Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Seattle Kraken mock expansion draft: Why we’re taking Gabriel Landeskog but not Carey Price

In the next 48 hours or so, the hockey world at large will learn exactly which players the Seattle Kraken selected to stock the NHL’s newest franchise.

The NHL unveiled the protected lists of 30 teams Sunday (the Vegas Golden Knights are exempt) and predictably, there were some intriguing names left up for grabs.

Carey Price in Montreal was one. Price’s former teammate in Montreal, P.K. Subban, was another. The Predators left both their $8 million men, Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene, available. The Flames couldn’t find a way to protect captain Mark Giordano

The one quality they share: They would all be pricey adds, maybe too pricey in the NHL’s flat-cap world.

Here at The Athletic, we’ve been doing mock drafts since before Seattle’s expansion bid even became official and what follows is our final attempt to sort out what Kraken general manager Ron Francis and his staff might come up with.

Procedurally, we’ve added one tweak to the exercise this time around and convened a “war room” designed to mimic the conversations the Seattle hockey operations staff is having internally right now. Our war room consisted of Eric Duhatschek, Ryan S. Clark, Sean McIndoe, Dom Luszczyszyn and Michael Russo.

Collectively, we’ve spent the weeks and months (and some of us, years), trying to work through all the expansion-draft scenarios that could possibly come up.

Then Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin threw us all a curveball over the weekend, successfully persuading Price to waive his no-move clause so Montreal could protect Jake Allen.

By rule, Seattle is obliged to select three goaltenders, nine defensemen and 14 forwards. The other four openings are “at large,” meaning they could be at any position. Seattle is also required to select players that meet a minimum salary-cap threshold ($48.9 million, or 60 percent of last year’s $81.5 million salary cap). They cannot exceed the cap.

Price’s availability forces you to start with him for reasons that are pretty apparent. If the Kraken were to take Price (and his $10.5 million cap hit for five additional years), then it would affect the remaining 29 decisions.

On the one hand, Price could be the Kraken’s 2021 answer to Marc-Andre Fleury, the cornerstone goaltending piece that helped Vegas get (and stay) so competitive in its first four years of operation.

On the other hand, if you took Price, you would immediately gobble up about an eighth of your available salary-cap space — and leveraging that cap room will ultimately be the key to whatever success Seattle has in the short-, medium- and long-term. Moreover, Price hasn’t been physically sound for years and the expectation is that at 34, he might not be able to summon up the sort of goaltending heroics he did in this past year’s playoffs.

A further complication: Price wasn’t the only battle-tested goaltender made available. The Kraken can choose from among Ben Bishop (Dallas), Braden Holtby (Vancouver) or Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles). Then there are younger, cheaper net-minding options as well: Vitek Vanecek (Washington), Kaapo Kahkonen (Minnesota) and Florida’s pending UFA Chris Driedger who, if you follow hockey Twitter, is almost certainly signed, sealed and delivered for the Kraken already.

Philosophically, NHL teams will tell you they are built from goaltending out, so that’s where we began too. Spoiler alert: After a vigorous debate, we elected NOT to take Price. The explanation is below.

In his previous life as an NHL GM, Kraken GM Ron Francis was known for his ultra-conservative managerial style, but he has a chance to swing for the fences a few times here and we’re recommending he do so with Colorado’s pending UFA captain Gabriel Landeskog. No other team is positioned as well as Seattle to overpay Landeskog and if you could ever coax him to an expansion team, he’d be the perfect captain — a foundational piece, in the prime of his career, who would help set the organizational culture going forward.

Generally speaking, hockey front offices are not democracies, but ours was.

The majority ruled.

In the end, we made a list, we checked it twice (to ensure we met both the positional and financial stipulations associated with the expansion draft), and we present it here for your critiques and comments:

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