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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA Today Sports

What will the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft mean for each Flames player?

It’s hard to believe, but the Seattle Kraken are just one shortened season away from entering the National Hockey League.

The Kraken are set to become the 32nd franchise in this ever-growing league, joining their expansion counterparts from Vegas and the Calgary Flames in the Pacific Division. To make room, the Arizona Coyotes will shift over to the Central, balancing out the league at four divisions each comprised of eight teams.

At this point in time, the Kraken have no players, and they won’t be able to change that until after this coming season’s trade deadline. You may recall that the Vegas Golden Knights signed their first player, Brandon Wheat Kings star Reid Duke, in the March directly preceding their inaugural season.

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However, Seattle general manager Ron Francis will be able to use two Drafts in 2021 to supply his team with assets for the present and the future. The Kraken will participate in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and they stand a pretty good chance of picking first overall (in 2017, Vegas was given the same odds at the first pick as the Coyotes, the third-worst team in the previous season).

Prior to that, Francis and his hockey operations team will add players in an Expansion Draft. They’ll get a chance to select one active player from 30 of the league’s 31 other franchises; the Golden Knights get to skip the Kraken Expansion Draft entirely without having to give up a single player.

Seattle won’t have free rein on who they get to choose from other teams. As was the case when Vegas entered the league, each of the teams participating in the Expansion Draft will get the chance to create protection lists of players unable to be selected by the Kraken. Teams have the option of selecting between two formats for these protection lists:

  • Seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender
  • Eight skaters, of any position, and one goaltender

The 30 participating teams must also meet the following player exposure requirements for the Expansion Draft. Teams must expose at least:

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  • One defenseman who is a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played in at least 40 NHL games the prior season or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons
  • Two forwards who are a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played at least 40 NHL games the prior season or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons
  • One goalie who is under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent at the end of his current contract immediately prior to 2021-22. If a team elects to make a restricted free agent goalie available to meet this requirement, that goalie must have received his qualifying offer prior to the submission of the team’s protected list

First- and second-year NHLers are exempt from the Expansion Draft (more on the technicalities of that later). Players with no-movement clauses will have the option to waive them prior to the Expansion Draft, but if they choose not to, they will require protection (again, more on that later). More detailed rules regarding protection lists and selection requirements can be found here.

With all this knowledge in hand, let’s take a look at each of the Flames’ NHL roster players to assess how next year’s Expansion Draft could affect their standing with the team. Let’s start with the easiest position to figure out.

Goaltenders

Regardless of how the Flames choose to format their protection list, they’ll be allowed to keep exactly one goaltender away from Seattle. In 2017, they protected Mike Smith.

Flames GM Brad Treliving has handed out exactly one no-movement clause in his tenure. He did so this past October when he inked Jacob Markstrom to a six-year deal. Markstrom will have five years remaining on that deal when the Expansion Draft rolls around and the Flames will be obligated to protect him. Even if, for some reason, Markstrom decided to waive, the Flames would probably protect him anyway. He’d have to have a pretty bad year for the Flames to want to cut bait so soon.

Meanwhile, David Rittich has just one year left on his current contract. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent when the Expansion Draft happens and won’t satisfy the Flames’ exposure requirements unless they choose to re-sign him. It’s looking pretty unlikely that Rittich will be a Flame for much longer: he’ll be expensive to keep around as a backup, and he’ll probably want to snag a gig as a starter or in a tandem somewhere.

Dustin Wolf fans need not worry—he’ll be exempt. Same with Artyom Zagidulin and the unsigned Daniil Chechelev. Louis Domingue is set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2020-21 season so, while he’ll be able to be selected by Seattle, he won’t satisfy the Flames’ goaltending exposure requirements.

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Instead, Tyler Parsons will probably be that guy. The Flames will almost certainly tender him a qualifying offer upon the conclusion of the upcoming season, preserving his status as a restricted free agent eligible to be selected by the Kraken.

To sum it up:

  • With his NMC, It looks like Markstrom will be the Flames’ protected goaltender.
  • Rittich, Domingue, and Parsons will all be available to Seattle, while Chechelev, Wolf, and Zagidulin will be safe.
  • Parsons will be the man who helps them tick off the procedural box pertaining to the goaltending position.

