The Seattle Kraken will finally have a team full of players Wednesday when they reveal their selections in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft presented by Upper Deck (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, SN NOW, TVAS).
“We’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” Kraken general manager Ron Francis said Saturday, “and we’re excited that it’s finally here.”
More than 4,000 fans are expected at Gas Works Park on the north shore of Lake Union in the city to hear the names selected by Seattle, which will begin play next season as the NHL’s 32nd team.
Seattle will select 30 players, one per team, excluding the Vegas Golden Knights, who are exempt after joining the NHL as an expansion team in 2017-18. The Kraken must select at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies, and at least 20 players who are under contract for next season.
Some of the top players left unprotected and available to Seattle are Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price, St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko, Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, Nashville Predators forwards Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton, Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano and Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Yanni Gourde, Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat.
“We expect that Seattle is going to do very, very well and have a very good, competitive team right off the bat,” said Vegas president of hockey operations George McPhee, who was GM during the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.
Seattle has been the only team able to make NHL transactions since 5 p.m. ET Saturday, when a roster freeze went into effect for the rest of the League until 1 p.m. ET Thursday.
The Kraken found out who would be available to them Sunday, when the NHL approved and distributed the 30 lists of available and protected players. They have had an exclusive window to interview, negotiate and sign any pending free agents who were exposed to them in the expansion draft since 10 a.m. ET Sunday. If they sign a free agent in that window, it will count as the Kraken’s selection from that player’s former team.
Seattle’s selections, which are due by 10 a.m. ET Wednesday, must account for 60 percent to 100 percent of the NHL salary cap, which will remain $81.5 million for next season.
“We’ve done this hundreds of times leading up to this point,” Francis said.
But it’s a daunting challenge.
“I couldn’t imagine,” New York Rangers general manager Chris Drury said. “It’s obviously a lot for Ron and company to process. I know how hard they’ve been working at it and I’m sure they’re going to pick a real good team.”
McPhee said the Golden Knights blueprint from their expansion draft four years ago should help the Kraken. Vegas reached the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season and has qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of its four seasons.
“I think they can take a lot from what we did and will,” McPhee said. “I do believe the pandemic is going to help them a lot. There are GMs that have been through this once on the other side and may be a little more shrewd. On the other hand, the flat cap is going to be hard on some teams and they’re going to be looking for a way out. It’s something Seattle can take advantage of.”
A hot topic since Sunday has been whether the Kraken will select Price from the Canadiens to bring one of the NHL’s best goalies to the Pacific Northwest. Price likely would instantly be the first face of the Kraken, like goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was for the Golden Knights.
“You don’t know when you’re making the selections if someone is going to be that or not,” McPhee said. “You’re trusting your instincts and you’re trying to get the best team that you can. If someone emerges and becomes that star, that’s OK as long as they’re a team player. That’s fine. It’s good for your market, it’s good for your fans, it’s good for your team.”
The expansion draft will signal the end of a process that began in earnest when Francis was named Seattle’s first general manager July 18, 2019.
On Thursday at 1 p.m. ET, the business of the offseason will reopen for the other 31 teams.
The 2021 NHL Draft will take place this weekend; the first round is Friday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, SN NOW, TVAS), and rounds 2-7 are Saturday (11 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, SN NOW).
The first buyout period ends July 27 at 5 p.m. ET, and the deadline for teams to sign their pending unrestricted free agents to eight-year contracts is 11:59 p.m. ET.
The free agent market opens July 28 at noon ET, which is also when teams can start signing players to a contract extension that would begin in 2022-23. Among the top eligible players who could sign a contract extension that day are Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk, Lightning forward Brayden Point, Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones, Rangers center Mika Zibanejad and Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier.
“I would say things will pick up on all fronts when teams know what they lost, what kind of player they lost, how much money, what kind of role that player played on that team,” Drury said. “I think things will either pick up or change come Thursday at 1 when the freeze is over.”
Until then, it’s Seattle’s show.
NHL.com staff writers Amalie Benjamin and Mike Zeisberger contributed to this report