Last week’s awarding of the Stanley Cup and Nikita Kucherov’s hilarious post-game interview officially marked the conclusion of the 2020-21 NHL season and while a brief summer of recuperation is on the docket, the league calendar never sleeps as the busiest part of the offseason will be upon us within a fortnight.
The NHL has designated this Saturday, July 17th, as the deadline for each franchise to submit a final player protection list ahead of the expansion draft on the 21st, with several teams facing the conundrum of losing a useful roster player for nothing, or being forced to trade them for pennies on the dollar in order to recoup assets.
CapFriendly’s invaluable expansion draft simulator gives users the opportunity to emulate the entire expansion process themselves, from determining each franchise’s protection list and selecting skaters from the resulting pool of exposed players.
As such, the following table represents my best estimate of the Kraken’s initial roster following the expansion draft, but keep in mind that buyouts, trades, and the waiving of No-Movement clauses may alter the expansion landscape ahead of Saturday’s deadline.
It’ll be more useful to evaluate Seattle’s roster following the expansion and entry drafts, and once the initial hoopla of free agency subsides, but the roster should not drastically differ from what I’ve presented.
Now, let’s take a closer look at five of the more intriguing players who could find themselves perusing real-estate near the Space Needle in a few weeks’ time.
1. Mark Giordano – D, Calgary Flames
The Flames’ captain will likely be the most recognizable and decorated skater to be exposed to Seattle, and would be an inspired choice to take on the same role with the fledgling franchise.
Over a 15-year NHL career entirely spent with the Flames, the Toronto native is 2nd in total games played and 8th in total points in franchise history, and 3rd among all defensemen.
Giordano is three years removed from being awarded his first, and only Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defence-man, scoring 74 points in 78 games during the 2018-19 season.
This season, Giordano led all Calgary blue liners in scoring with 26 points in 56 games and continued to have a positive impact while defending, as his pairing with Chris Tanev ranked 3rd in expected goals percentage and 9th in shot-share among defensive pairings with at least 100 minutes played together at 5-on-5 while starting a majority of their shifts in the defensive zone.
Even in the twilight of his career, Giordano remains one of Calgary’s best puck movers, exiting the zone skating with possession on 55% of all attempts, ranking in the top quartile of the league.
However, Calgary’s strategy for transitioning the puck did not often come through their defensemen, as all of their blue liners ranked below the league average in exit attempts per 60 minutes, meaning Giordano may not be as effective with extremely high usage.
Giordano also still defends the blufeline well, leading the Flames in the number of chances allowed off of a zone entry demonstrating he can still keep opponents out of dangerous scoring areas off of the rush.
For those reasons, his inclusion on this list may be surprising, but his role on the Calgary blueline has gradually shrunk in recent seasons and the franchise may be looking to transition to a younger crop of players.
Despite turning 38 this October, Giordano has only appeared in 23 total playoff games over his career and the Flames have struggled to achieve significant post-season success, with the franchise only advancing past the second round once during his tenure.
The rearguard has also seen a reduction in his average ice-time since the aforementioned Norris season, and was displaced as the main defence man on the power play by Rasmus Andersson as the season progressed.
Further, his results away from Tanev suggest that the former Canuck was doing most of the heavy lifting on the pair, and although Giordano was still around 50% in most possession metrics apart from Tanev, he might do best with a defensively sound partner who can make up for his gradual physical decline.
While there are some risks surrounding his age, Giordano’s contract expires next summer and the associated $6.75 million cap hit would help Seattle reach the cap floor for their inaugural season.
Both Cup contenders and those on the playoff bubble look for help on defence and in the leadership department come the trade deadline and often pay exorbitant prices to do so, which should leave the Kraken with some assets if they decide to part ways.
Even if Giordano performs poorly, the short contract length coupled with Seattle’s relatively low expectations makes his selection a worthwhile gamble for the Kraken.
His admirable history of charity work would also be a welcome addition to the Seattle community.
2. Jake Allen – G, Montreal Canadiens
With franchise icon Carey Price backstopping the organization to an unexpected Stanley Cup Final appearance this past season, Allen is almost guaranteed to be exposed by the Canadiens.
