The Seattle Kraken had an impact on the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline on Monday even though they couldn’t make a trade and won’t debut as an expansion team until next season.
The 2021 NHL Expansion Draft looming July 21 was a reason deadline day had 17 trades, the fewest since 17 in 2013, involving 26 players, the fewest since 23 in 2000. Many of the players who were traded can become unrestricted free agents after this season.
“Probably the biggest thing is, the expansion draft changes a lot,” Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill said Monday. “If you pick up a player who’s not on an expiring contract, that can affect your expansion draft.”
When the Vegas Golden Knights joined the NHL in 2017-18, it was the first expansion of the League since 2000 and the first under the NHL salary cap. Vegas had better expansion draft rules than previous expansion teams.
But George McPhee, then the Golden Knights GM, now their president of hockey operations, also “manipulated” teams like a “puppet master,” to borrow the words St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong used Monday.
“I say that with the utmost respect,” Armstrong said.
Vegas collected draft picks and players in exchange for not selecting players teams couldn’t protect under the rules. The Golden Knights went on to make the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.
Seattle will have the same expansion draft rules Vegas did (the Golden Knights will be exempt). But this time, teams have learned from experience.
“I think teams are less likely to have that happen again, so I think everyone was a little more cautious of what was coming up at the expansion draft,” Armstrong said.
He said as teams considered adding players before the trade deadline, they asked themselves not only how much it would cost to make trades, but how acquisitions would affect their protected lists for the expansion draft and what the Kraken would want in return for not selecting certain players.
The Kraken can speak to teams and make unofficial agreements ahead of the expansion draft, but they cannot make official transactions until making the final payment of their $650 million expansion fee. Kraken GM Ron Francis told TSN on Monday they hope to make the payment toward the end of April.
“I think we’re like everybody else on that trade deadline day,” Francis said Tuesday. “We’re watching it. We’re analyzing things. When trades happen, we’re updating our lists and seeing how that affects [what] we were thinking on certain teams.
“But this is not something that was surprising to us. I think we’ve said that right from Day One that it’s going to change, because GMs have had a lot of time to prepare for this, and they’re certainly doing their best to make sure that they’re as protected as they possibly can [be] as they head into the expansion draft this summer.”
Still, the Kraken have a unique advantage.
When the NHL announced expansion to Seattle on Dec. 4, 2018, teams were budgeting for the salary cap to rise with revenues. But now the cap is flat at $81.5 million due to the economic stress of the coronavirus pandemic.
A few teams had cap space and used it to acquire assets ahead of the trade deadline. Seattle, starting with a clean slate, has maximum cap space.
“We’re certainly hoping that there’s a lot of different opportunities, and there’s a lot of different ways you can look at things,” Francis said. “So we’re analyzing everything, having those discussions, and [will] be as ready as we possibly can be in those situations as they present themselves moving forward.”
Francis said it will be interesting to see what teams do with some players, especially restricted free agents with arbitration rights.
“A lot of teams have some really good young players whose contracts are coming up, and it’s a challenge to find the money to make sure you pay those guys,” Francis said. “So we’re looking at all those different situations on a lot of different teams and trying to see if there’s something there that makes sense for us.”
How did deadline day turn out for the Kraken relative to their expectations? Any surprises?
“I think overall there wasn’t any huge surprises for us, per se,” Francis said. “And we’ve already taken a look at where we think we’ve been affected sort of positively or negatively, and we’ll continue to look at that and evaluate as we move forward here and regroup as a whole and start preparing from here to July.
“This is kind of what we said all along. I mean, we [could] do a mock draft 12 months ago or six months ago, but until we get closer to that day, until we get to see that final list, it’s hard to project [with] 100-percent accuracy what we’re going to be picking from. But we’ll look at all the different scenarios we think might present themselves and be as best prepared as we possibly can be.”
NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers contributed to this report