By Stephen Whyno
Four years after the Vegas Golden Knights burst into the NHL by making 10 trades at their expansion draft, the Seattle Kraken came away with none.
That means no extra prospects, roster players or draft picks stockpiled because another team wanted to give up a certain player or keep from losing someone left unprotected by rules designed to make modern expansion teams competitive. Seattle is expected to flip some of the 30 players selected when the trade freeze lifts Thursday afternoon, but this was a much different expansion draft experience than Vegas had in 2017.
“Vegas did a good job taking advantage of the rules and sort of everyone’s lack of experience in that environment,” Kraken GM Ron Francis said during a video call Wednesday night. “Last time where GMs were more willing to, in a sense, overpay to protect certain assets, this time they learned from that and they weren’t willing to make the mistakes that they made last time.”
Back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay did not give up anything to keep from losing valuable center Yanni Gourde, who will miss the start of Seattle’s inaugural season rehabbing from the shoulder surgery he had Monday. Cup finalist Montreal didn’t need to convince the Kraken not to take star goaltender Carey Price. And Calgary didn’t pay up to keep captain Mark Giordano.
That doesn’t mean Francis didn’t try. Flames GM Brad Treliving called it “a price that we couldn’t pay.”
“You look around the league, there wasn’t a lot of deals,” Treliving said. “If there was a way that we could have done it within reason -- those conversations should be kept behind closed doors — if there was a way within means that made sense for this not to happen, we certainly would have pursued it.”
Since it wasn’t “within reason,” some teams didn’t even pursue a trade, anticipating Seattle would choose between a couple of obvious options.
Minnesota’s Bill Guerin, who bought out franchise pillars Ryan Suter and Zach Parise in part to prepare for expansion, said the Wild knew they would lose one player and didn’t want to make it worse.
“We would lose more assets than we already have, so this was kind of the way we approached it all along,” Guerin said after Seattle took defenseman Carson Soucy over goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen. “It’s about being prepared and about having a plan for either circumstance.”
Being prepared for a few years benefitted the league’s other 31 teams. Seattle was awarded a franchise late in 2018 and the long runway to begin play in 2021 allowed GMs to plan ahead.
The salary cap remaining flat because of pandemic revenue losses added a curveball, but rivals used every last second to protect themselves and each other from the Kraken. And Francis pointed out that Vegas not losing a player in this expansion draft — the Golden Knights don’t get a cut of Seattle’s $650 million entry fee — allowed the league’s 31st team to have an impact.
“You look at Vegas’ expansion draft, they had nobody sitting on the outside that could affect their protection list of the other teams,” he said. “We had Vegas sitting on the outside, and in fact they were able to make a couple of trades that affected multiple protection lists for us.”
The Golden Knights on Saturday acquired center Brett Howden from the Rangers and were part of a three-team trade that landed them 2017 No. 2 pick Nolan Patrick and allowed Philadelphia and Nashville to shuffle their protected lists.
Asked how many trades Seattle had agreed to that would become official Thursday, Francis said: “Probably a lot less than you guys are thinking might be.” He chuckled, but he’s not done.
Fortunately for the Kraken, the puck doesn’t drop this week and there’s plenty of time and salary cap space to get ready for training camp and opening night. They own the second pick in the draft Friday night and could be active in free agency when it opens July 28.
“A lot of opportunity to sort of tweak our lineup over the next four or five months,” Francis said. “We’ll look to try and take advantage of that if we can.”