It is finally here. The apex of the 2021 NHL offseason is upon us. A triple main event, if you will. The first begins tonight in Seattle, Washington where the 32nd NHL franchise will select its first roster. It is also the beginning of the ESPN/Turner era of NHL broadcasting. This is your (final) preview of the 2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, written for the People Who Matter - you, the New Jersey Devils fan.
The Time: 8:00 PM ET
The Broadcast: TV - ESPN2, Sportsnet 1, SN NOW, TVAS
The Hosts: College football announcing legend Chris Fowler, Dominic Moore, and former New Jersey Devils goaltender Kevin Weekes.
The Locale: As Climate Pledge Arena is under construction, the expansion draft will be held outdoors for about 4,000 fans at Gas Works Park.
The Guests: Per NHL.com, there will be others than just General Manager Ron Francis announcing the picks:
Kraken general manager Ron Francis will unveil selections with help from Seattle sports celebrities of the past and present: Sue Bird, Marshawn Lynch, Lenny Wilkens, Jordan Morris, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Bobby Wagner and Kyle Lewis.
Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, a member of the Kraken ownership group, will take part. So will Kraken scout Cammi Granato, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. There will be Seattle recording artist Macklemore, frontline workers from Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, construction workers from Climate Pledge Arena and more.
The broadcast will feature Pike Place Market, Seattle Aquarium, Space Needle and Mt. Rainier.
The Expansion Draft Process: Seattle will follow the same rules Las Vegas did in 2017. As Las Vegas just entered the league within the last five years, they are exempt from the Expansion Draft.
- Seattle will select one unprotected player from each NHL team, so they will make 30 choices this evening.
- No team will lose more than one unprotected player.
- Seattle must select at least 14 forwards, 9 defensemen, and 3 goaltenders. That is 26 players accounted for. Four spots can be at any position. This means they can only stockpile up to 7 goaltenders, 13 defensemen, or 18 forwards maximum.
- At least 20 of those 30 players must be under contract for the 2021-22 season.
- The roster must have a value that is in between 60% to 100% of the $81.5 million salary cap. So the inaugural roster must have an aggregate cap hit of at least $48.9 million.
- Seattle cannot buy out anyone they drafted until the 2022 offseason. They can trade them, though. They can also sign pending UFAs that were exposed (like Chris Driedger).
- Other teams can make deals with Seattle with respect to who they pick.
- After the Expansion Draft, the remaining 31 teams can trade as normal again.
The Full List of the Exposed and Protected: If you want a big list of who is available and who is protected for tonight for all 30 non-Las Vegas teams, then the NHL’s official website has you covered.
The Protected Devils: Much has changed from an early look at the Expansion Draft back in March to an also early look at it back in April by Gerard to our more recent AAtJ Roundtable about the Expansion Draft to the actual protection list from this past weekend. Mike wrote about that here; here is who General Manager Tom Fitzgerald protected:
- Forwards (7): Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Yegor Sharangovich, Janne Kuokkanen, Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, Michael McLeod
- Defensemen (3): Damon Severson, Jonas Siegenthaler, Ryan Graves
- Goaltender (1): Mackenzie Blackwood
These players will remain Devils for the next season at a minimum.
The Exempt Devils: Several important Devils for the future are protected by way of being on their ELCs or other means of exemption. Namely, The Big Deal, Ty Smith, and the team’s prospects. These players cannot be selected by Seattle and therefore did not need protection.
- Forwards: Jack Hughes, Jesper Boqvist, Dawson Mercer, Tyce Thompson, Nolan Foote, Fabian Zetterlund, Mason Jobst, Nathan Schnarr, Aarne Talvitie, Graeme Clarke, Alexander Holtz
- Defensemen: Ty Smith, Kevin Bahl, Reilly Walsh, Nikita Okhotiuk, Michael Vukojevic, Jeremy Groleau
- Goaltenders: Gilles Senn, Akira Schmid, Nico Daws
- Any unsigned player on their reserve list other than Khomutov and Bertschy.
