The Expansion Draft: First Impressions

by Dan Morse

Ron Francis took the stage on Wednesday evening with his polo shirt unbuttoned and his gold chain hanging out, oozing the confidence and weariness of a man that’s been up for three days straight plotting the best methods to steal a player from every team in the NHL. How did he and his staff do in that regard is a difficult question to answer, so today I’ll simply gather some thoughts on various aspects of the selections as we try to make sense of the team-building philosophy the Kraken have now put forth.

-Cap space is every bit as valuable to this team as anyone predicted. Ignoring all your mock expansion drafts that saw Seattle hitting $70 million in salary from the jump, Seattle decided that they would not take on any contracts that would give them salary cap issues. In fact, they barely managed to reach the minimum required cap space in the expansion rules ($48.9M). After the Jamie Oleksiak, Chris Driedger, and Adam Larsson signings, CapFriendly projects the current roster to cost $52.5M. That leaves them with just shy of $29M in cap space and $8M below the NHL’s salary cap floor. Not only does this mean they have the ability to be aggressive in free agency, they’re actually required to do something in order to reach that cap floor.

-The biggest contract they took on was Mark Giordano’s $6.75M deal with just one year left on it. Yanni Gourde and Jordan Eberle are the only other players making more than $5M per year. So while we can expect the team to be active when free agency opens up on July 28th, don’t go thinking just yet that they’ll open the pocket book for an albatross contract for someone like Gabriel Landeskog. I’m expecting more mid-level free agents. They were reportedly interested in Jaden Schwartz in the two-day negotiating window prior to the expansion draft, and have been in contact with Zach Hyman’s camp as well. [UPDATE: Hyman has reportedly reached a deal with the Edmonton Oilers for 7-8 years, $5M AAV] Evolving Hockey projects Schwartz to get a 3-year, $4.75M AAV deal, while Hyman is projected to get a 4-year, $5.3M deal. Both would stay in the realm of the contracts the Kraken have taken on (and handed out) in regards to both value and term.

-They’re big. Half of the Kraken’s 12 selections on defense are at least 6’3”, with Jamie Oleksiak leading the way at 6’7”. How important is size, especially among defenders? That’s debatable, but it is always fun to see a big guy manning the blue line.

-Speaking of fun blue lines, how cool is it that brothers Cale and Haydn Fleury both got selected? The two have not played on a team together since they were five and three years old, and here they are with a chance to prove themselves at the highest level on a brand new hockey team.

“He Facetimed me this morning….and he instantly called my parents and brought them into the call. And it was a really special day. My mom, I think, was crying. I don’t know; I couldn’t see her. But it was a really exciting day. And I just couldn’t be more proud of him. And just ready for him to be my teammate.”

Be still, my heart.

-Mark Giordano was there on the stage in Seattle. With only one year left on his deal and still a productive defender at age 37, Giordano could be a prime trade candidate for the Kraken either early this offseason or even at the trade deadline this coming year, but bringing him out in a Kraken sweater at the end of the evening seems to indicate that Seattle would prefer to keep him around all year. Maybe even longer.

-There will likely be more of a goalie tandem than a starter and backup situation this year. Chris Driedger and Vitek Vanecek have started a mere 70 games combined in their careers. Both netminders played unexpectedly well this past season, so it appears the hope is that they both continue to build on solid performances as they get more starts in net with this new team. Joey Daccord, the 24-year old selection from the Ottawa Senators, has even less experience and will be the goalie sent to the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers. It’s an inexperienced, high-upside core of goaltenders coming to Seattle.

-Where were all the side deals? Some people posited that teams would learn from the Vegas expansion and be reluctant to make trades with Seattle, and it appears they were correct. There have been zero reported side deals made during the expansion process, and very few rumors of trades still to be made involving recently selected players. Ron Francis all but confirmed the suspicions after the show.

“This was going to be so much different than what Vegas did. Vegas did a good job taking advantage of the rules and everyone’s lack of experience…They had a lot more time to prepare for us. Last time GMs were more willing to overpay to protect certain assets. This time they learned from that and they weren’t willing to make the mistakes they made last time.”

It appears that in the game of chicken between Francis and every other GM in the league, nobody blinked, and Seattle simply ended up grabbing their best player available at each stop.

-What are those choices from Philadelphia, LA, and Columbus? Max Domi wouldn’t have been as good of a pick as people might’ve thought, with one year left on his deal and currently dealing with an injury to go alongside a career-worst year with just 24 points in 54 games, but why Gavin Bayreuther over the more proven Dean Kukan, who is only one year older? In Philadelphia it’s fairly easy to get on board with avoiding the James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek contracts, but what is it about Carsen Twarynksi that makes him more attractive than Robert Hägg or even Connor Bunnaman? And as far as LA goes, I know they didn’t have a lot of good looking options, but most of them looked better than Kurtis MacDermid.

-Jordan Eberle was there, in a jersey! He looked fantastic (and short compared to the rest of the guys there) and in all likelihood be the leading scorer in year one, depending on who else joins the team later on. Eberle, Yanni Gourde, Joonas Donskoi, and Jared McCann have all proven that they can put the puck in the back of the net. They weren’t going to get elite scoring talent in the expansion draft, but this is an encouraging start to the team’s top-six.

There’s still a lot to come with this roster, but the fact is there is a real team, with real players, and real jerseys(!). The Kraken have taken a major step into the NHL, and despite some questions floating around some of these selections, this is an exciting and unforgettable time for the city of Seattle.

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