the more underrated, two-way centers in the league. He plays a physical brand of hockey, which the Kraken clearly covet, and should slide in right away as the team’s No. 1 center.

However, Gourde won’t be on the opening-night roster. The recent Stanley Cup champ underwent shoulder surgery this week, and is aiming to get back on the ice in November, if all goes according to plan.

Mr. Eberle’s wild ride

Jordan Eberle was one of the better known players that the Kraken selected on Wednesday. He has 779 games in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders, with 241 goals and 301 assists.

He said that “other than obviously watching the Seahawks on TV and understanding their passion for that team,” he didn’t know much about Seattle. “But getting here today and seeing the crowd and the boats behind us and just how excited people are, I think it’s pretty awesome. Proud to be a part of it,” he said.

Eberle had a wild ride to Seattle, who selected him from the Islanders. He had 10 hours to arrive in time for the in-person unveiling.

“So I found out yesterday afternoon and the big rush to get here was just to get a COVID test so that I could get on a plane and arrive here in Seattle,” he said. “I got here this morning, had a couple hours in the hotel and then right to here. It’s been a whirlwind for sure. But the reception that we’ve gotten from the fans and just the people around here it’s been great.”

Eberle told local media that he checked into his hotel under a different name so no one knew he was in Seattle.

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Former Seattle Seahawks star Marshawn Lynch announces the Kraken’s pick of Calle Jarnkrok.

Look, we’re not saying that Seattle Seahawks legend Marshawn Lynch should host the first round of the NHL entry draft this weekend, given his incredible trifecta of astonishment over Calle Jarnkrok‘s name, the assumption that it was the first overall pick, and then rechristening the former Nashville Predators forward as “The Boy Boy Calle Tho.”

We’re saying Beastmode should host every draft.

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