The team has already been picked but, officially, the Seattle Kraken will select the players for their team Wednesday evening but, like many, I have gone through the protected lists and tried to come up with a team that would make the Kraken competitive immediately in a Pacific Division that does not look to be great going into next season but, more importantly, would give Seattle flexibility moving forward.
The biggest advantage that the Vegas Golden Knights had in their expansion process was the lack of bad contracts clogging up their roster and we have seen how that plays out. Vegas was immediately competitive and has been among the top teams in the league in all four seasons, but they no longer have that precious cap space. It didn’t go away magically – the Golden Knights spent money to bring in marquee talent – but it is important that the Kraken not spend money just for the sake of spending money. In a league that is looking at a flat salary cap for at least a few more seasons, maintaining financial flexibility is a major advantage.
So those are the underlying principles upon which this team is built. They can be competitive quickly and they should not clog their salary cap unnecessarily. There may be trades coming that require Seattle to absorb a bad contract but, for the purposes of this exercise, I’m not really forecasting trades (aside from a few late rumors).
Anyway, let’s take it team by team.
D Haydn Fleury
A first-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2014, Ron Francis’ first draft as GM, Fleury struggled as a rookie but has been effective in a sheltered role in three seasons since. He was traded to Anaheim last season and there aren’t great options to take from the Ducks. It’s possible that Seattle could take veteran center Adam Henrique, who has a $5.825 million contract for three more seasons, provided that the Ducks offer sweeteners to do so because Fleury’s $1.3 million contract fits more easily.
D Ilya Lyubushkin
Before the Coyotes traded Adin Hill to San Jose, he would have been a natural pick and the player he was traded for, 23-year-old goaltender Josef Korenar, could make some sense here. If not Korenar, Christian Fischer might benefit from a new opportunity and 27-year-old right-shot defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin has been really effective in a shot suppressing role. Making $1 million, Lyubushkin is reasonably-priced right-handed depth on defense.
D Jeremy Lauzon
There are some interesting forward options from the Bruins, including restricted free agent wingers Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase, but taking an inexpensive defenseman might make more sense. So, out of Connor Clifton, Jeremy Lauzon, and Jakub Zboril, it probably makes sense to grab Lauzon, who comes with a reasonable $850,000 cap hit.
G Dustin Tokarski
Not surprisingly, the worst team in the league last season does not have great options for the Kraken. Center Cody Eakin is an option but he’s been getting crushed in recent seasons so his $2.25 million cap hit is not ideal. Restricted free agent defenseman Will Borgen is certainly a possibility without an expectation that he necessarily makes the club next season, but for goaltending depth, why not go with Dustin Tokarski, who can be half of an AHL tandem next season?
D Mark Giordano
Barring trades, the choice involved with the Flames is as easy as any for the Kraken. Mark Giordano may be 37 years old and come with a $6.75 million cap hit, but he can still play and with one season left on his deal, Giordano can either be a leader on the Seattle blueline or a trade chip that could secure more long-term value for Seattle.
D Jake Bean
While there might have been a little surprise that the Hurricanes have made winger Nino Niederreiter available for the Kraken, he does come with a more challenging price point, a $5.25 million cap hit. So, try another defenseman. Bean was a first-round pick of the Hurricanes in 2016 and did get into NHL for 42 games last season. He needs to be better but he’s 23 years old, can handle the puck enough to help on the power play, and is a restricted free agent who had a $863,333 cap hit last season.
RW Ryan Carpenter
If the Kraken are interested in getting bigger on the blueline, they could take a shot at Blackhawks blueliner Nikita Zadorov but the towering blueliner is a restricted free agent who is coming off a contract with a $3.2 million cap hit but he is very limited offensively and that makes the price prohibitive, so consider an effective veteran checker like Carpenter, a 30-year-old with a $1 million cap hit who can play center and wing and tends to move the puck in the right direction.
C/RW J.T. Compher
There has been some talk about the Kraken going after Avalanche captain Gabriel Landesog, who looks like he is heading to market as an unrestricted free agent, but a long-term big money deal for a 28-year-old winger is not the ideal building block for a team. But the Avalanche also have J.T. Compher and Joonas Donskoi available, both capable of providing effective play in the middle six. Compher can also play center, is younger, and comes a little cheaper, with a $3.5 million cap hit.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
D Dean Kukan
The flashy name that is available is Max Domi but his inconsistency does make it risky to take on his $5.3 million cap hit. Winger Kevin Stenlund is a possibility, too, a reasonably priced depth forward, but right-shot defenseman Dean Kukan has been effective defensively in a limited role. It’s worth taking on his $1.65 million cap hit and seeing if he can handle a more significant role.
