Biggest surprise of Seattle expansion draft? No trades
The Seattle Kraken have finally taken physical form. The NHL officially embraced its 32nd franchise with a welcome party Wednesday, as the Seattle expansion draft was held on the waterfront at Gas Works Park. Thirty of the league’s teams provided a housewarming gift in the form of a “free” player for the inaugural Kraken roster, and now the team is more than just laundry and a logo.
The big takeaway from the expansion draft is that the Kraken passed on a lot of good players as they put together the initial foundation of their roster. That’s not to say that Seattle didn’t land any good players through expansion – there are certainly some notable names – but it seems as though general manager Ron Francis didn’t necessarily view the draft as the main channel of roster building and stockpiling talent.
Instead, Francis’ draft strategy seems to indicate that flexibility was the main priority. Not only did the Kraken seemingly target lineup versatility in players, Francis also made sure he had plenty of financial wiggle room. Seattle was very careful about making big commitments, both in salary and in term. The Kraken just barely exceeded the salary cap floor required via the draft, and they only have five skaters with more than two seasons remaining on their contract.
That means Seattle has more than $27 million in cap space and a lot of trade flexibility to work with as it looks to continue building out the roster. It seems the team has got plenty of surprises still up its sleeve.
But, for now, let’s highlight some of the biggest surprises from the expansion draft itself.
No pre-draft trades
Given that all of Wednesday’s draft selections were leaked well ahead of the actual draft show, we were left rooting for the announcement of side deals to inject a little excitement and suspense into the expansion draft experience. Incredibly, we got none. Zero pre-draft trades!
That was stunning considering how busy teams were around the Vegas expansion draft in 2017. Several clubs sent compensation to the Golden Knights in order to persuade them to draft (or not draft) a specific player, and Vegas was immediately able to leverage its way into a nice stockpile of additional assets on top of the players they drafted. That wasn’t the case with the Kraken, as they made zero trades and acquired zero additional assets on top of the 30 players that were officially selected.
It’s a near certainty that the Kraken will be utilizing their draft selections to make some trades in the days ahead, but it’s pretty incredible that they didn’t reach one agreement ahead of the draft. Perhaps that’s a sign of general managers around the league learning their lesson and not overthinking the process. Or perhaps it’s a sign that Francis & Co. overplayed their hand and asked for too much as they tried to take advantage of desperate teams.
In any case, the lack of action was pretty shocking, especially considering some of the players that were selected by Seattle. As we’ll get to here in a bit, some of the draft choices were curious and difficult to justify without the element of added compensation in the mix.
Seattle takes Geekie over Bean and Neiderreiter
When it came time to fill out my mock draft earlier this week, the selection from the Hurricanes gave me some trouble. I thought the two most obvious choices were veteran forward Nino Neiderreiter and young defenseman Jake Bean, or pending free agent Dougie Hamilton (if Seattle could have negotiated a contract with him). Ultimately, I went with Neiderreiter because offensive playmakers with palatable contracts were harder to come by in this available player pool.
However, the Kraken decided to pass on Neiderreiter, Bean and Hamilton. Instead, they chose Morgan Geekie – a 22-year-old depth forward who, with a limited sample of NHL experience, hasn’t really knocked anyone’s socks off. In 38 career NHL games, Geekie has six goals and 13 points while averaging fourth-line minutes.
Neiderreiter could have brought a more immediate offensive presence and Bean seemingly has the higher ceiling as a prospect, but it’s safe to say that Francis likes something he sees in Geekie, as this is the second time he’s drafted him. He also picked Geekie in the third round of the 2017 NHL Draft while managing the Hurricanes.
Max Domi goes unpicked
I thought that the expansion draft might offer an opportunity for another fresh start for Max Domi. His first season under John Tortorella was predictably frustrating and he’s recovering from shoulder surgery that will keep him out until around December. But he’s an offensively gifted player who plays with an edge – making him a valuable commodity in today’s NHL, especially for a team looking to establish identity. Plus, with one year remaining on his current deal, it was a relatively low risk play.
If they weren’t going to pick Domi, surely it would be because they went for defenseman Dean Kukan instead, right? Nope.
