Watching the Vegas Golden Knights nearly skate to their second Stanley Cup Final in three seasons of existence should have been a reminder to 31 other NHL teams that the Kraken are coming.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman unequivocally said on Saturday that the Seattle Kraken will debut in 2021-22 – one start date unfazed by the pandemic.

The lesson is clear: The teams that waited until the last moment to get comfortable with their 2017 Expansion Draft protected list lot were leveraged by Vegas into unforced errors.

That means there is work to be done as the NHL prepares for its final regular season as a 31-team league.

Moves made over the next three weeks, trades ahead of the Oct. 6-7 Draft and free agents inked beginning with the Oct. 9 Free Agent Frenzy, will go a long way in determining those protected lists. The inverse is also true: With a few years to officially prepare, the current view of those protected lists will also determine in part the moves made.

It is helpful, then, to take a cursory look at some of those protected lists. But first, a refresher on the rules:

- Teams may protect either seven forwards, three defencemen and one goaltender - OR - eight skaters (regardless of position) and one goaltender.

- Two forwards and one defenceman must be left exposed by each team who are both under contract for 2021-22 and meet the games played requirements for 2020-21. (Note: The games played requirements will likely be prorated if the season is shortened due to COVID-19.) Also, each team must expose a goaltender under contract in 2021-22 or who is an RFA.

- All players who have accrued two or less pro seasons by the end of 2020-21, as well as unsigned draft picks, will be exempt from the Expansion Draft.

- Players with no-move contracts MUST be protected unless the player waives his clause.

Teams will have decisions to make with not just this year's pending free agents, but also with their own pending free agents for 2021. Free agents can be exposed, but will also be free to sign back with their previous team, even if they are selected by Seattle.

Almost all of Canada’s seven clubs are well-positioned to escape from the Expansion Draft relatively unscathed. But the picture may not be as clear one month from now.

With that, here is an early Canadian Expansion Draft primer, with projections based on the information available today ahead of the NHL off-season:
 

CALGARY FLAMES

Protection Scheme: 7/3/1

Forwards (7)

Milan Lucic - NMC
Mikael Backlund
Johnny Gaudreau
Elias Lindholm
Andrew Mangiapane
Sean Monahan
Matthew Tkachuk

Defence (3)

Rasmus Andersson
Mark Giordano
Noah Hanifin

Goaltender (1)

David Rittich/TBA

Potentially Exposed Players

F Sam Bennett
F Dillon Dubé
F Mark Jankowski
D Oliver Kylington
F Derek Ryan (UFA 2021)

Talking Points

- A decision looms on captain Mark Giordano. The face of the Flames franchise since Jarome Iginla left has done more than everything Calgary has asked of him. But the 2019 Norris Trophy winner will be 39 by the time 2021-22 starts and entering the final year of his deal. Protecting him will mean exposing a younger defenceman like Kylington.

- The only silver lining to missing Juuso Valimaki for the season with an ACL tear is that he is exempt from the Expansion Draft. Returning to play in the Edmonton bubble, nearly a year after surgery, would have made him eligible.

- If Milan Lucic is willing to waive his no-movement clause, the Flames can protect another forward.

What To Watch For

- GM Brad Treliving’s quest to find a new starting netminder will likely determine who will be protected in net, but David Rittich would require a contract extension to meet the exposure eligibility.


EDMONTON OILERS

Protection Scheme: 8/1

Skaters (8)

D Ethan Bear
F Leon Draisaitl
D Caleb Jones
F Connor McDavid
F Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (UFA 2021)
D Darnell Nurse
F Kailer Yamamoto

Goaltender (1)

Mikko Koskinen/TBA

Potentially Exposed Players
F Josh Archibald
F Tyler Benson
F Zack Kassian
F Jujhar Khaira
D Matt Benning
F Alex Chiasson (UFA 2021)
D Adam Larsson (UFA 2021)
D Kris Russell (UFA 2021)