NHL teams wisely using free agency to protect more players in Seattle Kraken expansion draft

This summer there are a number of key players hitting unrestricted free agency. Usually, teams will sign said players prior to the trade deadline to not risk losing them or getting into a bidding war on the open market. That was the case with Chris Kreider and the New York Rangers last season.

Yet here we are with players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, and Dougie Hamilton all heading towards Free Agent Frenzy. But are they really going to get there? The answer is likely no.

NHL teams wisely using Seattle expansion rules in their favor

Before we go any further, let’s quickly recap the rules and why they are pertinent here.

NHL teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goalie, under the following conditions:

  • All players with no-movement clauses at the time of the draft, and who decline to waive those clauses, must be protected and will be counted toward their team’s applicable protection limits.
  • All first- and second-year NHL players, and all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward protection limits.

Exposed players must meet these minimum requirements:

  • One defenseman who is a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played in at least 40 NHL games the prior season or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons.
  • Two forwards who are a) under contract in 2021-22 and b) played at least 40 NHL games the prior season or played in at least 70 NHL games in the prior two seasons.
  • One goalie who is under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent at the end of his current contract immediately before 2021-22. If a team elects to make a restricted free agent goalie available to meet this requirement, that goalie must have received his qualifying offer before the submission of the team’s protected list.

The key term to focus on is “under contract”. Considering the expansion draft is set for July 21st and the free agent period does not start until July 28th, that gives teams seven whole days to lock up their UFAs.

Top UFAs likely to sign with their current team

Bruins expansion draft
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – APRIL 15: Taylor Hall #71 of the Boston Bruins celebrates with Jeremy Lauzon #55 and Patrice Bergeron #37 after scoring a goal against the New York Islanders during the third period at TD Garden on April 15, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Islanders 4-1. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

So which team’s are using the exposure requirements to their advantage? There’s plenty to chose from but here are the standouts.

Boston Bruins: Taylor Hall, Tuukka Rask, and David Krejci are three players the Bruins are likely to sign after expansion. Krejci would need to agree to considerably less, but he’s 50/50 to hit the open market. By not doing a sign and trade at the deadline with Hall, Boston can still protect Jake DeBrusk.

Carolina Hurricanes: We’ve already basically been told that Dougie Hamilton’s next contract was not an issue, but why wait? Well protecting an extra defenseman knowing you have Hamilton in the bag is why. They can now protect Jake Bean or Brady Skjei with Bean being the likely keeper here.

Colorado Avalanche: One big name stands out here, Gabriel Landeskog. However they also have Brandon Saad and Phillip Grubauer heading towards free agency. Joe Sakic is likely to resign all three come post expansion draft. Let’s face it, signing Grubauer now means they need to protect him and risk losing Pavel Francouz. Not signing Landeskog and Saad also lets them protect Joonas Donskoi and Valeri Nichushkin.

Edmonton Oilers: Names like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, and Tyson Barrie all standout. Some were shocked that Ken Holland didn’t try to move at least one before the deadline, but expansion played a role in the decision. While I think there’s a chance for anyone of them to test the open market, this certainly allows Edmonton the ability to protect more players.

Washinton Capitals: All season long people keep asking about when Alex Ovechkin will sign his next contract. It will likely be on July 22nd. There was no advantage to signing him before that with expansion looming. It also allowed them go out and acquire Anthony Mantha with term on his contract without worry about the ability to protect him.

While there’s plenty of other examples, these five teams stood out the most when looking at the list. Plenty of experts talked about how the expansion draft was going to play a role at the trade deadline, but not many discussed it when it came to extending UFA’s before then.