Kraken expansion draft: Best bargains, interesting players available

As of Sunday, hockey fans know which players NHL teams protected and exposed to the Seattle Kraken expansion draft. No doubt, there will be plenty of debate up until the Kraken’s expansion draft picks are revealed on Wednesday.

First: the elephant making a side deal in the room

Crucially, more might be known about potential “side deals” and other behind-the-scenes machinations between Sunday and Wednesday.

Right now, we’re raising our eyebrows at some big names like Carey Price becoming available to the Kraken in the expansion draft. We don’t yet know if teams pulled off bribes/side deals to convince the Kraken not to take Price-type players in the expansion draft.

Out of context, the Kraken picking Price seems like a dangerous case of recency bias. But what if the Canadiens bribe the Kraken to take Price in the expansion draft by sending a boatload of picks? Then that becomes a more complicated decision.

It also then becomes about perception. How much is a first-round pick or second-rounder worth? What about a prospect without many reps?

After the lists were revealed, media and armchair GMs have more information about the Kraken’s expansion draft options. By no means do people know everything, though.

That said, the guesses are at least more educated after Sunday’s reveals.

(Speaking of educated, if you need a refresher on expansion draft rules, check the bottom of this post.)

With those caveats in mind, let’s consider some of the best bargains/values among players available to the Kraken in the expansion draft.

An easy one for the Gourde

Without knowledge of bribes, it sure looks like the Lightning’s pain begins with the Kraken expansion draft.

Truly, there are some other nice options with Tampa Bay. Nothing wrong with Ondrej Palat. You could go younger with Ross Colton or Alex Barre-Boulet.

To me, and possibly others, Yanni Gourde is a no-brainer. Considering his age (29), his $5.167M cap hit may eventually look dicey (it expires after 2024-25). Yet, Gourde is a true rarity, even in an expansion draft with bigger names than expected. He’s a play-driving center with some scoring skill.

With 25 and 22-goal seasons under his belt, Gourde’s scored even when given secondary opportunities. He should thrive if that stays the same, and could conceivably take a step up — if not a leap — in a more prominent role.

You may say it makes him … drool-worthy?

Contract years present great flexibility

While I like Nino Niederreiter, my reflex was to shrug at a play-driving, but occasionally light-scoring, winger. Couldn’t I get that just by waiting for Tomas Tatar during the normal free-agent period?

But Niederreiter, 28, carries his modest $5.25M cap hit for just one more year. This opens up some tantalizing possibilities.

  • The Kraken could offer Niederreiter some priceless peace of mind. Maybe he signs a team-friendly extension in exchange for trade protection?
  • Conversely, the Kraken could trade Niederreiter — either during the offseason, or at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline.
  • If nothing else, Niederreiter could put together a strong season driven by the motivation of a contract year.

While Niederreiter chases that big contract while he’s still somewhat in his prime, Mark Giordano, 37, is entering the twilight of his career. Still, Giordano being in a contract year mitigates the risks of aging. The Kraken could turn around and trade Giordano right after the expansion draft, or see if prices are right at the deadline. It’s hardest to imagine Giordano signing a new deal with the Kraken … but if he does, that’s probably a good sign for both parties, right?

Contract years are the least risky ways to get value from contracts that aren’t totally cheap, but shorter deals in general could be desirable. Would someone like Jonathan Drouin ($5.5M for two more seasons) be able to revamp their career? If so, the Kraken could get a lot in return by pumping up his market value up, then dumping him to a team wanting to make a run or two. At 26, Drouin could even turn his career around and become a fixture.

Technically, Giordano ($6.75M) and others might not be bargains from a pure cap perspective. They could be great values for the Kraken. That goes for if they net all of that value on the ice for the Kraken, in a trade with another team, or maybe both.

Personally, I’m not super-high on Max Domi, but maybe he’d explode offensively with his earning future on the line in a contract year? (Could be worthwhile just to see how he does without John Tortorella.)

Kraken have some intriguing opportunities with defensemen in expansion draft

Let’s run down some of the most desirable defensemen. To clarify, these are players who could still conceivably be trade-bait, but maybe wouldn’t lean as extremely in that direction as, say, Giordano.