Defensemen

Back in 2017, the Flames opted to protect three defensemen: Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, and TJ Brodie. The Golden Knights ended up selecting right-handed rearguard Deryk Engelland from the Flames; Engelland enjoyed a very successful three-year tenure in Vegas.

None of the Flames’ current defenders possess no-move clauses in their contracts, so the Flames are free to protect whomever they wish. They currently own the rights to seven defensemen eligible to be selected by Seattle: Giordano, Chris Tanev, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, Nikita Nesterov, and Alex Petrovic.

Of those seven players, we can probably feel safe saying Nesterov and Petrovic will be left exposed. They’re both depth guys nearing 30 who are set to be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.

On the flip side of that coin, we can practically guarantee that Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin will be protected so long as they both remain with the team. Hanifin’s name has been thrown around in trade rumours lately but he’s still a solid young offensive defenseman who has plenty of value on his current contract.

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That leaves one protection slot and three guys who can fill it. Giordano is the Flames’ captain and is still their best defenseman, but he’ll be 38 when the Kraken enter the league with just one year left on a contract paying him $6.75 million per season. Tanev turns 31 on Dec. 20 and has struggled with injuries throughout his career, but the Flames just signed him and he has an excellent (if slightly fading) reputation as a defensive defenseman. Kylington is a wild card who has posted decent defensive results in the NHL and who has room to grow (he’ll turn 24 in May).

This would have been even trickier had Juuso Valimaki not missed all of 2019-20 with his torn ACL; however, since he accumulated no professional experience in that season, 2020-21 will count as his second professional year of experience. Still, each of these three players offers different reasons for being protected or for being left exposed. Ultimately, it feels like a safe bet that the Flames will protect Giordano and it wouldn’t be at all shocking to see Kylington be an inaugural member of the Kraken.

In short:

  • Andersson and Hanifin are just about locks to be protected.
  • Giordano probably has an edge over Tanev and Kylington for the third protection slot.
  • Nesterov and Petrovic will almost certainly be exposed.
  • Tanev will probably be the guy who helps the Flames meet the defensive player exposure requirements.
  • Valimaki, Johannes Kinnvall, Connor Mackey, Alexander Yelesin, Colton Poolman, and Carl-Johan Lerby will all be exempt, as will all their unsigned defensive draft picks to whom they retain rights (such as Yan Kuznetsov, Jérémie Poirier, Jake Boltmann, and Ilya Solovyov).

Forwards

The Flames protected seven forwards in 2017 and it would be pretty surprising to see them approach the Seattle draft any differently. Last time, they protected Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Micheal Ferland, Sam Bennett, Michael Frolik, and Curtis Lazar.

Let’s start filling some of these slots right away. Matthew Tkachuk was exempt in 2017 but he requires protection now, so he’s guy number one. Assuming they’re still here, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan will fill two more slots. Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane will take up two more.

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Now, it gets kind of hard, and here’s where we’re going to have to discuss Milan Lucic’s no-movement clause. The Flames acquired Lucic in 2019 knowing full well that his NMC requires him to be protected in Expansion Drafts. That said, the Flames will definitely not be including Lucic on their protection list under any circumstances—they simply have too many other guys they need to protect—which leaves them with two options:

  • Ask Lucic to waive his no-move. He agrees, goes exposed, and is (in all likelihood) not selected.
  • Ask Lucic to waive his no-move. He doesn’t agree and is bought out of his contract with no certainty of finding another NHL job at the age of 33.

A Lucic buyout would be unpleasant (here’s a good read on this topic from The Win Column’s Karim Kurji) but it would allow the Flames to protect another, more valuable player in his stead. That said, it feels unlikely that he’d refuse to waive, given how unlikely it is that Seattle would willingly take on his contract.

Dillon Dube, Mikael Backlund, and Sam Bennett are the main candidates for the Flames’ final two protection spots, with Josh Leivo, Dominik Simon, and Glenn Gawdin being the contenders on the outside. Ultimately, it feels like Dube has a pretty good chance to get one of those two spots and, depending on how he progresses in 2020-21, he could quickly become a lock. Backlund is a very reliable two-way centre, but he’ll be 32 in March and has a bit of an inflated contract. Bennett is anything but reliable, but he’s shown to have dominant upside when he’s “on” and he won’t be 25 until June.

