Lessons Kraken, rest of NHL can take from Vegas expansion draft

Seattle Kraken expansion draft
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In less than a week the Seattle Kraken will begin piecing together their roster in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. In a normal expansion year expectations would be quite low for the league’s newest team as it would historically take at least three or four seasons to build a playoff contender.

The 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights changed all of that.

The combination of expansion draft rules that made better talent available, a lot of NHL general managers messing up, and a little bit of luck (okay, maybe a lot of luck) turned the Golden Knights into an immediate Stanley Cup contender that reached the Cup Final in their inaugural season (they lost to the Washington Capitals in five games).

They have been one of the league’s best teams ever since.

That is probably going to set an unreachable high bar for Seattle because expecting that sort of lightning to strike twice seems a little unrealistic. But there are still some lessons the Kraken, and the rest of the NHL, can take from that 2017 expansion draft.

Let’s examine them

1. For the rest of the NHL: Do not overthink this

Every NHL team (outside of Vegas, who is exempt) will lose one player to Seattle. In some cases, depending on the overall depth of the roster, it might be a good player. Maybe even a very good player. But it is not going to be a player that is going to damage their chances. It is, in almost every case, going to be a player that you can replace.

What got teams into trouble in 2017 is a lot of them completely panicked and lost their minds about losing a third-line forward or second-pairing defenseman — or saw it as an opportunity to dump bad contracts — that they had to make side deals with Vegas.

A lot of those side deals ended up costing them more talent, and in the process helped build Vegas into an immediate contender. Vegas got multiple players and draft picks from several teams that helped turn them into an immediate success. Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith from Florida. Erik Haula and Alex Tuch from Minnesota. William Karlsson and a first-round pick (used on Nick Suzuki, who was later traded for Max Pacioretty) from Columbus.

Seattle should be smelling blood in the water right now at the thought of extracting assets from desperate teams looking to dump a contract (Vancouver) or to protect specific players (teams that do no want to lose players they deem too valuable). Do not let them take advantage of that.

Let them take their one player and be done with it. Do not make it worse by giving them more assets than you need to give them. Nobody is going to lose a franchise player or even one of their top-five or six players. Do not galaxy brain this.

2. For Seattle: Do not saddle yourself with too many bad contracts

Cap space is the one big advantage Seattle has here. It is a completely clean slate for this season and in the future, and it should not want to waste that by taking on too many players with excessive term. A large portion of the Golden Knights’ initial picks were players on expiring contracts, which not only gave them assets that they could have flipped at the trade deadline, but also kept their long-term salary cap flexibility open.

The “problem” turned out to be that they were so good, so fast, that they never had an opportunity to follow step two (trade the assets) of the plan.

It would be reasonable to conclude that Seattle could follow that blue print at least somewhat. Any player with term that is going to be available is not going to be a franchise cornerstone or somebody that you want to build around. Players like Jeff Skinner or Matt Duchene do not do anything for the Kraken because they are not really tradeable assets and they are not building block players. Why eat up your cap space on that? (They will not.)

So if you are a team like, say, Pittsburgh, are you really worried about Seattle taking Jason Zucker or Brandon Tanev‘s contracts? Are the Islanders worried about Matt Martin‘s contract being taken? Nashville with Colton Sissons? Mid-level or depth players with term are probably not what Seattle wants. Know what Seattle might be after and build your protection list off of that.

3. Teams will protect trade assets

There seems to be a belief that players that are left exposed to the expansion draft might be players teams are interested in trading. Or that could be available. It is a logical thought: This team did not think highly enough of them to protect them, so maybe my team can swing a trade for them.

Here is why that thought falls apart.

If a team knows it can get something in return for a player, or has had talks about a player, they will protect that player out of fear of losing them for nothing. They will protect the trade asset.

