Over the past month, our Expansion Plan summer series has projected the potential protected lists for each of the 30 teams – remember, the Vegas Golden Knights are exempt – that will be participating in the 2021 Expansion Draft. But with the projection lists complete, now comes time for the final part in the series: the expansion draft itself.
In order to determine the inaugural Seattle roster, Jared Clinton and Steven Ellis, the two writers involved in the series, created their own 30-player teams under two separate banners, with the former piecing together his Seattle expansion club under the Sockeyes moniker and the latter getting far more creative by dubbing his squad the Sea Monkeys. (And hey, if you don't like that, consider that his other suggestion was the Starpucks. Sea Monkeys is the lesser of two evils.)
As part of the selection exercise, both rosters had to follow the selection requirements that were put in place during the Vegas expansion draft. Our two fictional Seattle GMs were tasked with selecting a minimum of 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders. In addition, and using very loose salary cap projections, both GMs were also required to have their rosters meet a cap floor of at least $50 million, which is 60 percent of an $84-million salary cap. The only requirement that wasn’t met by either team was the number of contracts that ran through the first season of the team’s existence, which is evident by the Sockeyes’ 14 unsigned players on its roster. Come the actual expansion draft, however, many of the players who are RFAs as part of this exercise will have new contracts in place.
With those guidelines in place, here are the projected rosters for the Sockeyes and Sea Monkeys:
Even with most teams protecting the best of their bunch, there was still a considerable amount of talent available up front, which actually made the selection process more difficult than expected. In a few cases, there were multiple high-skill forwards from which to pick, with the Tampa Bay Lightning presenting the most difficult decision up front with Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn all under contract and free to be plucked off the Bolts’ roster. The Winnipeg Jets’ exposure list presented a similar conundrum, as Bryan Little had potential to be a decent mid-roster veteran piece, but the upside of Jack Roslovic – not to mention the price tag – made him the more enticing acquisition for both teams.
Strength down the middle is the key, and a one-two-three of Kyle Turris, Alexander Wennberg and Alexander Kerfoot gives Seattle decent depth at center right out of the gate. Of course, unless Wennberg has a William Karlsson-esque transformation into a legitimate top-line pivot following the expansion draft, there’s still no clear-cut No. 1 center, but pivot-by-committee will have to be the mandate. There’s also been scoring scooped up on the wings. Though the group will be getting up there in age, Johnson, Jason Zucker, Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky should be able to kick in considerable offense. If anyone is a threat to move up the lineup, too, it’s Roslovic, who, free from the logjam on the wings in Winnipeg, would get the best opportunity of his career in Seattle.
The No Brainer: The team needs someone to anchor its first line even if it’s not a first-choice top-line pivot, which is why Turris was selected from the Nashville Predators. He’s the team’s most expensive player, but he’s also locked in for three seasons. That provides some stability and certainty down the middle.
The Tough Decision: Believe it or not, it was whether to take Johnson or Palat from the Lightning. There’s something about a defensive-minded forward patrolling the middle-six that was intriguing, but Johnson’s versatility puts him over the top. He can play center in a pinch and has skated on both wings.
SEATTLE SEA MONKEYS
The Sea Monkeys followed the Vegas model closely, complementing the mid-range stars with hard-working players who needed a change of scenery. Even though the wings need work, the center depth gives the roster a lot of wiggle room, a few different combinations and a few players who will come to Seattle with plenty to prove. In that sense, there are players with breakout potential, which is exactly the type of skater the Golden Knights chased and found at the 2017 expansion draft.
The No Brainer: If Johnson is still a member of the Lightning in two years, the club will still be in a big enough cap crunch where they'll be willing to walk away from the 50-point forward. At a friendly $5-million cap hit until 2023-24, we’ve got your Jonathan Marchessault – someone who can score about 30 goals each season and work in unison with the top stars.
The Tough Decision: Sam Bennett was originally going to be choice from the Calgary Flames over Mark Giordano, but one has to be wary about adding a 12th RFA to the club in its first season. Bennett needs a change of scenery, though, so maybe he could be acquired in the future.
If this exercise has taught us anything, it’s that one of the trouble spots for Seattle entering the expansion draft is going to be the blueline. The talent pool was awfully shallow once the protection process was all said and done, and thus much of the defense corps on both teams was made up of a number of young rearguards who will be tasked with taking on bigger roles than ever. Granted, that could change in two seasons’ time. By the time the expansion draft arrives, several projected restricted free agent defensemen could be logging top-four minutes for their respective clubs. For some, though, the move to Seattle might present a first chance to really, truly compete for a spot on an NHL roster.
