The 2021 NHL Expansion Draft has come and gone. The Seattle Kraken‘s strategy was quite different than the one that the Vegas Golden Knights employed four years ago, as they saved their salary cap room and passed on several notable names due to the flat cap.
They also didn’t make any side deals, reportedly demanding excessive compensation for taking their preferred players. While some teams learned their lesson four years ago and effectively protected their key players, several teams still came out losing key pieces of their rosters while others avoided getting burned by exposing some of their best players. NoVa Caps taps three winners and losers of the Expansion Draft last week.
The Flyers exposed left-wing James Van Riemsdyk and right-wing Jakub Voracek, who co-led the team with right-wing Claude Giroux with 43 points last season. Van Riemsdyk accounts for $7 million against the salary cap for two more years while Voracek makes $8.25 million against it for three. Instead of taking either of those two stars, the Kraken opted to take 23-year-old left-wing Carsen Twarynski, who has just one goal in 22 career NHL games and did not record any points in two AHL games this season.
The Flyers traded Voracek to the Columbus Blue Jackets for right-wing Cam Atkinson on Saturday.
Since the Candadiens wanted to keep both of their goalies, they left Carey Price exposed amid reports that revealed he would miss the start of next season with hip and knee injuries. Price’s five-year, $10.5 million cap was another factor that undoubtedly influenced Seattle’s decision, especially since he has finished with a save percentage of .909 at the highest in three of the past four seasons, including .901 this past regular season.
Even with the Kraken passing on Price, 27-year-old left-handed defenseman Brett Kulak was available. Despite not being an everyday player for the Canadiens, he had solid analytics as he recorded a 56.33% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, and a 52.92% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage while averaging 16:06 per game in 46 games last season. In fact, Kulak makes a cap-friendly $1.85 million before he can become an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Instead, the Kraken opted to take 22-year-old right-handed defenseman Cale Fleury, who put up an admirable six assists and a +9 rating in 22 AHL games last season but has yet to establish himself as a full-time NHLer yet in four years since being drafted. Of course, it could be a different story at some point, but it appears as if the Canadiens got off of the hook easily.
The Kraken signed pending unrestricted free agent goaltender Chris Driedger to a three-year contract that carries a $3.5 million cap hit and he counted as the team’s expansion pick from the Panthers.
While Driedger is only 26 and is 21-9-4 with a .929 save percentage, a 2.09 goals-against average, and four shutouts in 38 career NHL games, the Panthers were not expected to re-sign him anyway with Sergei Bobrovsky under contract for five more seasons (and with a no-movement clause) and Spencer Knight, who went 4-0-0 with a .919 save percentage and 2.32 goals-against average in the regular season and 1-1 with a .933 save percentage and a 2.06 goals-against average in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, expected to take over the net in Florida for the long haul.
This is a complete 180 from the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft for the Panthers, who lost right-wing Jonathan Marchessault to the Golden Knights and traded left-wing Reilly Smith to Vegas for just a fourth-round pick.
Honorable Mentions: Pittsburgh Penguins, Dallas Stars
The Jets tried to move center Mason Appleton before the NHL roster freeze after the 25-year-old set career-highs in goals (12), assists (13), points (25), and plus-minus (+11) in his first full NHL season but could not get a deal done.
While the Kraken could have decided to take left-handed defenseman Dylan DeMelo, they instead opted for Appleton, who has one season remaining on his contract at a very team-friendly $900,000 contract before becoming eligible for restricted free agency with arbitration rights.
Appleton was a key part of the Jets’ defensive system as he averaged 56 seconds per game on the penalty kill and put up strong defensive results. With center Paul Stastny set to become an unrestricted free agent this week, the Jets were expected to use Appleton to replace Stastny as their third-line center. Now, they will have to find another option that will likely be more expensive than (and perhaps not as good as) Appleton.
The Flames had no choice but to expose their 37-year-old captain and left-handed defenseman Mark Giordano with Chris Tanev, Noah Hanifin, and Rasmus Andersson all needing to be protected. The price to keep Giordano was high, with the Kracken demanding a first-round pick and a third-round pick not take him.
While Giordano is getting up there in age, he is still one of the NHL’s top defensemen as he won the Norris Trophy as the best blueliner just two seasons ago and posted nine goals, 26 points, and a +5 rating, a 53.12% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, and a 52.63% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage in 56 games in 2020-21, when he led the Flames in ice-time.
It is hard to the Flames for their decision as Tanev is coming off of an incredibly strong defensive season while Hanifin and Andersson are both in their prime but it was just unfortunate for them as they also had some young forwards to protect.
The Predators did not learn their lesson after losing left-wing James Neal in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft as they protected right-handed defenseman Dante Fabbro, who has put up poor results at both ends two goals, 12 points, a -1 rating, a 49.83% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 51.18% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 51.19% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 40 games this past season and lost his spot in the lineup to Alexandre Carrier.
While Fabbro is just 23 and the Predators are high on him as a former 17th overall pick, protecting him meant exposing right-wing Calle Jarnkrok, whose 13 goals tied the team lead and 28 points ranked third. The 29-year-old has hit the double-digit-goal plateau in each of the past six seasons (hitting 15 in four of them) and 30-point plateau four times over that span.
Jarnkrok accounts for a team-friendly $2 million against the salary cap for one more season. While the Predators have valued their strong defensive corps, it is fair to wonder if protecting a defenseman who was scratched in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs was worth protecting over one of the team’s consistently top goal-scorers on a bargain of a contract.
Honorable Mentions: New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues
By Harrison Brown