However, without Allen’s regular season contributions, Montreal may have not even qualified for the playoffs in the first place.
The soon-to-be 31-year-old net minder played in more games than Price this season, and outplayed his counterpart to keep Montreal in the playoff hunt with an 11-12-5 record and a .907 save percentage.
Allen’s current contract dictates that he will be owed just under $3 million for the next two seasons, which would be entirely manageable for the Kraken and could be more affordable than some of his comparables in free agency.
His career results have been solid but unspectacular, with Allen posting a career save percentage of .912, which roughly resembles the league average.
Although he is likely at his best in a backup role, Allen has shown he can handle a starter’s workload by playing a majority of his team’s games in 5 of the past 6 seasons.
His results suggest that Allen should be considered a 1A/1B option for most teams as he is within or around the top 30 in most goaltending metrics across the past 3 NHL campaigns.
Since the 2018-19 season, Allen has posted the 30th best save percentage in all situations (.911) among goalies with at least 1000 minutes played, while playing the 30th most games played in that time.
Using goals saved above average (GSAA) which accounts for the quality of chances a goaltender faces, Allen is 33rd in that category according to Natural Stat Trick, suggesting he is not necessarily fazed by having to face a greater number of dangerous opportunities.
He is perhaps most infamously known for being benched in favour of rookie sensation Jordan Binnington in 2018-19, who took over the St. Louis net at midseason and led them from last place in the NHL to the Stanley Cup Final where they defeated the Boston Bruins in 7 games.
Surprisingly, Allen has had several strong showings in the playoffs, as his career .924 save percentage in 29 career playoff games is well above his regular season average.
Allen’s favourable contract situation and dependable career performance suggests he could form part of a competitive goaltending platoon for Seattle next season. He could also be flipped at the trade deadline for future assets to a team looking for insurance in goal, giving the Kraken greater flexibility in roster construction and making his selection all the more likely.
3. Tyler Johnson – F, Tampa Bay Lightning
For all of the Lightning’s cunning maneuvering around the salary cap this season, it will be near impossible to keep all of their Cup-winning roster intact for next year, as key contributors such as Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman will likely receive large paydays in free agency from franchise’s eager to augment their stars with dependable role players.
Johnson’s name has been floated around as a Seattle target from the moment the new franchise was announced, with many already inserting the undersized forward from Spokane into the Kraken lineup well before the expansion draft.
His contract is a bit rich for the Lightning, as his three years remaining for $5 million a season is untenable for the cap-strapped franchise and especially for a player who has seen his role greatly diminished in recent seasons because of poor play and the emergence of younger, cheaper teammates such as Ross Colton and Mathieu Joseph.
Johnson was 10th among regular Lightning forwards in 5-on-5 ice time this season and only scored 22 points, the lowest usage and point totals of his career since his rookie season. His age (about to turn 31), reduced role and the fact that he was placed on waivers this season are probable indicators of his future in Tampa.
Despite his unsavoury contract, Johnson remains a serviceable player in the right situation. As Seattle will have tons of cap space, his salary is palatable for a franchise that is not expected to immediately contend for a Cup.
Johnson boasts 4 seasons of at least 20 goals on his resume, and his 2014-15 playoffs where he tallied 23 points in 26 games during Tampa’s run to the final, shows he can elevate his play in high-pressure situations.
Even with his play and usage declining in recent years, Johnson is a versatile forward who contributes to Tampa’s transition game and has a nose for the dirty areas around the crease.
The veteran centre paced the Lightning in scoring chances off of rebounds (1.16 per 60 minutes) and was among the league leaders in that department, suggesting that his offensive instincts are still intact.
His above-average ability (55% success rate) at carrying the puck into the offensive zone allowed the Lightning to maintain possession and establish territorial dominance in the offensive zone through their strong cycle strategy along the boards and below the goal-line.
Johnson’s performance in Tampa’s Stanley Cup triumph this past season alongside Pat Maroon and Colton meant the Lightning were able to feast on opposing teams’ fourth lines while their stars did battle elsewhere, with the trio finishing 4th in expected goals for percentage at 5v5 for lines with at least 100 minutes played in the playoffs.