There’s some forecasting going on here, primarily that Jacob Larsson will take his game to another level and be worthy of competing for a spot on the first pairing by the time Seattle arrives in the NHL. There’s also some hope that Philippe Myers, an undrafted rearguard who played his way into the Philadelphia Flyers’ lineup last season and ended up on Canada’s World Championship team, will continue to develop on the same curve, end up exposed and hold it down on the second pairing. There are a few veterans sprinkled in the group, including expansion veteran Colin Miller, who will be selected in an expansion draft for the second time in his career. Meanwhile, the controversial pick, Nikita Zaitsev, comes aboard because his contract fits the bill: he has the term and salary, and he’s frankly the best possible choice from the Ottawa Senators roster, even if he’s only going to come to Seattle to play a depth role.
The No Brainer: Taking a few gambles on current prospects who have potential to breakout. Jake Bean is stuck behind a group of talented blueliners in Carolina, so selecting him from the Hurricanes is worthwhile. The upside of Bean, as well as Libor Hajek and Jeremy Roy, are why the three blueliners were taken.
The Tough Decision: Let’s address Zaitsev again. Is it really worth saddling yourself with another three years of his deal? Maybe. Maybe not. But selecting Zaitsev, who is a capable NHL rearguard, ensures that none of the younger talent needs to be fast-tracked. Let them develop and then fight to take Zaitsev’s minutes later.
SEATTLE SEA MONKEYS
The idea here was to mix top-end experience with unproven youngsters looking for their big break. Giordano's $6.75-million AAV takes a toll on the salary cap, but he'll be a free agent after one season and could return to Calgary for cheap if he so desires. After that, only DeKeyser will be over 30 in 2021-22, which puts the focus on young defensemen who have a lot to prove. A couple of the RFA defensemen could also be used as trade assets post-draft, if needed.
The No Brainer: He isn't a key player right now, but plucking Bean out of Carolina didn't require a second thought. If the Hurricanes didn’t have a group as strong as they do now, he would have had at least a full NHL season under his belt by now. He'll be 22 in 2021-22 and could play a key role by Year Two.
The Tough Decision: Oh boy, the Lightning's Erik Cernak was tempting. In fact, he'd be a top-four defender immediately. But Tampa's exposure list, which also includes Boris Katchouk and Mitchell Stephens beyond the established skaters, was just too strong to select him.
If it hadn’t been for Marc-Andre Fleury’s willingness to waive his no-movement clause to enter the Vegas expansion draft, the Golden Knights would have went into their inaugural campaign with a giant question mark in the crease, so it should come as no surprise Seattle finds itself in a similar position. The top-tier goaltenders who are available are primarily expected to become unrestricted free agents before 2021, and chances are some of those will land NMCs that make them ineligible for selection. Others, meanwhile, will probably come with a price tag too high or a term too long for Seattle’s liking. The options beyond the established keepers, though, are thin, with the exposed goaltending cohort consisting largely of netminders with no experience carrying a full-season workload. But there is one keeper who might fit the Fleury role…
There’s been a veteran stalwart of sorts for each grouping. Up front, it was Turris. On the back end, it’s Miller. And in goal, it has to be Quick, who will be in the twilight of his career and two years away from finishing out his 10-year pact but is the only career starter who will be available with term. Have his numbers been great? Not last season, and chances are he’s going to struggle while the Los Angeles Kings attempt to figure out a way forward, but he's a capable split-time netminder for Seattle. That’s the hope, at least.
No Brainer: Taking Quick, of course, but also adding some decent help behind him. In 50 career games, Casey DeSmith has posted a .917 save percentage with the Pittsburgh Penguins and his numbers weren’t all that dissimilar to Matt Murray’s last season. He’s a worthwhile No. 2.
Tough Decision: Is it a cop out to again say that it’s Quick? By the time the draft arrives, he’ll be 35 and heading towards his 36th birthday. It’s usually around that time that things start going downhill for netminders, and Quick’s injury history is worrisome. The trouble is that Seattle needs a starter and Quick would undoubtedly sit atop the depth chart coming out of the draft.
SEATTLE SEA MONKEYS
Like with the defense corps, the Sea Monkeys were willing to take an older, expensive veteran who can make the team stronger right away in Quick. Vegas did the same, securing Marc-Andre Fleury after he lost his starting role in Pittsburgh. This is Quick's redemption opportunity, perhaps. DeSmith and Collin Delia would give the team valuable depth after showing up on the scene this past season.
The No Brainer: Quick was one of the worst starting goalies in the NHL this past season – the team in front of him didn’t make life any easier – but he has a proven track record and has stolen more than a few games in his career. A new home could do wonders for him.
The Tough Decision: There are a few pending UFAs who are intriguing, including Tuukka Rask and David Rittich, but their current clubs can utilize free agency to their advantage, keep them unsigned and then pen the keepers to deals after the draft. It makes it a big risk to draft either.
SEATTLE SOCKEYES (Jared Clinton)
SEATTLE SEA MONKEYS (Steven Ellis)
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