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.