He also remains a decent face-off man, hovering around 50% for his career and still positively impacts the run of play for his team when on the ice which would allow the Kraken to move him around the lineup as a type of utility-man.
While I am skeptical of boosting a player’s playoff resume especially if they are well beyond their peak years, but Johnson is still an NHL-caliber forward and is second in Lightning history in playoff games played, giving some of the Kraken’s younger skaters a respected veteran to learn from and emulate.
Tampa will likely need to swing a significant asset depleting deal with the Kraken to entice them to select Johnson over Yanni Gourde or Ondrej Palat who are younger and have shorter contract commitments, but the undrafted forward is a prime candidate for a career rejuvenation on the west coast if utilized appropriately.
4. Shayne Gostisbehere – D, Philadelphia Flyers
Shayne Gostisbehere’s NHL career thus far has been turbulent to say the least. The 28-year-old blue liner hailing from Florida burst onto the scene in 2015-16, garnering an All-Rookie Team selection and being named a Calder Trophy finalist on the back of scoring 46 points in 64 games for the Flyers.
He followed that remarkable debut season with an even more productive campaign two years later, with his 65 points in 78 games earning him 10th place in Norris voting at the age of 24, and cemented his rise as one of the NHL’s most dynamic offensive defensemen.
Unfortunately, the next two seasons were difficult for a myriad of reasons.His on-ice performance has been marred by occasional defensive lapses, persistent knee pain, and being healthy scratched by coaches frustrated by his inability to reach the highs of his early seasons.
Somehow, this past year was even worse for the defence man, as Gostisbehere contracted COVID-19 prior to the start of the season, had trouble fully recovering from his knee injury, placed on waivers by the team, and was suspended just before the end of the regular season.
You’re probably wondering why Seattle would want to claim a player with so many red flags waving feverishly around his long-term health and performance.
Yet, Gostisbehere’s profile screams worthwhile reclamation project, and the Kraken’s head coach, Dave Hakstol, has a pre-existing relationship with the blue liner as he was Gostisbehere’s first coach in Philadelphia.
Up until his first injury, the defender posted 187 points in 298 games from 2014-15 to 2018-19, a 51 point pace over 82 game season and one that would suggest he still has more to give if put in a more favourable situation.
Gostisbehere also remains one of the Flyers’ most prominent defenceman, as he finished 3rd in time on ice in 2020-21, and led the team in power play minutes. However, heralded prospect Cam York was close behind in total deployment and could replace Gostisbehere’s offensive production at a fraction of the cost.
Philadelphia relied on Gostisbehere to transition play out of the zone, as his 45% completion rate was second on the team and was tops in avoiding failed exits as the Flyers’ most dependable option.
His evasive skating has also proven frustrating for oncoming forecheckers, as his elusiveness while carrying the puck has resulted in the 7th best penalty differential among all defencemen, which sets up his team for the man-advantage where Gostisbehere does most of his damage.
This season, the man affectionately known as Ghost Bear finished 3rd in individual expected goals created among NHL defencemen with at least 50 mins played on the power play. Within the right scheme, Gostibehere can feast on opposing penalty kills and tilt the ice in his team’s favour. Even with his recent struggles, Gostisbehere still ranks 35th in power play points by a defence man over the past three seasons, even ahead of new Edmonton Oiler Duncan Keith.
What? He’s old and no longer any good? But Ken Holland said he was good and Holland has never been wrong about anything ever.
Sorry, got a bit off track there. Back to Gostisbehere.
Although he’s most well known for his offensive capabilities, Gostisbehere is respectable defensively, being league average at preventing chances against off of a clean zone entry. He was also above 50% in unblocked shot share and expected goals share at 5-on-5.
However, he is heavily sheltered when it comes to zone starts, as he is deployed in the offensive zone to start his shift 18% of the time according to MoneyPuck, which was the 6th most among all NHL defensemen. Gostisbehere can hold his own in terms of preventing dangerous chances against, but it would be prudent for Seattle to pair him with a defence-first partner to cover for his mistakes.
His deal has 2 years remaining at $4.5 million per year, and he is only owed $3.25 million in actual salary which may make it more palatable for the Kraken while helping them reach the cap floor next season.
