While nothing has been made completely official as of yet, it looks like the NHL is heading to Seattle.
Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed as much late last year, announcing that the NHL is open to a bid from American businessman David Bonderman and film producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The expansion fee is set at $650 million—up from the $500 million paid by Vegas—and will be processed once Key Arena is on track for its renovations. A $10M down payment was made in February.
So, with the NHL getting a new team as soon as 2019-20 (and most certainly by 2020-21), it’s not too early to prognosticate who might end up on that inaugural Seattle NHL team. Bettman has already announced that the franchise will get the same expansion draft rules afforded to the Golden Knights last June (see them here), so needless to say the Seattle expansion squad will have the opportunity to succeed.
The toughest thing for the Seattle team to do will be managing expectations. With the Vegas Golden Knights terrorizing the NHL in its inaugural season, what are the expectations going to be like for fans of the new Seattle team? It will be interesting to watch.
Today’s list identifies 15 players who are under contract (or pending RFAs) for the 2019-20 season and are likely possibilities to get plucked in the looming expansion draft. Without any spoilers, by the looks of it, Seattle could have a deep team as well, if they play their cards right.
15 Matthew Benning
Much thanks to GM Peter Chiarelli’s proclivity to hand out no-move and no-trade clauses like candy, the Oilers are likely to lose a decent player in expansion. If Matt Benning takes a few steps forward in his development, I could see him being the Oiler that the Seattle franchise grabs for their roster.
The Knights picked a lot of D, and it’s likely that Seattle will go a similar route.
The reason the Oilers hands are tied here is because of two NMC contracts on the back-end, both inked by Chiarelli. Andrej Sekera and Kris Russell will have to be protected in the expansion draft, meaning at least one of (likely two of) Adam Larsson, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, and Matt Benning will be left exposed.
14 David Savard
The Columbus Blue Jackets have a plethora of young forwards who will require expansion protection once it comes time for Seattle to make their picks. With that in mind, I think it’s safe to assume that CBJ will be going with seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie for their protection list (the 7-3-1 route), meaning that David Savard will likely be available to Seattle.
Savard will be considered a veteran by the time Seattle picks their roster, and it’s important to have some experience on your back end.
Savard’s contract pays him $4.25M per season and carries him through the 2020-21 season, so he’d be a good option for Seattle regardless of when they get their team. It’s possible that Savard will even wear a letter for Seattle when the time comes.
13 Jean-Gabrielle Pageau
Jean-Gabriel Pageau has the reputation of coming up BIG in the playoffs. He of course had the big four-goal game against the Rangers in Game 2 of the 2nd round last season, and that was in fact the second postseason hat trick of his career. Pageau’s heroics earned himself a decent extension with the Sens this past offseason, inking a three-year deal with an AAV of $3.1M.
Pageau will be a low-risk pick should Seattle choose to nab him from Ottawa.
He will be heading into the final year of his contract, and has been a reliable third-line player for the Sens over the past four seasons or so, and perhaps is one of few Sens players who hasn’t disappointed his team over that span.
12 Brian Dumoulin
The hockey world started to notice Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin during their first 2016 Stanley Cup run. Dumoulin played a key depth role on the blue line that postseason, and he followed it up with another stellar effort for the 2017 Stanley Cup.
While Cup winners automatically have higher value in the NHL, it will be tough for the Pens to protect Dumoulin.
It’s possible that Dumoulin’s development surpasses Olli Maatta’s, prompting GM Jim Rutherford and co. to use a protection on the elder Dumoulin (26 years old), but Maatta is just 23 today and could improve as a player yet. Dumoulin is currently under contract through 2022-23 for the Penguins with a $4.1M cap hit, so he’d be a longer term pickup for Seattle.
11 Tomas Tatar
Looking at the Detroit Red Wings Cap Friendly home page can be stressful for Wings fans. Today, they have nine contracts with some sort of NMC or NTC, and four of those will still be on the books for the for 2020-21 (six for 2019-20). As such, the Wings will likely be asking some players to waive their no-trade or no-move clauses for the expansion draft.
Tomas Tatar is one of the few key players who doesn’t have a NTC or a NMC attached to his contract, and as such I see him as possibly Seattle bound.
Of course there’s no telling how GM Ken Holland will navigate these no-trade clauses when it comes time, but he’s got his work cut out for him. Tatar’s contract comes with a $5.3M cap hit and expires at the end of 2020-21, so he’d be an expensive-but-short-term option for the new franchise.
10 Zach Hyman
While Toronto will certainly try to fix its back end prior to the upcoming expansion draft either two or three years away, I still feel pretty safe in assuming they’re going to go the 7-3-1 route. They have too much quality depth in their group of forwards, so they will most certainly need all the protection slots they can get.
Although Zach Hyman is a fan favorite at times in Toronto, I could see him being tough to protect for the Seattle expansion draft.
If the draft goes in 2019-20, they will have to use one of their slots to protect Patrick Marleau, and if the draft waits until 2020-21, they’ll still have forwards Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Connor Brown, Nazem Kadri, Nikita Soshnikov, Josh Leivo, and Kasperi Kapanen to consider.
9 Melker Karlsson
Looking at San Jose’s roster, I see it as likely that the club elects to protect at least four defensemen for Seattle’s expansion draft. Depending on when the expansion draft happens, they could have all of Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun, and Brenden Dillon to protect.
With that in mind, forward Melker Karlsson is perhaps going to be left unprotected by the Sharks, so he could very well be Seattle bound.
