I won't go so far as to suggest they'll follow the impressive lead of the Vegas Golden Knights and make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural year, but I'm already convinced the Seattle Kraken are going to be a competitive bunch right out of the gate — even if they don't yet have a single player on their roster.
That will all change Wednesday as the expansion draft is held in prime time. General manager Ron Francis and his staff have no shortage of tantalizing options at their disposal, including former league MVPs, perennial all stars, future Hall of Famers and top draft choices and prized prospects who have yet to pan out.
Turns out US US$650 million can buy you an instant contender, at least in theory.
Mike McIntyre's KrakenClick to Expand
Van Riemsdyk - Gourde - Bailey
Zucker - McCann - Donskoi
Namestnikov - Jarnkrok - Appleton
Khaira - Tierney - Fischer
Wagner - Gambrell - Blackwell
Giordano - Dunn
Butcher - Zadorov
Dillon - Clifton
Kulak - Fleury
Bean - Honka
A total of 325 players are off-limits, based on being protected by their current clubs, but that leaves more than 650 others ripe for the picking. By the time the dust settles, 30 will have a new hockey home, with every organization except Vegas losing one player. (The US$500 million expansion fee paid by the Golden Knights in 2017 gave them a free pass on this roster raid).
Seattle must select a minimum of 14 forwards, nine defencemen and three goaltenders. As long as 20 of them are under contract for next season and make a combined salary somewhere between US$48.9 million and US$81.5 million, they're good to go.
Expect a few twists and turns in the form of side deals, just as we saw with Vegas four years ago. History shows many of those backfired, with nervous GMs actually making bad situations worse. There's also little chance the Kraken actually hold on to all 30 players they pick. Expect some to be flipped to other teams in the ensuing days in exchange for prospects and draft choices as they attempt to build a farm system on the fly, in addition to creating spots and salary for free agents they may wish to pursue.
Sure, we could wait a bit longer to see how it all shakes out, but what fun would that be? There's no time like the present to peer into the future, so I've dusted off the crystal ball and tried to predict what the NHL's 32nd franchise is going to look like.
ANAHEIM: D Haydn Fleury, 25 (US$1.3 million): Fleury was the seventh-overall pick in the 2014 draft and the second defenceman taken after first-overall pick Aaron Ekblad. All he really needs is an increased opportunity, which he should get in spades with Seattle. Also considered: D Jacob Larsson, F Alexander Volkov.
ARIZONA: F Christian Fischer, 24 (US$1 million): After scoring 15 goals in his rookie season, Fischer seems to have regressed a bit in the desert. Perhaps a change of scenery will benefit the versatile, two-way winger. Also considered: F Tyler Pitlick, F Michael Bunting.
BOSTON: D Connor Clifton, 26 (US$1 million): A team-friendly contract that runs for two more years, the ability to play both sides and a steady, reliable defender makes him the best of the Bruins bunch. Also considered: D Jeremy Lauzon, F Nick Ritchie.
BUFFALO: G Dustin Tokarski, 31 (US$725,000): The pickings are slim from the sad-sack Sabres, so I'll go with the cheap journeyman and pending unrestricted free agent to provide some additional depth in net. Also considered: D Colin Miller, D William Borgen.
CALGARY: D Mark Giordano, 37 (US$6.75 million): Yes, age is a concern, but Calgary's captain, a veteran of 949 career regular-season games, still has some gas left in the tank and just one year left on his contract. He's the perfect guy to bring in for a first-year team to provide a quality combination of on-ice skill and off-ice leadership and intangibles. Also considered: D Oliver Kylington, F Glenn Gawdin.
CAROLINA: D Jake Bean, 23 (RFA): Reunited, and I suspect it will feel pretty good for Francis. He picked Bean 13th overall in the 2016 draft and will likely welcome him with open arms. He's a restricted free agent who made US$833,000 last year, with one goal and 11 assists in 42 games. Also considered: F Nino Niederreiter, F Morgan Geekie.