D Jamie Oleksiak
There are not a lot of prime options in Dallas. Goaltender Ben Bishop waived his no-move clause but, after he missed the entire 2021 season, he would be a risky choice. Prospects Nick Caamano and Adam Mascherin might be interesting, as Mascherin had 34 points in 34 AHL games last season, but reports indicate that the Stars are going to sign unrestricted free agent Dallas defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, who has taken a step forward in his development the past couple of seasons.
DETROIT RED WINGS
D Troy Stecher
The Wings do have some viable options, including versatile veteran forward Vladislav Namestnikov or defense prospect Dennis Cholowski, but the more reliable move would be to take Stecher, a 27-year-old right-shot defenseman who is on the small side but he battles. Stecher has one year, with a $1.7 million cap hit left.
D Adam Larsson
There are not a bunch of great options from Edmonton, especially with uncertainty about the health of defenseman Oscar Klefbom, so Tyler Benson might have had some appeal as a 23-year-old who had 36 points in 36 AHL games last season, but it appears that the Kraken are going to sign veteran unrestricted free agent defenseman Adam Larsson who has had some effective seasons in a shutdown role.
G Chris Driedger
The most popular rumor appears to be that the Kraken will take a shot at Panthers unrestricted free agent goaltender Chris Driedger, a 27-year-old who had a .931 save percentage in 35 games for the Panthers over the past two seasons. If that does come to pass, Driedger is likely a reasonably priced starter for the Seattle but the other option to consider out of Florida would be winger Frank Vatrano, a shot generator who would fit in the middle six.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
C Blake Lizotte
The Kings have a variety of inexpensive depth options. Defenseman Kale Clague can move the puck a bit and winger Austin Wagner has tremendous speed, but center Blake Lizotte has been quite effective in a depth role. He is only 5-foot-7 but that’s all the more reason to believe that he would be underrated.
G Kaapo Kahkonen
Defenseman Carson Soucy is an okay option but goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen makes a lot of sense. Kahkonen had a .927 save percentage in his first 16 games for the Wild last season, saving the campaign when Cam Talbot was injured, but had three disastrous starts in his last eight games. Nevertheless, the 24 year old should be ready to take a shot at a backup job in the NHL and has a bargain contract with a $725,000 cap hit.
D Cale Fleury
The Canadiens have a complicated list of available players. Defenseman Shea Weber is facing a trip to LTIR and, in a worst-case scenario, might not play again. Carey Price is coming off a great playoff run but was left unprotected with five years remaining on a contract with a $10.5 million cap hit and there is talk of hip and knee problems making that contract even more daunting. Then there is Jonathan Drouin, the skilled winger who took leave from the Habs for his own mental well being and the uncertainty over all of these veterans makes it easier to take Cale Fleury, a 22-year-old who is the brother of Haydn Fleury. If not Fleury, Brett Kulak is often underrated as an efficient and effective option on the blueline.
LW Yakov Trenin
Unless the Predators are prepared to commit big long-term money to Ryan Johansen or Matt Duchene, they will most likely seek out more reasonable options. While veteran forward Calle Jarnkrok would make the Kraken better next season, he also has just one season left on his current contract so there may be an opportunity for someone like Yakov Trenin, a bargain fourth liner who adds a physical element but also a player who has had some success in that role, albeit in a relatively small sample of NHL games.
RW Nick Merkley
If the Kraken want to get creative, they could take defenseman P.K. Subban, who has one year left with a $9 million cap hit, and flip him with salary retained for potentially better long-term assets but that is hardly a guaranteed path given Subban’s decline in play in recent seasons. Will Butcher and Andreas Johnsson are both relatively expensive, given their production in 2021, so maybe the Devils look to a winger who is on the NHL bubble and that could mean Nick Merkley or Nathan Bastian.
RW Jordan Eberle
Remember that the Islanders protected five defensemen in the Vegas expansion draft and it seemed odd at the time and the Islanders had a deal in place with the Golden Knights so it didn’t much matter who was protected. This is to say that the Islanders might very well have something up their sleeve again this year but, if not, the Kraken can choose from a discount Richard Panik or veteran wingers Jordan Eberle or Josh Bailey. Playing this straight, Eberle’s $5.5 million cap hit is not unreasonable for a player who has been delivering consistently positive on-ice results.
