Next season, the Vancouver Canucks will have a new geographical rival. For the first time, they won’t be the only NHL team in the Pacific Northwest.
The Seattle Kraken are joining the NHL for the 2021-22 season. They’ve got almost everything they need to start the season — management, front office staff, scouts, analytics, marketing, and an arena scheduled to open in the summer — but they’re missing something pretty important: players.
Just like the Vegas Golden Knights a few years ago, the Kraken will have an expansion draft where they can pick a player from every NHL team — other than the Golden Knights — to populate their roster. Just like with the previous expansion draft, teams will be able to protect a certain number of their players to ensure that the Kraken can’t just pluck star players from each team.
The expansion draft worked out pretty well for the Golden Knights, who put together a stellar first line out of the terrible talent evaluation of the Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets, not to mention nabbing a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender and a very solid blue line.
It didn’t work out too badly for the Canucks either, who only lost Luca Sbisa in the expansion draft, a defenceman who had worn out his welcome in Vancouver with his frequent giveaways.
How will the expansion draft play out for the Canucks this time around? Let’s take a look at their options.
Expansion draft rules
First, let’s go over the rules.
Players with fewer than three professional seasons between the NHL and AHL are exempt. For the Canucks, that includes key players Quinn Hughes and Nils Höglander, promising prospects Jack Rathbone and Michael DiPietro, and other prospects and player who could play a part in the team’s future like Jett Woo, William Lockwood, Carson Focht, Marc Michaelis, Arturs Silovs, and Nikita Tryamkin.
The Canucks can either protect seven forwards, three defencemen, and one goaltender or they can protect eight forwards and defencemen combined, as well as one goaltender. The latter option is for teams that want to protect more than three defencemen but, quite frankly, the Canucks don’t have more than three defencemen worth protecting.
Finally, the Canucks have to expose a certain minimum number of players with NHL experience: two forwards and one defenceman with at least 27 NHL games played this season or at least 54 NHL games combined over this season and last season. Those players also need to be signed through next year and must also expose a goaltender signed through next year.
Clear as mud?
All you really need to know is that the Canucks will be protecting seven forwards, three defencemen, and one goaltender and won’t need to protect Quinn Hughes, Nils Höglander, Jack Rathbone, and Michael DiPietro.
The Canucks have 24 players who are eligible to be selected in the expansion draft, including several pending free agents like Brandon Sutter, Sven Baertschi, and Jimmy Vesey. The Kraken can choose a pending free agent in the expansion draft if they want but that’s unlikely to happen here.
In addition, Micheal Ferland is likely to be declared exempt from the expansion draft because of his career-threatening injury.
I’ve bolded the five forwards the Canucks are almost certain to protect: the top line of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, and Brock Boeser is an obvious choice, as is captain Bo Horvat. Reports indicate that Tanner Pearson, despite not having a no-movement clause in his new contract, has an agreement with the Canucks that he will be protected as well.
That leaves the Canucks with just two slots remaining and some interesting choices to make.
Do the Canucks protect energy forward and penalty killer Tyler Motte? What about prospects Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich? Are they eager to hang onto depth forwards Zack MacEwen and Jayce Hawryluk?
Then there’s Jake Virtanen. Jim Benning’s first draft pick as general manager of the Canucks has been all-but invisible this season and has a $2.55 million cap hit through next season. The Canucks might want the Kraken to take Virtanen in order to ease their salary cap burden next season but will Benning be willing to let go?
The most likely two forwards to round out the protection list are Motte and Lind, in my opinion, but the Canucks could certainly go a different direction.
The picture is a little more clear for the Canucks on defence. With Quinn Hughes ineligible to be selected, the Canucks have more than enough slots to protect the players they want to protect.
Alex Edler and Travis Hamonic are pending free agents, both of whom seem likely to re-sign with the Canucks, who can afford to wait until after the expansion draft to do so and save themselves the protection slots.
The addition of Madison Bowey at the trade deadline gives the Canucks a player that satisfies the minimum 54 games played over the past two seasons — Bowey has 55 — which will allow the Canucks to protect both Tyler Myers and Nate Schmidt.
Whether the Canucks should protect Myers, whose $6 million cap hit through 2024 could prove problematic, is another question.
That leaves just one spot on defence, which is sure to go to Olli Juolevi. None of the Canucks’ other prospects on defence who are eligible to be selected are worth protecting.
Frankly, this is an area where the Canucks could get creative and try to acquire a defenceman from a team that has too many good defencemen to protect. Even if the Canucks want to keep Myers, the odds of the analytics-savvy Kraken wanting to take him are low.
Well, this one’s obvious. The Canucks will protect Thatcher Demko and expose Braden Holtby.
While Holtby has struggled this season, he could still be tempting for the Kraken. He’s won a Vezina and the Stanley Cup, is a progressive personality who Seattle would love, and he’s a well-liked veteran who could be a linchpin in the locker room. He may not be Marc-Andre Fleury but he could play the same role for Seattle that Fleury did for Las Vegas.
That would certainly help out the Canucks, who could use his $4.3 million cap hit cleared off the books, along with the backloaded $5.7 million in actual salary.
Who will the Kraken take?
It seems like the Seattle Kraken have just a few options, which is unsurprising given the Canucks’ questionable depth.
There’s no one on defence that the Kraken are likely to take. The Kraken could potentially take Holtby for the reasons outlined above but the Kraken will also potentially have goaltenders Anton Khudobin and Jake Allen available, negating the need for a veteran like Holtby.
That leaves the forwards. As much as Canucks fans might want the Kraken to take Loui Eriksson, it’s more likely they go for a younger forward with more potential. They could take a gamble on Jake Virtanen returning to form, snag a fourth-liner like Zach MacEwen, or take a chance on Jonah Gadjovich, who has been scoring goals at will in the AHL.
Perhaps none of those options are tempting for the Kraken. Here’s where the Canucks could again get creative and give the Kraken some incentive to take Eriksson off their hands. It could very well cost the Canucks a pick or a prospect, but it might be worth it to have some extra room under the salary cap for next season.