CHICAGO: D Nikita Zadorov, 26 (RFA): Another former first-rounder (16th overall, 2013) who is a powerful force with his 6-6, 235 pound frame. Not a ton of offence there, with only 83 points (23 goals, 60 assists) in 411 career games. He needs a new deal this summer after making US$3.2 million last year. Also considered: G Malcolm Subban, F Adam Gaudette.
COLORADO: F Joonas Donskoi, 29 (US$3.9 million): Consistent offensive producer (17 goals, 14 assists in 51 games with the Avalanche last year) who will slide right into Seattle's middle-six. He's signed for two more seasons. Also considered: F J.T. Compher, F Vladislav Kamenev.
COLUMBUS: D Gabriel Carlsson, 24 (US$725,000). As tempting as it might be to select Max Domi, I'll go with the big Swede who was the 29th-overall pick in 2015 but has played just 37 NHL games so far. Also considered: F Max Domi, F Kevin Stenlund.
DALLAS: D Julius Honka, 25 (RFA): An intriguing player picked 14th overall in 2014 who has fallen out favour with the Stars, playing most of the past two years overseas. Has all the tools, but needs a new home, in addition to a new contract. Also considered: F Tanner Kero, F Adam Mascherin.
DETROIT: F Vladislav Namestnikov, 28 (US$2 million): Can play all three forward positions and showed huge potential when he put up 44 points (20 goals, 24 assists) in 64 games with Tampa Bay in 2017-18. Also considered: D Troy Stecher, D Christian Djoos.
EDMONTON: F Jujhar Khaira, 26 (RFA): A big, bruising forward who will become an instant fan favourite and add some sandpaper to Seattle. Needs a new deal this summer after making US$1.2 million last year. Also considered: F Tyler Benson, G Alex Stalock.
FLORIDA: G Chris Driedger, 27 (UFA): OK, this one is cheating a bit, since there are reports a contract extension for the pending unrestricted free agent has already been worked out, but the Winnipeg product is the obvious play here, ready to get out from under the (costly) shadow of Sergei Bobrovsky after a breakout campaign in which he went 14-6-3 with a 2.07 goals-against-average and .927 save-percentage. He should provide some instant stability in net. Also considered: F Lucas Wallmark, F Frank Vatrano.
LOS ANGELES: F Austin Wagner, 24 (US$1.133 million): Another banger-and-crasher who can provide some good energy and physicality at an affordable price, with two more years left on his deal. Also considered: F Brendan Lemieux, D Kale Clague.
MINNESOTA: G Kaapo Kahkonen, 24 (US$725,000): Frankly, it's a surprise he's available, with the Wild electing to protect veteran Cam Talbot instead, but their loss will be Seattle's gain. After shining bright in the AHL for two seasons, Kahkonen had a solid NHL rookie campaign last year, going 16-8-0 with a 2.88 GAA and .902 save percentage. Also considered: D Carson Soucy, F Victor Rask.
MONTREAL: D Brett Kulak, 27 (US$1.85 million): Although Seattle is said to be taking a long look at Carey Price, his huge salary and uncertain injury status would scare me away. Kulak is a safe, sensible selection. Also considered: F Jonathan Drouin, D Cale Fleury.
NASHVILLE: F Calle Jarnkrok, 29 (US$2 million): He's a proven scorer and point producer who can play up and down the lineup. Also considered: F Colton Sissons, F Yakov Trenin.
NEW JERSEY: D Will Butcher, 26 (US$3.733 million): Slick puck-mover and power play specialist who will help drive offence from the back-end. Also considered: F Nick Merkley, F Andreas Johnsson.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS: F Josh Bailey, 31 (US$5 million): Had a solid regular-season and terrific playoffs for the Islanders. Signed for three more years. Also considered: F Jordan Eberle, F Kieffer Bellows.
NEW YORK RANGERS: F Colin Blackwell, 28 (US$725,000): He took the longer road to the NHL after four years of college hockey at Harvard and plenty of AHL seasoning, but Blackwell had a breakthrough 2021 season with 12 goals and 10 assists in 47 games. Also considered: F Julien Gauthier, F Ty Ronning.
