Before 30 NHL teams release the list of players available for the Kraken, many of them are shuffling the deck to make sure they’re in good position for the Seattle expansion draft.
Rather than losing Ryan Graves, Colorado traded him to New Jersey. Rather than worry about whether 2020 playoff hero Anton Khudobin would get snapped up, Dallas took goaltender Ben Bishop’s suggestion to expose him instead. Rather than trading or risking the Kraken nabbing defenseman Matt Dumba, Minnesota bought out Ryan Suter and Zach Parise for the expansion draft and other reasons.
“It was a contributing part of the decision,” Wild general manager Bill Guerin said. “We get to protect two more players.”
From players waiving no-movement clauses to GMs making trades and exercising buyouts, this week has been all about preparing for the expansion draft. Protected lists are due Saturday, the Kraken reveal their picks at the expansion draft Wednesday and the rest of the league isn’t standing idly by waiting to see what happens.
“We’re looking at everything,” Philadelphia GM Chuck Fletcher said Tuesday. “It’s an exciting time in a sense that with the Seattle expansion draft, with the flat (salary) cap, you might see maybe a few more trades, a few more hockey trades throughout the week.”
Out of Fletcher’s crystal ball came the Avalanche’s trade Thursday night that sent Graves to the Devils for young forward Mikhail Maltsev and the 61st pick in the regular draft. A 6-foot-5 defenseman who’s only 26 and signed for two more years, Graves almost certainly would’ve been Seattle-bound and now can be protected by New Jersey, which had plenty of protection spots available.
With the 2017 Vegas expansion draft a cautionary tale and the goal of losing as little talent as possible this time, each move happening right now involves some strategy to guard against Seattle. Some moves are more selfless than others.
Bishop, who missed all season recovering from knee surgery, went to GM Jim Nill to offer to waive his no-movement clause so the Stars could protect Khudobin. Bishop could either become for the Kraken what Marc-Andre Fleury was for the Golden Knights as an established goalie for an expansion team or return to Dallas with Khudobin and Jake Oettinger.
Any player with a no-movement clause — the most powerful tool in a player’s contract — must be protected unless he agrees to waive it to save someone else. Colorado’s Erik Johnson and Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner are among the other players who agreed to waive theirs.
Duncan Keith waived his to facilitate a trade from Chicago to Edmonton, and the Oilers are well-positioned to protect the three-time Stanley Cup champion and two-time Norris Trophy winner.
Florida is in an easier spot after buying out veteran defenseman Keith Yandle, who had a no-movement clause. As GM Bill Zito said, “While a decision of this kind is never an easy one to make, we believe that this shift is necessary as we look towards the 2021-22 season and our club’s future.”
The future for every team but the Golden Knights involves losing one player to Seattle, and some will make side deals that involve giving up another or a draft pick. Kraken GM Ron Francis will have all the leverage from this weekend through the expansion draft, but until then he’s playing the waiting game while his colleagues plan ahead.
“Seattle, I’m sure, will have good options,” Fletcher said. “They’ve worked hard, but I think we had a little bit more time to plan for this one. We feel like we’re in good shape.”