The Seattle Kraken are the focus of the hockey world until Wednesday.
Thirty of the 31 other NHL teams submitted their protected lists by the 5 p.m. ET deadline Saturday, which started a roster freeze that will last until after the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft presented by Upper Deck on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, SN NOW).
The Vegas Golden Knights, the most recent expansion team in 2017, are exempt from having a player selected.
Protected lists will be released Sunday.
The Kraken will have had a little more than three days to go over the protected lists and figure out the one player to select from each of the 30 teams to start the process of putting together a roster for the 2021-22 NHL season.
Four years ago, Kraken general manager Ron Francis was on the outside looking in. As the GM of the Carolina Hurricanes at the time, he could only sit and wait while the Golden Knights held all the cards leading into the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.
Now, the Kraken are about to make decisions that will change the planning process for every other team heading into the 2021 NHL Draft on Friday and Saturday, and the opening of free agency July 28.
“It’s ironic, but I did have that same conversation with (Vegas general manager) Kelly [McCrimmon] three or four days ago, and he said the same thing,” Francis said Saturday. “He said it was kind of crazy when they finally got the list. It was kind of surreal to know that everything in the hockey world was shut down, kind of waiting for 72 hours to go by, and what was going to take place at that point.”
The NHL roster freeze ends at 1 p.m. ET on Thursday. Teams could protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie. Players with no-move clauses who decline to waive them, first- and second-year players, and all unsigned draft picks are exempt from selection and do not count toward protection limits.
The Kraken will select at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies in the expansion draft. They have an exclusive window from Sunday to Wednesday to interview and potentially sign pending free agents who were left unprotected in the expansion draft. If they sign a player in that window, it counts as their pick from that player’s former team.
Francis hinted that NHL salary cap space will be a weapon he plans to use aggressively. The NHL is in a period of a flat cap, and teams are facing constraints with free agency on the horizon.
“We have $81.5 million of cap space to play with, so that’s certainly something we want to make sure we try to take advantage of moving forward,” Francis said.
The Kraken are ready to use that space, not just for the expansion draft, but also in free agency.
“I think we’re fortunate that ownership has given us a green light to spend toward the cap, if we so see fit,” Francis said. “We’ll look at the team that we’re able to draft, based on who’s available, then we’ll look at the needs that we think the team has, and we’ll certainly try to venture out on the 28th when free agency hits and see if there are individuals there that maybe we can sign to fill some of those needs that we have.”
The Kraken have been preparing for Wednesday for more than a year. Francis said the number of mock drafts they’ve had are “easily in the hundreds.”
Soon, it becomes real.
“We’ve done this an awful lot over the last 18 months, so we’re going to get the list tomorrow morning and then we’ll kind of dive through those team by team and see if the person we thought might be available is available,” Francis said. “There may be guys who are [unrestricted free agents] or are [restricted free agents] who are left unprotected, and we have the right to talk to those guys if we want to make them our choice. We’ll try to get that done in the next 72 hours. A lot of moving parts, but I think we’ve been preparing for this for a long time, and we’re excited that it’s finally here.”