OTTAWA: F Chris Tierney, 27 (US$3.5 million): Responsible, bottom-six centre who can chip in some offence and will be a UFA after next season. Also considered: F Evgenii Dadonov, G Joey Daccord.
PHILADELPHIA: F James van Riemsdyk, 32 (US$7 million): He doesn't come cheap, with two years left on his deal, but he's a first-line forward who can help fill the net. Also considered: D Shayne Gostisbehere, D Robert Hagg.
PITTSBURGH: F Jason Zucker, 29 (US$5.5 million): A former 30-goal scorer (33 actually, in 2017-18 with Minnesota) who would land in the top six and provide plenty of offence. Also considered: F Brandon Tanev, F Zach Aston-Reese.
SAN JOSE: F Dylan Gambrell, 24 (US$700,000): A homecoming for the Washington state product (Bonney Lake), who could compete for work on the fourth-line. The Sharks don't have a whole lot available, so I'd consider him the best of a sorry lot, with a story that would be easy to sell to local hockey fans. Also considered: F Ryan Donato, F Matt Nieto.
ST. LOUIS: D Vince Dunn, 24 (RFA): As tempting as it will be to select Vladimir Tarasenko, his iffy recent injury history and hefty salary would have me steering clear. That opens the door for Dunn, a heady two-way blue-liner who needs a new contract. Had 20 points (6 goals, 14 assists) in 43 games last year while making US$1.875 million. Also considered: F Vladimir Tarasenko, F Samuel Blais.
TAMPA BAY: F Yanni Gourde, 29 (US$5.166 million): Of all the enticing players available from the cash-strapped Stanley Cup champs, Gourde stands out. He can do it all, from scoring to checking to special teams. He's signed for another four seasons. Also considered: F Alex Killorn, F Ondrej Palat.
TORONTO: F Jared McCann, 25 (US$2.94 million): The 24th-overall pick in the 2014 draft is coming off a career year, with 14 goals and 18 assists in 43 games with Pittsburgh. He's a terrific play-driver and a big body who would fit right into a top six role with Seattle. Also considered: Travis Dermott, F Alexander Kerfoot.
VANCOUVER: G Braden Holtby, 31 (US$4.3 million): I'm not sure there's much game left for the former Stanley Cup champ, but he should settle into a veteran understudy role with Driedger and mentor to Kahkonen for the one year remaining on his deal. Also considered: F Kole Lind, F Jayce Hawryluk.
WASHINGTON: D Brenden Dillon, 30 (US$3.9 million): A big, strong presence on the blue-line who is a penalty killing specialist and will provide a physical element to ensure the Kraken don't get pushed around. Also considered: G Vitek Vanecek, D Justin Schultz.
WINNIPEG: F Mason Appleton, 25 (US$900,000): I know many figure Dylan DeMelo is the popular choice, but I don't see it that way given the number of other quality defencemen available. Appleton is younger (by three years), cheaper (by more than US$2 million) and has considerable upside the Kraken should be excited about. Also considered: D Dylan DeMelo, G Mikhail Berdin.
Add it all up and I selected 15 forwards, 11 defencemen and four goalies. Of those, 24 are under contract for next season, with a combined cap hit of approximately US$65 million. The other six need new deals. In other words, this would be a perfectly legal lineup.
For those wondering why big names such as Alex Ovechkin and Gabe Landeskog aren't on my list, I steered clear of every UFA with the exception of Driedger (given what we already know about a done deal), since Seattle has the same right as every other club to try to sign them in free agency — assuming they don't re-up with their current club — starting next Wednesday without wasting their expansion pick on them.
I have no doubt the above group could hit the ice tomorrow and hold their own on any given night, especially in a weak Pacific Division where only Vegas, and perhaps Edmonton, really stand out. Vancouver, Calgary, Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose are all in various stages of rebuilding right now. And considering a minimum of three (and maximum of five) from the division will make the playoffs, Seattle is poised to make some noise.
Release the Kraken!
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.