The NHL is expanding to 32 teams beginning with the 2021-22 season, as the Seattle Kraken will join the Pacific Division. This sets up a natural regional rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks and brings the sport back to the city whose Metropolitans were the first team awarded the Stanley Cup in 1917.
While the hirings on the management and coaching side continue — and construction on Climate Pledge Arena continues, with a mid-October opening date still the goal — the roster of players remains to be determined as well. The next step in that process is the expansion draft.
If you aren’t entirely caught up, we’ve got you covered, with intel on how the franchise came to be, broadcast details on the expansion draft itself, rules and restrictions for the Kraken and the other NHL teams, and insights into what kind of players could land with Seattle for its inaugural season.
Who are the Seattle Kraken?
Wyshynski: After over two decades of failed attempts to bring an NHL team to Seattle, momentum started to pick up around 2012, with construction of a new arena being the key component.
In summer 2013, the Phoenix Coyotes nearly relocated to Seattle before the Glendale City Council in Arizona approved a new arena lease. In 2015, three ownership groups discussed submitting bids for an NHL expansion team but none did, as Las Vegas was the lone expansion franchise approved by the league.
Then, in 2017, the NHL announced it was considering a bid from Seattle with a $650 million expansion fee — $150 million more than Vegas paid. Rather than build a new arena — something that torpedoed other bids — an ownership group led by majority owner David Bonderman and minority owners Jerry Bruckheimer and David Wright worked with Oak View Group on a proposal for a privately financed renovation of Key Arena, the former home of the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics, to house an NHL team.
Seattle was unanimously approved by the NHL’s Board of Governors as the league’s 32nd franchise in Dec. 2018, which placed them in the Pacific Division beginning in the 2021-22 season. Former Carolina Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis was hired in 2019 to lead the hockey operations department, which quickly gained recognition for the diversity of its hiring practices and focus on analytics.
In summer 2020, the team revealed its nickname, the Kraken, chosen from a pool that included Steelheads, Sockeyes and Metropolitans. In June 2021, the Kraken announced former Philadelphia Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol as their first head coach.
When and where is the expansion draft?
Kaplan: The expansion draft will be held on July 21, 5 p.m. PDT/8 p.m. EDT in Seattle, and broadcast on ESPN2. Teams’ protected lists are due on Saturday, and those lists will be announced on Sunday.
Have the rules changed since the Vegas Golden Knights‘ expansion draft?
Wyshynski: The Kraken are drafting under the same rules that the Vegas Golden Knights benefitted from in 2017. They have the same positional and salary cap roster requirements; the other 30 teams in the expansion draft have the same protection limitations that could hand over the eighth-best forward, fourth-best defenseman or second-best goalie to the Kraken.
That includes a provision that could help the Kraken in landing a significant player seeking a max contract. For the Vegas draft, the NHLPA negotiated a “no loss of status or rights” provision in which players who are claimed in the expansion draft or acquired in a trade prior to the conclusion of the expansion draft would be eligible to sign an eight-year max contract with the Golden Knights prior to free agency. The same provision, with slightly altered dates due to the late end of the 2021 season, is in place for the Kraken in this expansion draft.
Why is Vegas exempt from the expansion draft?
Kaplan: The Golden Knights do not have to give up a player in the expansion draft, a deal owner Bill Foley struck with the NHL in their original franchise agreement in 2016. The only downside for Vegas? Foley doesn’t get a cut of Seattle’s $650 million expansion fee, which equates to a $21.67 million check for the other 30 teams.
This was a typical practice for the NHL in the frenzied 1990s, when the league added nine teams over course of the decade. For example, when the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets held a joint expansion draft in 2000, they didn’t select players from the Atlanta Thrashers (who joined in 1999) or Nashville Predators (1998), as they were the two new kids on the block still finding their way.
What are the rules for teams protecting players?
Wyshynski: The 30 teams in the expansion draft can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie; or they can protect eight skaters and one goaltender. All first-year and second-year NHL players, and all unsigned draft picks, are exempt from the expansion draft, and won’t count toward a team’s protection total.
There are minimum requirements for players exposed in the expansion draft. There must be at least two forwards and one defenseman exposed who are under contract for the 2021-22 season who played at least 40 games last season or 70 games over the last two seasons; and one goalie exposed who is under contract for the 2021-22 season or will be a restricted free agent this offseason — as long as that pending RFA goalie has received his qualifying offer this summer.
One important thing to remember for these requirements: Players who have “potential career-ending injuries” that have missed more than 60 straight games — or have a confirmed career-threatening injury — can’t be used to satisfy a team’s player exposure requirement unless the NHL signs off on it.
How do no-trade and no-movement clauses play into this?
Kaplan: If a player has a no-trade clause, he can be exposed. If a player has a no-movement clause, he must be protected — unless he agrees to waive it for the purpose of being exposed. There’s already an example of at least one player doing this: Calgary Flames veteran forward Milan Lucic.
The 32-year-old, who has two years remaining on his seven-year contract, said he loves it in Calgary and wants to stay with the Flames, but agreed to waive his no-movement clause so that the team can prioritize protecting other players.
Tuesday was the deadline for teams to ask players to waive their no-movement clauses, for the sole purpose of being exposed in the expansion draft (like Lucic). Players have until July 16 to make that decision.
Some teams were put in a tough situation by having too many no-movement clauses during the Golden Knights expansion draft. A great example was the Blue Jackets, who were forced to protect Sergei Bobrovsky, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno and Scott Hartnell because of their NMCs. That meant Columbus had to expose players like Josh Anderson, Ryan Murray and Joonas Korpisalo, and GM Jarmo Kekalainen didn’t want to lose any of them.