Go back to the Vegas expansion draft and there were several players that teams protected, only to turn around and trade within weeks of the expansion draft and before the next season began. Not all of them were stars. Niklas Hjalmarsson. Connor Murphy. Ryan Reaves. Marcus Foligno. Jason Pominville. Travis Hamonic. Artemi Panarin. Brandon Saad. Derek Stepan. Every single one of those players was protected by their teams, and then traded within a few weeks. Several more protected players were traded during the season.

Want to get a sense of who a team might be thinking of trading? Do not look at the exposed lists. Look at the protected lists.

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    Mitch Marner extends Maple Leafs-record points streak to 21 games

    Mitch Marner
    USA Today
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    TORONTO — Mitch Marner extended his franchise-record points streak to 21 games with a second-period goal and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-0 on Thursday night.

    Marner gave Toronto a 4-0 lead with his 11th goal of the season, scoring on a slap shot after a Los Angeles turnover inside its blue line.

    Marner became the 10th player in the past 35 years to string together a streak of 21 or more games. He has 10 goals and 16 assists during the run.

    Auston Matthews, Pierre Engvall, David Kampf and William Nylander also scored for Toronto. Ilya Samsonov made 29 saves for his first shutout with the Maple Leafs and the seventh of his career.

    Toronto has won seven of eight to improve to 17-5-6.

    Los Angeles dropped to 14-11-4 with its seventh loss in 10 games. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick made 36 saves.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang returns to practice 10 days after stroke

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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to practice with his teammates just 10 days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The 35-year-old Letang remains out indefinitely, with the club describing him as “day to day.”

    Letang said he felt “pretty good” after being greeted by stick taps from his teammates when he skated onto the ice at the team’s practice facility. Still, the married father of two called the experience “scary,” particularly for his family.

    “My kids, they don’t care if I’m a hockey player or not,” he said. “They care about having a dad. Same with my wife. She could care less about hockey. She knows there’s so much more. After hockey, there’s a long time and you want to be able to enjoy those moments with your family, with your kids.”

    Letang missed more than two months in 2014 after his first stroke, which was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. The condition also led to the second stroke, which Letang suffered on Nov. 28 after dealing with a series of debilitating headaches.

    This time, the symptoms have resolved themselves much more quickly, according to team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas, who described this stroke as “smaller” than the one Letang endured in 2014.

    Letang began skating on his own just two days after the diagnosis and was cleared to return to practice on Thursday though both Letang and Vyas stressed they are in no rush for him to play in games.

    “We don’t think this is accelerated in any way,” Vyas said. “We are taking all the right precautions to make sure that it is safe to go out and play and when that time comes we’ll let him go back to playing his sport.”

    Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said it was a “relief” to see Letang back at work.

    “It’s a great visual that he’s making progress,” Sullivan said. “Our medical team that has monitored him extremely closely feels comfortable with some of the progress that he’s making and the steps he’s taken. Everyone was excited for him to join the group.”

    Letang signed a six-year contract extension over the summer that will carry him into his 40s if he decides to play that long. Vyas said the data around strokes is “evolving” though it is unclear if Letang is now more susceptible to having additional strokes now that he’s had a second one.

    The six-time All-Star is cautious but optimistic.

    “We’ve been through this,” Letang said. “Me and Dharmesh have a clear understanding that we’re going to take all the time we need and make sure the research is possible and it’s no danger for me to keep going.”

    The Penguins are 8-1-1 over their last 10 games and have won three straight heading into a home-and-home series with the Sabres. They’re also eager to have Letang’s familiar No. 58 back in the lineup, but only when he’s ready.

    “He’s been here for a long time and his experience and everything that he brings on and off the ice, the way he competes (is important),” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “But I think in the (locker) room, (he has) poise and (he’s) somebody who’s been around a long time and whose experience you feel when he’s around.”

    Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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    Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports
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    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

    Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

    “It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

    Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

    “That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

    Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

    Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

    Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

    “We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

    Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

    Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

    Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

    Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

    Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

    STREAKING

    Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

    NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

    UP NEXT

    Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

    Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

    Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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    Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
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    PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

    T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

    Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

    Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

    Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

    Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

    Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

    The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

    Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

    Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.