Can the Kraken exploit the expansion draft as much as Vegas did?

by Kevin Nesgoda

The Vegas Golden Knights had arguably the most successful inaugural season in NHL history, finishing atop the Pacific division and making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Seattle Kraken will be entering the league just four years after that historic run, and despite how difficult it is to see that kind of immediate success in an expansion team, we’ll surely see Seattle measured against Vegas at every turn.

There is one big thing that the Kraken have going for them in regards to seeing success in that first year: they’ll have the same expansion draft rules that Vegas used to acquire future franchise stars like William Karlsson and Marc-Andre Fleury. Here’s a brief overview of those rules:

  • Seattle will select one player from each team, excluding Vegas, for a total of 30 players

  • Each team will have the option to protect either:

    • Seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or

    • Eight skaters of any position and one goalie

  • First and second year players cannot be selected and do not count against protection limits

  • Players with no-trade clauses must be protected unless the player chooses to waive the clause

There are a few more rules to it but that’s the real meat of it all.

The big question now is whether or not Seattle can use their leverage in the expansion draft to extract the amount of talent and draft picks through trades that Vegas was able to get in 2017. Vegas made 10 trades on expansion draft day in exchange for selecting specific players and laying off of players that teams couldn’t fit on their protected lists but really didn’t want to lose. Here’s a quick rundown of what they acquired that day:

vegas trades.png

A quick example of why teams were willing to give up picks and players in exchange for basically nothing: The Columbus Blue Jackets didn’t have enough space on their protected list to keep Vegas away from a couple of promising 22-year olds in forward Josh Anderson and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. In order to keep the Knights away, they sent over a first and a second round pick in exchange for Vegas avoiding Anderson and Korpisalo in the draft and instead taking William Karlsson.

This is the type of trade people point to when they suggest that teams won’t want to make trades with Seattle prior to the expansion draft. Karlsson went on to score a career-high 43 goals the following year with Vegas, and remains the franchise’s all-time leading goal scorer through their third season. Jarmo Kekäläinen, the Blue Jackets general manager, is still there, and it seems safe to assume he won’t want to get burned like that a second time.

However, I’ve got two reasons to counter the idea that most of the league will just sit back and let a player go without making a trade. Let’s talk about the more straightforward reason first.

You might hear plenty about how Columbus, New York, or Pittsburgh got taken by Vegas because they lost draft picks and a good player, when they could’ve just lost a good player. But what about some of those other trades?

Buffalo managed to lose only a 6th round pick to keep the Knights away from young unprotected goaltender Linus Ullmark. Winnipeg dropped 11 spots in the draft and gave up a future third round pick, but they were able to steer the Knights to Chris Thorburn, a pending free agent that the Jets were about to let go anyway. Kevin Cheveldayoff remains the Jets’ general manager, and if he’s happy with how his trade worked out last time there’s no reason to think he won’t do it again. Kevyn Adams, the Sabres’ current GM, was a member of that front office in 2017 as well. He shouldn’t have any bad memories about that expansion day trade.

We often remember the trades that went wildly wrong for one side, but in turn we tend to forget that many of the trades made that day were beneficial for both Vegas and the team that traded with them. No reason to think they won’t try that again with Seattle next year.

And now for reason number two, which some might find less agreeable.

You might think the people in charge would learn and grow from past experiences, but there is mounting evidence to the contrary. For example, the NHL basically fires and rehires the same 31 coaches each year despite the fact that they were probably fired for not being very good. In 2013 the Rangers and Canucks actually swapped fired head coaches John Tortorella and Alain Vigneault. Even the Blue Jackets’ GM has looked back at his trade in 2017 and said he probably couldn’t have done anything different.

Never underestimate a general manager’s ability to believe he knows more than the person sitting across from him.

Seattle gets to start discussing trades with the other 31 teams once their final expansion fee payment goes through, which is expected in March of next year. It’s safe to assume any trades will be kept quiet until the day of the expansion draft, as that’s what happened with Vegas in 2017. Which gives us about 11 months to guess at what might happen when the day finally arrives.

Will the Kraken come away with a bounty of picks and players via trade, or will teams be resistant after seeing the way Vegas was able to swindle everyone out of great players? The answer likely lies, as with most things, somewhere in the middle. But there’s a good chance that it’s closer to the former than you might guess.

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