At this point, it’s a coin toss between Bennett and Backlund for that final slot. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll go with Backlund. He’ll be protected, while Bennett will help the Flames satisfy the exposure requirements up front. Simon will also qualify for the exposure requirements if he plays at least six games this year and is tendered a qualifying offer as an RFA after the season.

Now, who will Seattle take from the Flames? If Backlund is available, he’d have to be under consideration by Francis and company. He’s given the Flames some very good hockey in the first two seasons of his six-year pact and will probably do well again in 2020-21. However, if Seattle opts to select him, they’d be looking at paying Backlund $5.35 million until 2024. At that point, the Swedish pivot will be 35.

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Instead, I’m going to predict that the Kraken select Derek Ryan from the Flames. He’s from nearby Spokane, WA and played his junior hockey with the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs between 2004 and 2007. Ryan will be days away from becoming an unrestricted free agent when the Expansion Draft occurs and, if he’s selected, the Kraken will be given a window during which they’ll have the exclusive ability to negotiate with and sign him. Much like Engelland, who called Vegas home before the Golden Knights ever came around, Ryan would give the newborn Kraken a local veteran presence who provides leadership while playing up and down the lineup.

There’s a lot to sum up here. Let’s give it a shot:

  • Tkachuk, Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm, and Mangiapane are all near-locks for protection, with Dube a strong candidate for the sixth spot.
  • Lucic will not be protected, despite his NMC: he’ll either waive or be bought out.
  • The Flames will probably end up choosing between Bennett and Backlund for the final forward protection spot. For now, let’s predict that Bennett will be protected over Backlund.
  • Assuming they’re tendered qualifying offers, Bennett and Simon will probably be the two forwards who satisfy the Flames’ exposure requirements.
  • Leivo, Derek Ryan, Buddy Robinson, Joakim Nordstrom, and Zac Rinaldo will all be UFAs after 2020-21 and can be selected by Seattle. If selected, the Kraken will have an exclusive negotiation period to sign them before unrestricted free agency opens. (This also applies to Petrovic, Nesterov, Domingue, and Rittich).
  • Backlund, Lucic (if he waives), Simon, Gawdin, Justin Kirkland, Matthew Phillips, Byron Froese, and Spencer Foo will all also be available to Seattle.
  • Luke Philp, Emilio Pettersen, Jakob Pelletier, Eetu Tuulola, Adam Ruzicka, Martin Pospisil, and Dmitri Zavgorodniy will all be exempt, as will all the Flames’ unsigned forward draft picks to whom they retain rights (such as Connor Zary, Ryan Francis, and Rory Kerins).
  • My guess is that Ryan will be selected by Seattle.

Comparing lists

Just for fun, some of my FlamesNation colleagues have provided their own predictions for what the Flames’ protection list will look like in 2021. The below table shows those lists, as well as the Flames’ protection list from 2017. The players listed in bold at the bottom of the table are our guesses for who Seattle will take.

2017 LIST MIKE GOULD RYAN PIKE PAT STEINBERG CRAIG PETTER PJ PARMAR MIKE WILSON
SMITH MARKSTROM MARKSTROM MARKSTROM MARKSTROM MARKSTROM MARKSTROM
GIORDANO GIORDANO GIORDANO GIORDANO GIORDANO GIORDANO GIORDANO
D. HAMILTON HANIFIN HANIFIN HANIFIN HANIFIN HANIFIN HANIFIN
BRODIE ANDERSSON ANDERSSON ANDERSSON ANDERSSON ANDERSSON ANDERSSON
GAUDREAU GAUDREAU GAUDREAU GAUDREAU GAUDREAU GAUDREAU GAUDREAU
MONAHAN MONAHAN MONAHAN MONAHAN MONAHAN MONAHAN MONAHAN
FERLAND LINDHOLM LINDHOLM LINDHOLM LINDHOLM LINDHOLM LINDHOLM
LAZAR TKACHUK TKACHUK TKACHUK TKACHUK TKACHUK TKACHUK
BACKLUND MANGIAPANE MANGIAPANE MANGIAPANE MANGIAPANE MANGIAPANE MANGIAPANE
FROLIK DUBE DUBE DUBE DUBE DUBE DUBE
BENNETT BENNETT BACKLUND BACKLUND BACKLUND BENNETT BACKLUND
ENGELLAND RYAN BENNETT BENNETT BENNETT BACKLUND KYLINGTON