With just seven games left to play – and their Stanley Cup playoff hopes dashed – the season is winding down for the Chicago Blackhawks. And that means it’s just about time to start focusing on the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft in July.
It’s been on the mind of every NHL GM since the Seattle expansion was announced.
And after the work of the Vegas Golden Knights in the last expansion draft, teams are going to be on much higher alert for the shenanigans that the expansion draft allows.
The 2021 NHL Expansion Draft will be under the same rules for Seattle as the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017. Seattle will select one player from each team, excluding the Golden Knights, for a total of 30 players (at minimum 14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goalies). Seattle must choose a minimum of 20 players under contract for the 2021-22 regular season and all teams must submit their protected players list by July 18th at 4:00 p.m. CT, with the expansion draft taking place on July 21st.
Teams have the choice of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie *or* eight skaters and one goalie. The following qualifications will automatically protect players:
• Players with with no-movement clauses at the time of the draft must be protected and will be counted toward their team’s protection limits.
• All first and second-year pro players, and all unsigned draft picks, will be exempt from selection and not count towards the protection list. (For the Blackhawks, this rule protects players like Dominik Kubalík and Pius Suter)
Additionally, teams also have requirements for exposing players to the expansion draft, including:
• One defenseman who is under contract in 2021-22 and played in at least 40 NHL games the prior season, or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons.
• Two forwards who are under contract in 2021-22 and played at least 40 NHL games the prior season, or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons.
• One goalie who is under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent at the end of his current contract immediately prior to 2021-22. If a restricted free agent goalie is available to meet this requirement, that goalie must have received his qualifying offer before the team submits their protected list on July 17th.
Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw, both of whom ended their playing careers this season because of injury, come in for special consideration. According to the rules, players with potential career-ending injuries (who’ve missed more than the previous 60 consecutive games, or who otherwise have been confirmed to have a career-threatening injury), may not be used to satisfy a team’s exposure requirements. Those players are also deemed exempt from selection.
In 2017, the Blackhawks went with the seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie protection pattern. Looking ahead to their contract situations for 2021-22, it’s likely the same 7-3-1 protection plan will be used for Chicago.
Players with no-movement clauses for the Blackhawks include Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith, so that’s two forwards and a defenseman already checked off the list. All three goalies fit the exposure requirements, but Kevin Lankinen seems like the clear choice that Chicago will protect. After the contract extension given to Riley Stillman just last week, it appears he is clearly part of the Blackhawks’ plans for the future so he may likely be protected, and Connor Murphy will round out the defensemen protected by Chicago.
The forwards group gets a bit messier for the Blackhawks. With Kane and Toews already protected, there are five slots they will need to fill and the focus will likely be on the future building blocks up-front. Alex DeBrincat is a no-brainer, as is Brandon Hagel. The Blackhawks probably will want to keep Alex Nylander around for another season to see if he will pan out into a reliable NHL player and the organization believes that Henrik Borgström will be part of the team next season, so that’s two more slots taken.
The final forward protection gets a bit trickier between Dylan Strome and David Kämpf. It seems a bit galaxy-brain to protect Kämpf, but at the same time, it feels like Strome’s time with the club could be limited anyway. If Chicago really, really likes David Kämpf that much, and it appears they do, it’s possible Strome could be exposed. But I don’t see it happening and the Blackhawks likely roll the dice that their exposed players list is enticing enough that Kämpf slips through.
So here’s how I see Chicago protecting their players:
Forwards: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Alex Nylander, Dylan Strome, Brandon Hagel, and Henrik Borgström
Defensemen: Duncan Keith, Connor Murphy, Riley Stillman
Goalie: Kevin Lankinen
Notable exposed players include:
Forwards: David Kämpf, Adam Gaudette, Brett Connolly, Ryan Carpenter
Defensemen: Calvin de Haan, Nikita Zadorov
Goalies: Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia
The expansion draft has so many twists and turns to it, so it’s hard to call where the Kraken will go with their picks. When it comes to this exposed player list from the Blackhawks, if I am Seattle general manager Ron Francis, I’m looking at three players that stand out in each position group: David Kämpf, Calvin de Haan, and Malcolm Subban.
To me, the move for Seattle is Calvin de Haan.
Kämpf and Gaudette are both restricted free agents this offseason and will have qualifying offers put in to them by Chicago ahead of the draft. Both of those offers will be much less than the $4.55M cap hit that de Haan carries, so if the Kraken really want to stretch for cheap depth, they could, but it seems foolish. In net, the 27-year-old Subban has one year at $850,000 left on his current contract, which is very cheap for a proven backup goaltender in the NHL. Although the market in the expansion draft for goaltenders goes much deeper than 27-year-old backups. de Haan, who will be 30 by the time of the expansion draft, has one year left on his current contract and is a solid blue-liner who could slot into a defensive group in a fourth or fifth defenseman role.
Again, the expansion draft is still three months away and a lot can happen between now and then. It seems like the Blackhawks have a pretty straight forward group of protected players and the list of players that could be exposed only has about one or two players who, if selected by Seattle, would actually be bummers to lose.