The Exposed Devils: As a result of the protection list, here is the list of whom Seattle can take one player from tonight.
- Forwards: Andreas Johnsson, Nathan Bastian, Nick Merkley, Marian Studenic, Ben Street, Brandon Gignac, Brett Seney, AJ Greer, Christoph Bertschy (rights), Ivan Khomutov (rights)
- Defensemen: P.K. Subban, Ryan Murray, Will Butcher, Connor Carrick, Matt Tennyson, David Quenneville, Josh Jacobs, Colton White, Colby Sissons
- Goaltenders: Scott Wedgewood, Evan Cormier, Aaron Dell
Subban has the largest cap hit among all of the exposed Devils. Butcher and Johnsson have been seen as players that some fans would not mind Seattle taking. Bastian has caused some fans to be concerned about being plucked away since he was pretty good for what he was last season (and really important for McLeod to perform with). The remainder are tweeners between the NHL and AHL, straight up AHLers, or guys the Devils just own their rights from a distant past.
Why You Should Care: While the New Jersey Devils did not make any big surprises with their protection list, it is imperative that Devils fans pay attention to tonight.
First, Seattle will be taking a player from the organization. That is guaranteed. Who it is could lead to further action by Fitzgerald after tonight. It could with a trade after the Expansion Draft or a signing in next week’s Free Agency Frenzy. It depends on who, though. Should, say, P.K. Subban get picked, then there’s $9 million in cap space to make up. Should it be someone with a more modest cap hit, like Marian Studenic, then that would have to be taken into account for any post-Expansion Draft moves Fitzgerald may want to make.
Second, the players who were exposed but not picked by Seattle could be had in a deal. It is a great way to identify potential and reasonable targets for a deal. With a draft on Friday and Saturday and free agency beginning next week, Fitzgerald could be in a position to help his team out by “helping” others with their cap/roster problems. What Seattle does tonight could lead to what Fitzgerald can do tomorrow.
Will Fitzgerald Have a Deal in Place for Seattle to Choose a Specific Devil?: This is only my speculation. I do not think so. As much I think P.K. Subban has been better than the hard-scrabble fans who think players shouldn’t be popular outside of the game or fans so hooked in by GAR that they cannot think they are wrong, I do not think he is someone worth giving up an asset to keep around. Especially as he has an expiring contract. As much as I liked Bastian as a fourth liner, his role is not difficult to replace should the Kraken take him. Everyone else: if they go, then they go. So be it.
Unless Fitzgerald really wants Seattle to take someone of his choosing, I am not sure what they could offer either. With the recent acquisition for Graves, the Devils only have two first round picks and their third rounder within the first 90 picks of this weekend’s NHL draft. I would not want to see the Devils move 2022 or 2023 picks just yet unless they are low ones. I am not sure Seattle will want a player for a player. We shall see, though.
What About After the Expansion Draft?: This is where Fitzgerald can be more active. The benefit of these protection lists is that it reveals who each team was willing to give up. For some teams, it is a player with a significant contract that they may not be able to afford - but one that New Jersey can take on. For other teams, it is a player at a position where they have too many bodies - but one that New Jersey may use. That was a main driver of the recent trade for Ryan Graves. Sure, there would be risks involved. Given that the Devils finished 29th out of 31 teams involved in 2021, I think some risks may need to be taken for potential improvement.
What’s Next After This: Tonight, we will have an Open Post about the Expansion Draft. Expect that at around 7 PM tonight. Right after the Expansion Draft, I will likely have a short piece about who was taken, reactions about other moves, and what New Jersey could do next.
After this event will be the second main event of this year’s offseason: The NHL Draft. The First Round is on Friday night. Saturday will take care of the other six rounds. Our mock draft will be done by then. So will our mock draft round up. Free Agency Frenzy begins next Wednesday on the 28th. Somewhere, a schedule could be released in the middle. Thank you for reading this preview.