  • As an RFA, what kind of contract would Vince Dunn fetch? If it’s a cheap one, would it be that surprising if the 24-year-old becomes the next, say, Nate Schmidt? (Asking Dunn to be Seattle’s Shea Theodore feels a bit much.)
  • How bold would the Kraken go after free-agent defensemen, in general? They get a three-day window to schmooze with Dougie Hamilton. Just saying.
  • The Capitals boast two intriguing 30-year-old defensemen in Brenden Dillon ($3.9M for three more seasons) and Nick Jensen ($2.5M through 2022-23).
  • For a team that struggles so much on defense, you’d think the Jets would covet Dylan DeMelo. Especially since the 28-year-old is very affordable at $3M AAV for three more seasons. Instead, they exposed him, and the Kraken should pounce.

  • There are also quite a few low-cost “speculative” possibilities on defense. Jake Bean, 23, likely wouldn’t cost much as an RFA with his limited experience. These are areas where the Kraken’s growing scouting staff can shine. Is Haydn Fleury worth that Ducks choice?

Steady forward options beyond the stars

Yes, the Kraken could go bold with big names during the expansion draft. For all of the risks with Vladimir Tarasenko, it would still be two seasons of risks, then they could move on.

(He’s definitely not a bargain in the purest sense, though. That’s particularly true next season. His $7.5M cap hit is already pricey, but it’s his $9.5M actual salary that makes him an expensive gamble. Now, in 2022-23? He could be a bargain with a $5.5M salary vs. that $7.5M AAV.)

If the Kraken would rather go safe, or merely focus on flexibility/youth, there are plenty of options.

  • Being that the Maple Leafs just traded for him, I wonder if there’s a side deal around Jared McCann. If not, the Kraken should get cracking on snatching him up. At 25, he’s entering his own contract year at just under $3M. Really, a bribery from the Maple Leafs would be the only way I’d understand the Kraken not taking McCann with their Toronto pick.
Kraken expansion draft: Best bargains, interesting players available McCann player card
via Evolving Hockey
  • The Kraken could take multiple expansion draft stabs at “the next William Karlsson.” Who’s a skilled player, yet one who hasn’t really done a ton of tangible things to seem like a star? Again, that’s a matter of the scouting staff identifying quality (possibly over-ripe) prospects. Would Tyler Benson be worth a shot? As a fairly recent departure from the Lightning (now with Anaheim), maybe Alexander Volkov could be the next Carter Verhaeghe or Jonathan Marchessault?

Plenty of room to work with

Truly, it’s all pretty head-spinning. The Kraken could go almost all-young, and laugh their way to the victory bank. Or, they could try to emulate the Golden Knights by becoming instant successes. Perhaps they’d try to shoot for a little of both?

Surprisingly, there are paths forward for a number of team-building options. Even when talking about value, it boils down to where the Kraken will identify value in the expansion draft. Maybe they’ll shrug off Carey Price’s $10.5M, noting how pivotal goaltending can be. (Ron Francis watched several Hurricanes teams fall apart thanks, in part, to goalies struggling.)

They might try to engineer even more trades than the Golden Knights did in their infancy.

Who knows? Whatever happens, it figures to be exciting. That goes for debating roster construction heading into Wednesday’s official Kraken expansion draft picks, to how they navigate the 2021 NHL Draft/offseason, and then watching them sink or swim during the season.

Which values would you chase? Which treasures wouldn’t be worth digging for?

Seattle Kraken expansion draft rules refresher

Now, you might want a refresher on the Seattle Kraken expansion draft rules.

Each NHL team (except the Golden Knights) needed to choose to protect players under two alignment options:

  1. Protecting seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie.
  2. Protecting any combination of eight skaters (example: four forwards, four defensemen), and a goalie.

That said, not every NHL player is involved, so some prospects were not available to the expansion draft. Meanwhile, NHL teams were forced to protect certain players because of contract factors. As the NHL explains:

* All players with no movement clauses at the time of the draft, and who decline to waive those clauses, must be protected and will be counted toward their team’s applicable protection limits.

* All first- and second-year professionals, and all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection and will not be counted toward protection limits.

