Ron Francis is going to be the GM who makes the most impact this off-season.
A little less than three months from now, the Seattle Kraken GM will be choosing one player off each NHL roster, except the exempt Vegas Golden Knights. Every expansion rule remains the same as it was for Vegas in 2017, which means we can get an idea of the choices each team is facing, but not knowing if any side deal has been made with the Kraken.
First, the key dates (which are, of course, subject to change).
Teams will have their protection lists finalized by July 17, followed by a window in which Seattle has exclusive negotiating rights with free agents from July 18-21. If the Kraken sign a UFA in that window, that counts as their selection against the roster of that player's former team.
The expansion draft itself will be July 21, with free agency for all opening on July 28 (and the entry draft in between).
When the Golden Knights had their expansion draft, GM George McPhee made side trades with a number of teams. These would give Vegas an extra asset or two for taking a specific player instead of a more valued one who couldn't be protected.
Looking back, a few of those turned out unnecessary and with Vegas finishing well on top. For instance, Anaheim traded Shea Theodore to Vegas so that they'd take Clayton Stoner instead of, perhaps, Josh Manson. Florida dealt Reilly Smith to Vegas, who then also took Jonathan Marchessault.
GMs certainly learned some things from that 2017 expansion draft and might not be so eager to fall into similar traps. They have that experience to draw from and have been able to plan things out about this expansion draft for some time. Then again, the flat cap is a variable no one saw coming, so there will still be unavoidable situations where losing a good player is inevitable and a side deal may be appealing.
"We're certainly hoping there's a lot of different opportunities," Francis said at his post-trade deadline call with the media. "There's a lot of different ways you can look at things so we're analyzing everything and having those discussions.
"It'll be interesting to see what they do with some of their players, especially RFAs with arbitration rights this summer and managing their cap," Francis continued. "A lot of teams have some really good young players whose contracts are coming up and it's a challenge to find money to pays those guys. We're looking at all those different situations and a lot of different teams and trying to see if there's something there that makes sense for us."
With help from CapFriendly's Seattle Expansion Draft tool, we can get a sense of what the picture is for each team, and what decisions they are faced with. Some of this can still change of course. Players set to be unrestricted free agents, for example, could be re-signed and then likely account for a protection slot. That's something to watch for in Edmonton.
Players with no-movement clauses, who have to be protected by rule, could choose to waive them and thus be available to Seattle.
And side deals, which can't be made official until after the Kraken make their final entry payments, could have already been made with a handshake.
With that in mind, here are 10 teams that could be faced with a tough loss or at least an interesting decision.
What needs to happen here is for Erik Johnson to waive his no-movement clause first. But even if he does that, the Avalanche will stand to lose a good player, or be looking to make a deal.
If Johnson does waive (contract expires in 2023 with a $6 million AAV), the Avs would have a tough choice between protecting eight skaters, or seven forwards and three defencemen. The former would leave the Avs having to expose someone like Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, Tyson Jost or Valeri Nichushkin. The latter would likely expose Ryan Graves, a 25-year-old defensive blueliner with another two years left on an affordable $3.1 million contract.
Gabriel Landeskog is a pending UFA, but is counted among the protected in anticipation of the captain getting an extension. It's possible he is left unsigned, and unprotected, with a deal lined up to re-sign with Colorado afterwards. That would open up another forward protection slot in either scenario, but may be too risky of a proposition.
If Johnson doesn't waive his NMC, then things will get really murky. Along with him, Sam Girardi, Cale Makar and Devon Toews would all need to be protected as well, forcing the Avs into going the eight skater route and leaving Seattle to choose from any of the forwards mentioned above, or Graves.
There are a lot of factors at play with the Oilers.
First is Oscar Klefbom, who has not played a game this season due to a chronic shoulder injury that required surgery. Klefbom would have been an auto-protect before, but now there is at least some question about his long-term health and career viability. If he can play, he's a top-pair defenceman in Edmonton, so is exposing him a risk they can take?