Rehashing the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft
As the free agent feeding frenzy becomes more of a dinner with Andre and the off-season is now in full swing, the armchair coaches and GMs can come out of hiding to play their fantasy games with real teams. After the opening day of free agency in the NHL, the amount of money and time that had names applied to dotted lines was astounding. More than $900 million in contracts had been signed/agreed to and 302 years of players’ lives given to their profession. Simply stunning.
Before all of that, though, the NHL’s 32nd franchise got to fill out its roster in the NHL Expansion Draft. On July 21st at 8 pm ET (that’s 5 pm PT) the newly minted Seattle Kraken plundered the unprotected players of 30 NHL teams, since Vegas was exempt as per a deal owner Bill Foley struck with the NHL in 2016, and the Kraken was born. We won’t discuss the “leaking” of the roster by Frank Seravalli because it’s much ado about nothing.
As a lightning strike, NHL fandom lost their collective minds as the roster came to fruition. “How could they pass on Price?!” “Why didn’t they steal Tarasenko?!” “Why?!” “How?!” “WHAT?!?” And this is exactly what they were saying in 2017 as the Vegas Golden Knights unveiled their roster, minus Fleury, but we will talk about that later. Even back then, Twitter exploded with comments about how bad they are going to be or how the first few seasons will be filled with finding an identity. And we all know what happened with that team. But the team that started the season was not the one that finished it, and the team they have today was built carefully and quickly but with little regard for tomorrow. So, let’s dive in and break it down to the nitty-gritty.
Rules 2000 vs 2017 vs 2021
When Vegas drafted in 2017 there had not been an expansion in the NHL in 17 years when Columbus and Minnesota become the 29th and 30th franchises. The draft rules were much different back then, except for the fact that Nashville and Atlanta were exempt and had their whole roster protected since they were so new (sound familiar?). In 2000, a team could protect nine forwards, five defensemen, and one goalie vs. 2017 teams protected seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie. That is a huge disparity when it comes to fielding a team. The rules from 2017 remained for the Kraken.
When all was said and done, Seattle picked 15 forwards, 12 defensemen, and three goalies compared to Vegas 14 forwards, 13 defensemen, and three goalies. So, a very similar roster makeup out of the draft. The disparity came in trades where Vegas made 10 and Seattle made none and Seattle chose 11 players under the age of 25 whereas Vegas only selected six in that age group.
By The Numbers
And now we come to the numbers game that we all love so much. Below is a simple breakdown of the two teams. I took the opening night roster for Vegas and compared it to a Kraken opening night roster compiled from the team as it is, which consists of:
Gourde – McCann – Eberle
Schwartz – Wennberg – Donskoi
Jarnkrok – Blackwell – Johansson
Tanev – Geekie – Appleton
Giordano – Larsson
Oleksiak – Lauzon
Soucy - Dunn
Vegas - 27.6
Seattle – 28.4 (Remove Giordano and that number matches Vegas’)
Average Points Per Game
Starting Goaltender Comparison
Vegas: SV% .912 GAA 2.58
Seattle: SV% .920 GAA 2.34
By the simple numbers, Seattle and Vegas are quite similar! The Kraken roster as is, scores almost a point per game more than the Knights and has better goalkeeping simply by stats alone. Everyone knows that Grubauer isn’t Fleury, but the numbers compete with the narrative that Seattle blundered their draft by not picking Price or Tarasenko…. But also, Grubauer kind of fell into their laps. That was not the plan from the jump.
What the plan was, however, was to build a team out from the back and with the future in mind, which Seattle accomplished. With an average height of 6’ 3” and average weight of 209 lbs., this defense corps is huge. They will punish along the boards, front of the net, and will block shots like it’s going out of style. All of which will help Grubauer retain the form he had coming out of Colorado. They will need that type of shutdown defense since this roster will not be winning any scoring titles. But what they will do is play a north-south type of game which Coach Dave Hakstol prefers, battle along the boards, and try to wear the other teams down all the while hoping a low-scoring affair is enough to win games. That’s not to say this team won’t score, because they will, but that lamp they found in a fishing net won’t be perpetually on.
What their selections did do was give them salary cap flexibility for the future, and they will need it since the 2022 free agent list has some very intriguing names the Kraken could pursue. To do so, they will need the cap space they will have going into the off season.
When McPhee and the Knights walked off stage in 2017, they had $75 million committed to contracts with four RFA’s still in limbo that would add another $7 million in cap when signed. But with Seattle, Mr. Francis and crew walked off stage with just under $55 million committed to cap. As of today, and a recent slew of signings, the Kraken have a smidge under $10 million in cap space left to play with while when Vegas opened their season in 2017, McPhee and crew had zero wiggle room and still do. Right off the bat, Vegas pushed the cap to its limit and only the next few years will tell how much trouble that put them in.
If Seattle had chosen the 33-year-old Price and his $10.5 million/5-year contract (and not to mention Tarasenko $7.5, JVR $7.0 or any other high-profile player left exposed), the Kraken would be in the same cap hell Vegas finds their squad in. Vegas could find their way out by trading away all their high-priced talent which they have already started to do as they say goodbye to Fleury and his $7.0 million. Instead, The Kraken decided to build a solid squad to try and compete in a weak Pacific Division while also building towards a future squad that can compete with anyone.
As fans, we all wish there were fireworks at the Expansion Draft. Price being stolen from Montreal, scores of trades, and side deals. Instead, The Kraken drafted a team that will compete in the first two years with their eyes on budling a team that can win annually. What Vegas did was incredible. They captured lightning in a bottle. To expect that going forward for anyone is folly. Opening night is October 12th versus the Golden Knights and there could not be a more fitting first matchup for the Seattle Kraken to enter the NHL.