So, the 30 NHL teams involved faced those considerations. What about some of the minimums and other factors for the Kraken in selecting players in the expansion draft? Here are some key details:

  • The Kraken must select at least: 14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goalies. They’ll need to select one player from all 30 teams in the expansion draft.
  • At least 20 players must be under contract for the 2021-22 season. That part of the process once made it tougher to put together these PHT lists.
  • The total cap hit must fall somewhere between 60-percent and 100-percent of the upper limit of the salary cap.
  • Starting on Sunday (July 18), the Kraken open a window to exclusively negotiate with pending free agents who were not protected by NHL teams. If the Kraken signed one of those free agents, that player would count as Seattle’s pick for a given team.

Want even more detail? The NHL’s rules explained how injuries and other factors work.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Former Bruins coach Cassidy wins; Boston’s home streak ends

    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON — The Vegas Golden Knights made former Boston coach Bruce Cassidy’s return a success on Reilly Smith‘s score in the fifth round of the shootout, beating the Bruins 4-3 to end their NHL-record for home victories to open a season at 14 games.

    The 57-year-old Cassidy was fired by Boston following 5 1/2 seasons in June after the Bruins were eliminated by Carolina in the opening round of the playoffs.

    Eight days after he was let go, he was hired by Vegas.

    In a matchup of two of the league’s top three teams, Western conference-leading Vegas opened a 3-0 lead early in the second period on two goals by Paul Cotter and the other by Jonathan Marchessault before the Bruins started their comeback when Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak scored just over six minutes apart late in the period.

    They tied it on Taylor Hall‘s power-play goal 3:08 into the third when he spun in front and slipped a shot from the slot past goalie Logan Thompson.

    Smith had the only score in the shootout, slipping a forehand shot past goalie Jeremy Swayman.

    Cassidy took over as Boston’s interim coach on Feb. 7, 2016, before getting the head job that April. His teams made the playoffs all six seasons, including a trip to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final when they lost the seventh game at home against St. Louis.

    Cassidy knows what it sounds like in TD Garden with The Standells’ song “Dirty Water” blaring after Bruins’ wins.

    “Now that you brought it up, I’m used to hearing “Dirty Water” at the end of the game,” he said, smiling. “I’m glad I didn’t hear it tonight. The streak is irrelevant to me. It’s nice to come in and play well.”

    Boston lost for just the second time in 12 games.

    “This locker room sticks together, and we knew we were going to do something special tonight,” Swayman said. “It (stinks) losing, but we’re going to make sure we fix the problems.”

    The Bruins’ home-opening streak broke the record of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    Before the shootout, Thompson made 40 saves. Boston’s backup Swayman had 21.

    “This city meant a lot to him, and he was fired up ready to go,” Thompson said of Cassidy. “We went out there and tried to get him two points tonight.”

    Cotter collected William Karlsson‘s pass inside the left circle and unloaded a wrister under the crossbar 1:36 into the game.

    Marchessault stole Pastrnak’s attempted clearing pass, broke in alone and tucked in his own rebound to make it 2-0.

    Cotter’s second came 51 seconds into the second period when he slipped a wrister past Swayman’s glove.

    “We couldn’t get it done early, before the shootout. We had chances,” Pastrnak said. “It’s a tough one to swallow.”

    Vegas star forward Jack Eichel missed the game with a lower-body injury.

    TRIBUTE

    The Bruins played a video montage of Cassidy on the Jumbotron late in the opening period that ended with a picture of him and said: “Welcome back, Bruce.”

    The crowd gave him a nice ovation and he waved thanking them.

    “It’s a really nice gesture by the Bruins’ organization,” he said. “I appreciate it. I said all along that I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. I’m thankful they did it.”

    FOR THE RECORD

    Cassidy finished tied for third on the Bruins’ coaching list with Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt (1955-66) at 245 victories, behind Claude Julien’s (2008-17) 419 and Art Ross (1925-45) with 387.

    EXTRA SPECIAL TEAMS

    The Bruins entered the game ranked second in the league both with their power play (29.6%) and penalty killing (84.1%).

    UP NEXT

    Golden Knights: Host the New York Rangers.

    Bruins: At the Colorado Avalanche.

    Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

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    Kyle Ross/USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

    Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

    There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

    While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

    Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

    Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

    “It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

    Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

    The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

    “I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

    It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

    “This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

    Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

    Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

    “The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

    Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

    “We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

    Kris Letang Penguins
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”