If Gostisbehere is to return to his peak, there needs to be comprehensive buy-in across the organization, from the management to the trainers managing his physical health. Hakstol’s presence coupled with a savvy analytics department in Seattle suggests that the group may understand how to best manage the unlucky blueliner, and could result in a welcome return to form.
5. Vince Dunn – D, St. Louis Blues
The young blue liner will likely be the victim of a number’s game in St. Louis, with the 24-year-old buried on the Blues’ depth chart behind several more established veterans.
Despite Dunn averaging the highest ice time of his fledgling career, the pending RFA only ranked 5th in all situations among all St. Louis defencemen and missed out on the playoffs entirely through injury, with Dunn last having played on April 24th.
Although the Blues have committed extensive term to both Krug and Justin Faulk, it’s a bit confusing to think that they would leave such a promising talent exposed in the expansion draft.
Dunn’s 20 points in 43 games this season represented the most productive pace of his career, and his even-strength points per 60 minutes would have him 84th among all NHL defensemen, firmly within the top half of the league.
The Mississauga native was one of the Blues’ most successful defenders in terms of completing clean zone exits with possession, rather than simply rimming the puck around the boards or off of the glass. Leaguewide, Dunn was above average in exiting the zone with possession and put up better results than his more acclaimed teammate in Torey Krug.
Dunn is also not shy about jumping up into the play and joining the rush, as led the Blues in individual scoring chances per 60 minutes, demonstrating his strong offensive awareness and composure in scoring areas.
He also featured heavily on the power play this season as only Krug amassed more minutes on the man advantage. What was surprising to note was that Dunn was arguably more efficient in his deployment, with his 5.83 points per 60 minutes (12th in the NHL among defensemen who played at least 50 minutes on the power play) ranking higher than his teammate, who finished in 20th.
Just as I’ve been trumpeting his offensive skills, it is only fair to note his defensive flaws. His on-ice rates of shot- and expected goals-share are both well below 50%, and is somewhat concerning when you consider he hasn’t necessarily been fed the most difficult minutes to this point. Dunn is also a bit of a liability when it comes to zone entry defence, as he allowed nearly 4 entries with chances against per 60 minutes this past season, the 2nd worst rate on the Blues blueline.
Surprisingly the Dunn-Bortuzzo pair was 4th in the NHL among pairs with 100 minutes played in expected goals against per 60 minutes, suggesting that pairing him with a steady defensively conscious partner would allow him to thrive in that he would be more free to play to his strengths while ensuring the team is not bleeding chances when he is on the ice.
Perhaps I could be too hard on the Blues who may ultimately recognize Dunn’s tantalizing potential but may not have the available ice time to play him as much as is merited by his early results.
Rather, it is a comment on the mismanagement demonstrated by several general managers across the league that aging defensemen moving out of their prime are awarded hefty contracts in favour of trusting burgeoning prospects who come in at a much lower cost, even if they have yet to fully absorb the intricacies of NHL defending in high-leverage minutes.
However, St. Louis’ short-sightedness could ultimately be Seattle’s gain and don’t be surprised to see Dunn break out next season in an expanded role.
Like Vegas, Seattle will have been afforded more favourable drafting rules than those observed by previous expansion franchises, with the NHL painfully learning that it is better for league and expansion market that their team is competitive sooner than later. I’m sure that Tim Leiweke and the rest of the Oakmont group would not have settled for less when considering the immense $500 million fee they were required to pay the league upon entry.
This reality means that the Kraken should be competitive next season could, with a bevy of cap room and potential draft picks acquired through expansion side deals, make a splash in free agency (Dougie Hamilton, Taylor Hall) or through trade (Jack Eichel).
The franchise will likely have an interesting mix of veteran talent and unproven skaters looking to make their mark in the league. The NHL’s gaze will be fixed upon the Pacific Northwest to see if they can replicate the success of their expansion cousins from Sin City. Improbable, but not impossible.
With that being said, release the Kraken.
All data courtesy of Corey Sznajder, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference, MoneyPuck and Natural Stat Trick. Contract information from CapFriendly.