What’s interesting about the Sharks is that they don’t even have a single forward under contract beyond the 2019-20 season, so if expansion waits for 2020, there’s really no telling what the Sharks roster could look like. Heck, in the unlikely possibility Aaron Dell is still around, the Seattle team could take a chance with the 28-year-old late-blooming goaltender.
8 Mark Pysyk
Vegas recognized that it’s important to have incredible depth throughout the roster, especially on the back end. I think it’s safe to say that, judging by how successful Vegas has been thus far, Seattle will try to emulate their expansion draft strategy.
Unless Florida does something crazy again and protects five defensemen (when you look at their forward depth, that was a nutty decision), Mark Pysyk will be available to the expansion franchise.
Pysyk will be nearing 30 years old when it comes time for Seattle to assemble its team, and he wouldn’t be expected to play a major role on a long term basis on the team. Pysyk would probably be a good pick-up based on the fact that the young franchise could flip him at the trade deadline in their inaugural season—although Vegas had planned that as well, but the team actually being good has really thrown a wrench into their plan.
7 David Schlemko
With defensemen Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, and Karl Alzner all under contract through at least 2020-21, it’s tough to imagine GM Marc Begrevin (or whoever may be at the helm when the time comes) will be able to use a protection slot on David Schlemko. Even if they decide to go with the “any eight skaters” route over the 7-3-1 option, you have to think Victor Mete is still above Schlemko.
Schlemko will of course be well into his 30s and probably about ready to sign his last NHL contract by the time he possibly ends up in Seattle, but the expansion franchise will need some experience on the back end.
The Golden Knights have guys playing that role, notably Deryk Engelland, who has taken on a big leadership role in his off-season home town and has already signed a one-year extension.
6 Ryan Spooner
The Bruins are probably the hottest team in the NHL right now, as they seem basically unstoppable in the second half. One of the reasons they’re playing so well is their incredible forward depth, so they will almost surely go the 7-3-1 route. They’re still likely to lose a quality forward to Seattle, as they have David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and David Backes under contract through at least 2020-21.
Add in rookies Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen, and you’re already at your maximum allowable seven protected forwards. Even if they somehow make the room between now and then, you have to think that forward Frank Vatrano is also ahead of Spooner in the protection pecking order. Yep, I think it’s safe to say that Spooner will be of interest to Seattle’s NHL team.
5 Travis Hamonic
It’s still early, but Calgary might have some tough decisions to make when it comes time for Seattle to select its team. GM Brad Treliving has done a pretty great job of stocking the cupboard in Calgary, especially on the back end. That said, a handful of young forwards coming up through the system will require protection.
The Flames may only have room for three defensemen on their protection list, and that likely leaves out newcomer Travis Hamonic.
This scenario would also leave Michael Stone exposed for Seattle, but Hamonic could step into a top-pairing role on an expansion team, whereas I don’t see Stone progressing to that status at any time in his career, really. Hamonic has been a slight disappointment in his first season in Calgary, but perhaps he bounces back next season and garners more protection consideration ahead of the looming expansion draft.
4 Jonas Brodin
The Minnesota Wild are another deep squad, both up front and on defense. Much like their predicament faced when it came time for Vegas to select its team, they are likely to lose a pretty decent player when Seattle’s at the podium.
Assuming they go with the 7-3-1 formula this time around, I could see it being Jonas Brodin being destined for Seattle.
This would be a huge pickup for Seattle, as Brodin is a second-pairing defenseman in Minnesota, and could very easily play the top pair on an expansion team that is more by-committee. Matt Dumba will likely get the third and final protection spot on D, but if Brodin can convince management between now and then that he’s the superior option, perhaps it’s Dumba who will be headed to Emerald City.
3 Patrick Eaves
This of course assumes that Patrick Eaves recovers from Guillain-Barre syndrome, the peripheral nervous system condition that has left him sidelined for almost the entirety of the 2017-18 season. Assuming he does, he could be a prime candidate for Seattle duty.
It’s well-documented that the Ducks have a wealth of talent on the back end, and many of them will require protection at the next expansion draft.
Eaves was very solid for Anaheim during the stretch drive last season, earning the three-year extension he signed back in June. The one thing that could stop this (aside from Eaves’ health issues) is his age; he will be at least 35-years-old when Seattle picks its team, so perhaps they’ll be looking for longer-term options from the Ducks roster.
2 Sam Gagner
Sam Gagner’s career has been a roller coaster, and there doesn’t seem to be an end to that theme on the horizon. After arguably his best NHL season with the Blue Jackets in 2016-17, he’s fallen back to whipping boy status in Vancouver once again. Assuming he’s still a member of the Canucks when Seattle selects its team, I could easily see Gags heading a few hours south of his current home in Vancouver.
Vegas took a chance on a few reclamation projects that have really worked out well for them, and Seattle will have the opportunity to do that with Gagner should they go with the veteran from the Canucks. It would be ridiculous to expect things to go as well in Seattle as they have in Vegas, but emulating the Vegas strategy certainly seems like a smart bet for the incoming franchise.
1 Kevin Fiala
Deep teams are always in the most trouble when the NHL expands, and the Nashville Predators are an incredibly deep squad. They clearly plan on contending for a Stanley Cup every season between now and at least Seattle’s expansion year, so they will likely remain stacked on their roster by the time Seattle picks its team.
Considering their depth as well as the fact that they protected four D at the Vegas expansion draft (losing James Neal in the process), the Preds are set to lose another quality forward to Seattle.
My best guess here is Kevin Fiala, who is set to hit RFA status the earliest possible year that Seattle enters the NHL. Granted Fiala doesn’t seriously breakout in the coming years, it’s likely the Preds will simply be unable to protect him—and some other quality forwards.