2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft

The 2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft is coming soon. Even though the playoffs are still going on, most teams will be starting to focus on the offseason as we get further into June. The Seattle Kraken will start their inaugural year in 2021-22, and with that comes the expansion draft. There are plenty of opportunities for this Seattle team and the draft, which will take place on July 21st, is sure to be thrilling. While it will be hard to replicate the success of the Vegas Golden Knights (who are exempt from this draft), fans should be excited regardless. Each day, Last Word on Hockey will go through a team and preview all the possible protection, exposure, and trade scenarios. Today, we take a look at the Tampa Bay Lightning preview for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.

2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft

The Outlook

After Tampa circumvented the salary cap to create the NHL’s equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters, the rest of the league will feel that the Seattle expansion is where they will get their comeuppance. That said, the draft was always going to be tougher on the league’s best teams. Now, in the lead-up, Bolt’s general manager Julien Brisebois has the unenviable decision between exposing either a very good defenceman or a surefire top-six forward.

In reality, though, Tampa needs a chunky transaction to happen. After all, they are already 5 million dollars over the flat salary cap for next season with just 19 players signed. Something will have to give before then; there might even be multiple exits to clear space for future deals.

On the plus side, it’s not as though the Kraken’s pick is going to bury them. This team has top-end talent coming out of the wazoo. Remember the Lightning let Carter Verhaeghe and Kevin Shattenkirk walk in 2020’s free agency and they’ve still stormed their way to a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final. Although this doesn’t change the fact that the pick will be a prominent member of the team’s recent dominance.

Protection List: Forwards

Nikita Kucherov (NMC), Steven Stamkos (NMC), Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli

Whether it’s the 8-1 or 7-3-1 protection route, the forward pecking order is fairly clear, making this list rather predictable. In the likeliest scenario, Tampa protects their four best defencemen and bites the bullet on offence.

Special Teams Focus

Leaving four forwards to pick from, the Lightning will prioritize their special teams’ weapons. Of course, Kucherov and Stamkos have no-movement clauses fixed to their contracts but the team would protect them regardless. Over the last two seasons, Steven Stamkos has finished first in goals per 60 on the powerplay during the regular season; he is third in the same metric in the postseason.

What’s true about scorers is that they’re only as good as their service. In that respect, Nikita Kucherov has provided the perfect complement to Stamkos’ wicked shooting ability. The 28-year-old playmaker is ranked first in the league in primary assists per 60 on the powerplay during the last two playoff runs.

Cirelli, meanwhile, has logged the most forward minutes on the penalty kill during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In that span, the Lightning has killed 48 of 58 penalties (82.8 percent). This is even more impressive when you consider they had to play an offensively stacked Florida Panthers team followed by the second-best regular-season powerplay in the Carolina Hurricanes in the Second Round.

What’s more, Tampa takes a lot of penalties in the regular season; they’ve been in the top-three for most powerplays conceded for three consecutive seasons now. Naturally, the focus should be to limit those opportunities going forward but it also makes Anthony Cirelli indispensable as the best forward penalty killer currently under contract.

Rounding off the list is Brayden Point. He is arguably a top-five centre in the league and has just ripped off a nine-game scoring streak in the postseason. Yeah, he’s staying in Tampa.

Protection List: Defencemen and Goalie

Victor Hedman (NMC), Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak and Andrei Vasilevskiy

The Lightning’s left side is arguably the strongest in the entire league. Despite the down year, Victor Hedman remains one of the most exciting defencemen to watch. His fearlessness to jump up on the rush and quarterback the cycle is unparalleled. Elsewhere, Mikhail Sergachev is primed for a number one role in the future. He’s an impressive defenceman and at only 23 years old, will be a fixture of Tampa’s backend for years to come.

Erik Cernak is another young option Tampa will surely lock up. He has emerged as Tampa’s balance on the right side. Top corner redirects aside, he looks good in a shutdown role moving forward. His physicality and strength are becoming more apparent as he dominates on the penalty kill.

Meanwhile, Ryan McDonagh proves the most interesting case on this list. He’s been the shutdown guy for years and is still showcasing top-quality play into his early thirties. However, his lengthy contract will eventually start to cause roadblocks. And while he has been instrumental in Tampa’s current playoff run, he’s on the wrong side of the bell curve at this stage of his career.

In spite of all that, he still provides Tampa’s best chance to continue winning championships. With four top-end defencemen locked up and safe from expansion, the Bolts mightn’t miss a beat next year.

Goaltending

Andrei Vasilevskiy is undoubtedly the best goaltender in the world right now. According to MoneyPuck, he has saved 26.4 goals above expected (GSAx) during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The next closest goaltender? Carey Price with 9.9. That is simply insane.

However, if that stat alone isn’t enough, he also finished second in the same metric (18.2) during the 2020-21 regular season, behind only Connor Hellebuyck (19.3). Lastly, during Tampa Bay’s Stanley-Cup-winning run in 2019-20, the Russian netminder’s GSAx was almost double his next closest performer.

Left Exposed

With the defensive core locked up, Tampa must face exposing a whole host of offensive talent. Kraken general manager Ron Francis will surely resemble a kid in a candy store with Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn and Yanni Gourde all there for the taking.

Killorn and Palat are extremely attractive options because of their versatility. Both play a 200-foot game and are quality options in any situation. Deciding between the two may come down to the fact that Killorn is under contract for the next two seasons (as opposed to just one for Palat) and is also slightly cheaper against the cap.

Alternatively, Gourde is a big identity guy and would become an instant fan-favourite in the Pacific Southwest. He is a forechecking assailant who plays in the tough areas on the ice and scores plenty of goals too. Honestly, Tampa would probably suffer the most from his departure.

Exposed on the Backend

Callan Foote is another interesting pick-up option for the Kraken. After David Savard joined the team at the deadline, Foote fell down the pecking order. But, at only 22 years old, Seattle would have plenty to work with. Currently, the Lightning have him as a depth option after he proved ill-disciplined in his most recent stint with the team. The right-shot defenseman ranks third on the Lightning in penalty minutes per 60.

In net, the Lightning exposes Syracuse Crunch number one, Spencer Martin but this will be of little interest to the Kraken. Florida, Arizona, Columbus and Dallas (to name a few) all have juicier goaltending options for Seattle to pick from.

Alternate Options

Opting for the 8-1 protection scheme proved a difficult decision but ultimately, it is easier to replace a good forward over a good defenceman. However, if we were to indulge the 7-3-1 route, Tampa could protect Yanni Gourde, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn in addition to the original four forwards mentioned above.

In that case, Ryan McDonagh would be exposed and ultimately selected by the Kraken. His 6.75 million dollar AAV through 2025-26 plus his age (32) puts him on the outside looking in if Tampa can only protect three defencemen.

Conversely, Brisebois could pursue a side-deal with Ron Francis in order to employ the 7-3-1 while simultaneously preventing¬† McDonagh’s selection. Although, this will cost draft capital and probably a player sweetener anyway. As a result, the Bolts are safer employing the 8-1 route and losing only one piece in the process.

Going Forward

Julien Brisebois will not escape this draft unscathed and will likely have to shift more cap space even after the Kraken have stolen a player. Ultimately, the expansion draft is a necessary evil for a team that needs to shed salary. Mind you, Tampa’s depth is so great that even with the subtractions, they’ll probably be labelled as favourites for the cup again anyway.

*All stats sourced from Natural Stat Trick, unless otherwise stated. Cap data provided by CapFriendly.

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