RW Julien Gauthier
The Blueshirts do not have a whole lot of talent on their expansion list, in part because they have young players that aren’t eligible for the expansion draft. The choice for Seattle may fall between Julien Gauthier, a 23-year-old who was a first-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2016, or Colin Blackwell, a 28-year-old who has 32 points in 74 games in the past two seasons.
RW Evgeni Dadonov
If I’m playing this straight, without any deals, it makes enough sense for Seattle to take two years of Evgeni Dadonov with a $5.0 million cap hit. However, there are rumblings that Logan Brown could be on the move and if that’s the case, maybe he is the sweetener for Seattle to take another player. Could it be center Chris Tierney?
LW James van Riemsdyk
Philadelphia is a team that offers real proven NHL talent for the Kraken, as long as they are willing to take on the cap hit. Jakub Voracek might be too pricy, but defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and left winger James van Riemsdyk, the latter of whom comes with a $7.0 million cap hit, are prime options for Seattle.
RW Brandon Tanev
Initially, 25-year-old defenseman Marcus Pettersson seemed like a great fit for Seattle but with word that the Kraken are signing Larsson and Oleksiak, switch to Jason Zucker, a five-time, 20-goal scorer who has two years left on his deal with a $5.5 million cap hit. Goaltender Casey DeSmith and wingers Zach Aston-Reese or Jason Zucker are other options but it appears that Tanev is the guy.
LW Ryan Donato
The Sharks could offer up center Dylan Gambrell or defenseman Radim Simek but winger Ryan Donato has been a productive player in a limited role. He is a restricted free agent coming off a $1.9 million cap hit, and he scored on 5.8% of his shots in 2021, so he’s not likely to cash in big on his next deal.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
D Vince Dunn
An analytics darling who has had relative success in a third-pair role for St. Louis, Dunn is a restricted free agent who made $1.875 million last season. Seattle could take a shot at a premier scorer, Vladimir Tarasenko, who has two years and $7.5 million per season left on his deal, but unless there are some medical assurances that his shoulder is okay, that might be too much of a risk.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
C Yanni Gourde
For all the talent available from the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs, Gourde makes the most sense because he is under contract for four more seasons and while he can play in a top line role from the jump with Seattle, he can also slide down the depth chart as necessary when prospects eventually ascend into a top-line role.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
C Alexander Kerfoot
Maybe the leaked video isn’t the only one identifying Seattle’s pick from Toronto, but Kerfoot is a viable pick, capable of handling a middle-six center role. So, too, is Jared McCann and as a player that is a little younger and little cheaper, McCann would be my preference but either one of these players is a quality option for Seattle, better than defenseman Travis Dermott.
RW Jayce Hawryluk
The Canucks don’t have a lot of established NHL value available for their new rivals. Jayce Hawryluk, Kole Lind, and Zack MacEwen are inexpensive relatively young forwards but none are likely to make a major difference. From that group, Hawryluk is a solid defensive winger, at least when he is healthy.
G Vitek Vanecek
Before the word that the Kraken were going to sign Jamie Oleksiak, there was more appeal to grabbing Brenden Dillon from Washington, a big and physical left-shot defenseman. Given the appeal of big, shot-suppressing blueliners, Dillon might still make sense as a pick to get flipped to another team. If not Dillon, right-shot defenseman Nick Jensen or goaltender Vitek Vanecek are possibilities. Vanecek showed that he could play in the NHL last season and is an inexpensive option.
RW Mason Appleton
Given the options of exposed players on the Jets, it looks like a decision between two players, defenseman Dylan DeMelo and right winger Mason Appleton. Both are really good possibilities for an expansion team and Appleton, a middle-six winger who is making just $900,000, gets the nod.
So here is a potential Seattle Kraken lineup:
Van Riemsdyk – Gourde – Eberle
Donato – Kerfoot – Dadonov
Tanev – Compher – Appleton
Trenin – Lizotte – Carpenter
Giordano – Dunn
Oleksiak - Larsson
Fleury – Kukan
Lauzon – Stecher
C. Fleury - Lyubushkin
There are enough pieces here, naturally, that the Kraken can still move some defenseman for assets that could provide more long-term value.
That roster, especially with the additions of unrestricted free agents Oleksiak and Larsson, looks like a team that intends to compete immediately.