So, Kekalainen made a side deal with Vegas GM George McPhee. The Golden Knights agreed to pick William Karlsson in exchange for a first-round pick, a second-round pick and taking on the expensive contract of David Clarkson. Karlsson glowed up in Vegas, transforming from a six- to 43-goal scorer, thanks in part to a more featured role. The Blue Jackets have not handed out any no-movement clauses since.
Do the Kraken have to take a certain amount of each position?
Wyshynski: Seattle will select one player from each team — besides Vegas — with the requirements being that they must take at least 14 forwards, nine defenseman and three goalies. It must choose a minimum of 20 players under contract for the 2021-22 regular season, ones who have “an aggregate expansion draft value that is between 60%-100%” of the $81.5 million salary cap ceiling.
The Kraken are restricted from buying out players selected in the expansion draft until summer 2022.
What are the rules regarding Seattle signing a free agent before the draft?
Kaplan: From Sunday to July 21, the Kraken have an exclusive negotiating window with any pending free agents not protected by the other 30 teams. If Seattle signs one of these players, it counts as their selection from that club. And if Seattle signs that player to a deal before free agency begins on July 28, then the Kraken can offer an eight-year max extension. After that, Seattle can only give out seven-year deals this summer.
What kind of players should Kraken fans expect on the roster from the draft?
Wyshynski: Under the same draft rules, the Golden Knights selected seven centers, six left wings, two right wings, 13 defensemen and three goalies. The imbalance shouldn’t be a surprise, considering that every team was theoretically giving up their No. 4 defenseman. In fact, all six defenseman on their opening night roster in 2017-18 were selected in the expansion draft, as was their starting goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury. It would be a surprise if the Kraken didn’t draft a veteran netminder, considering how many intriguing options will be available.
The kinds of players the Kraken select will be guided by three things: Who is available in the player pool; the mandatory requirements for their roster; and the philosophy of the front office. Seattle has been emphatic in its dedication to data analysis, so expect several “analytics darlings” to join the team via the draft.
However, head coach Hakstol told ESPN to also expect the Kraken to draft players that are in the image of the way GM Ron Francis competed as a player. “He places a ton of value on players that can think the game. Intelligent players. The pace of the game is a really big aspect. But most importantly, the competitiveness,” said Hakstol.
Do any NHL players have ties to the area?
Kaplan: The two most well-known Washington-born players in the NHL are Washington Capitals veteran forward T.J. Oshie (born in nearby Mt. Vernon) and Tampa Bay Lightning veteran forward Tyler Johnson (born in Spokane).
Oshie has long been speculated to be the Kraken’s face of the franchise in Year 1, but the 34-year-old wants to stay in D.C.
“I signed an eight-year deal here because this is where I wanted to spend the rest of my career and retire here,” Oshie said during his end-of-season media availability. The winger is under contract with Washington through 2024-25. Capitals GM Brian MacLellan may have put some of the speculation to bed in May, calling Oshie “a big part of our organization.”
“It would hurt our team and our organization if we lost him in the expansion draft,” MacLellan said. “I don’t know if we’ve made any decisions fully on that but ideally, we’d like to keep him around.”
It’s likely the Lightning will expose Johnson, whom they twice put on waivers last season. But no other team had interest in helping Tampa Bay shed Johnson’s $5 million salary, and it’s unclear if the Kraken will either.
Seattle has two local major junior teams that play in the WHL. The Seattle Thunderbirds have a decent list of alumni that play in the NHL: Mathew Barzal, Ethan Bear, Brenden Dillon, Keegan Kolesar, Shea Theodore, Patrick Marleau and Nate Thompson. The Everett Silvertips are the former team of Radko Gudas, Carter Hart, Jujhar Khaira and Ryan Murray.
Have the other teams learned anything from the 2017 expansion draft?
Wyshynski: Yes, they learned that the NHL has stacked the deck against them because an expansion ownership group spent hundreds of millions of dollars to join the league. So they’ve done their best to get their rosters in order ahead of this draft. They’ve opened the lines of communication with GM Francis well ahead of the expansion lists being submitted to try to make trades.
As Nashville Predators GM David Poile said recently, “It may not guarantee that we do anything with them, but … if I could make a deal that I liked with him, I would probably prefer that.”
If these teams have learned anything, hopefully it’s not to overreact to potential player losses. Among the treasure that Vegas acquired after agreeing not to draft certain unprotected players from teams: Defenseman Shea Theodore, wingers Reilly Smith and Alex Tuch and three first-round picks.
How good will the Kraken be in their first season?
Kaplan: The Golden Knights opened their first season with 500-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup, then made it to the Stanley Cup Final, rewriting expectations for expansion franchises across sports. Before Vegas, of the 64 expansion teams among the four major U.S. sports leagues since 1960, no team posted a winning record in its first season.
Oddsmakers learned their lesson. Seattle opens with 100-1 odds, the same as five other teams and above the Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings.
Kraken management has been careful not to assign a timeline to success. As Francis told me shortly after he was hired two years ago: “I think if you go back and listen to the comments that Vegas had leading up to the expansion draft, their plan was to draft and develop well and be patient in the process. I think George [McPhee] and Kelly [McCrimmon] did a fantastic job. They had an unbelievable first season, and the franchise has been in good position ever since. So hopefully we can draft some good players in the expansion draft, and draft some good players in the amateur draft, and take the time to develop those guys.”
Sounds like someone who is trying not to overpromise, only over-deliver.