Equally as surprising as the Kraken’s decision to pass on Domi was the player they chose instead. They selected defenseman Gavin Bayreuther, a 27-year-old pending free agent with 28 career games of NHL experience. Admittedly, I don’t know much about him and there’s a good chance neither do you.
It’s hard to figure out why this was the pick, especially with no pre-draft side deal. I know Seattle has to fill out the roster with depth players and not every pick is going to be a swing for the fences but this one stumped me. Taking a shot on Domi, even just to try to flip him at next year’s deadline, seemed like it would have been the smart asset management play over a replacement-level guy they could have snagged in free agency anyway.
Macklemore looks like this now
John Quenneville picked from Chicago
Quenneville didn't appear in a single game for the Blackhawks last season and he had two points in 16 AHL games. He’s 25 and was headed toward free agency next week. Assuming the Kraken passed on RFA defenseman Nikita Zadorov because of the price tag he’s seeking, couldn’t Francis have taken someone like Calvin de Haan and flipped him for more than the value of Quenneville?
Mark Giordano shows up at the expansion draft
It certainly wasn’t any big surprise that Seattle plucked Giordano from the Flames – that was one of the draft’s bigger slam dunks. No, the surprise came when Giordano showed up in Seattle and was trotted out on the stage wearing the Kraken jersey.
That tends to be standard procedure for some of the bigger names in these expansion drafts, but it was somewhat eyebrow-raising in Giordano’s case because his name was attached to trade rumors in the hours leading up to the draft. A report suggested the Kraken could select Giordano and then flip him to the New York Rangers in a deal involving Ryan Strome, which would have created an interesting wrinkle in the expansion proceedings.
When you think about it, Seattle flipping Giordano would make a good amount of sense. He’s a 37-year-old veteran with one year remaining on his contract and he likely wants to play for a contender as he chases his first Stanley Cup. We have no idea how competitive the Kraken will be in their inaugural season, and a Giordano trade would likely fetch the club a decent haul as they try to build a sustainable roster – especially if they retained money.
I suppose it’s still possible that Seattle could flip Giordano once the league’s trade freeze is lifted Thursday – the Kraken reportedly have some post-draft deals in the works – but the moment Giordano took the stage wearing the Kraken jersey it seemed exponentially less likely that any such trade would take place. It’s pretty bad optics to invite a player to your welcome party, send him out on stage to drum up excitement and talk about the future of the club only to then immediately turn around and trade him to another team.
Kurtis MacDermid picked from the Kings
Taking Jonathan Quick was probably the most questionable thing the Kraken could have done with the Kings’ expansion list. Taking Kurtis MacDermid may have been the second-most questionable.
If you’d told me Seattle was going to take a defenseman from Los Angeles, I would have assumed it was Kale Clague, the young prospect who has shown flashes of offensive skill in his development stages. Instead, the Kraken were compelled to take MacDermid, a 27-year-old depth defenseman who ranked among the league’s worst blue liners last season. MacDermid’s 35.9 percent expected goal rate was dead last among players who logged at least 200 minutes.
He’s a big body (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) but there’s not a lot to suggest he’s going to offer Seattle much value beyond that on the back end. The Kings had a pretty weak list of exposed players and they still managed to get off easy.
Both Voracek and van Riemsdyk stay in Philly (for now)
One of the most intriguing questions heading into Wednesday was whether Jakub Voracek, James van Riemsdyk or Shane Gostisbehere would go to the Kraken. The answer ended up being “none of the above.”
Philadelphia reportedly tried to entice Seattle into taking Voracek’s deal ($8.25 million for three more years) off its hands, but the Kraken didn’t bite. Seattle also apparently felt that the JVR wasn’t worth his remaining deal (two years at $7 million) and that Gostisbehere didn’t fit the bill either. So, they instead took ... Carsen Twarynski?
If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because Twarynski, 23, has only played 22 NHL games and has just one point.
Philly was one of the most active teams in the lead-up to the expansion draft and its unprotected list offered a few big-time impact players but the Kraken called an audible and avoided all the high-profile names. As such, the Flyers don’t get the easy cap relief that they were hoping for and may now have to look to sell one of those pieces via the trade market.