On Sunday morning, the NHL released protected lists from the 30 eligible NHL teams regarding the Seattle Kraken expansion draft (reminder: Vegas is exempt and will not have a player plucked from its roster). And while those protected have certainly been strategized over, the unprotected players bring their own sense of planning and intrigue. Here’s some of the surprises and eyebrow-raising names left unprotected by their teams ahead of Wednesday night’s expansion draft.
CAREY PRICE, GOALTENDER, MONTREAL CANADIENS
The big news trending all over social media Saturday was the report that Montreal netminder Carey Price would not be protected by the Canadiens. Instead, the Habs would protect Jake Allen in hopes that the Kraken wouldn’t pull the trigger on the 33-year-old Price’s substantial $10.5 million per year contract (plus $11 million signing bonus due in September). Why else would you leave last season’s Campbell trophy winning goalie available?
Come Sunday, Allen was indeed protected by the Habs and Price was not. Price also waived his no-move clause (NMC) so that he could be exposed in the draft, leaving Seattle with the sole option to select Price to keep him and not flip him without his consent. It’s one of the most fascinating storylines to pop up this weekend, and the tie-in to Price’s former WHL team out in eastern Washington would of course be front and center should he actually get selected (also, just for kicks, please don’t forget that this photo exists).
VLADIMIR TARASENKO, RIGHT WINGER, ST. LOUIS BLUES
Another notable name coming out of the unprotected lists this weekend was that of Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko. The 29-year-old alternate captain for St. Louis was already in the news cycle earlier this month for reportedly requesting a trade from the Blues, with a list of desired destinations popping up this last week. St. Louis then officially left Tarasenko and his $7.5 million per year contract exposed as the Blues dropped their protected list.
It’s another case of a team trying to call Seattle’s bluff, believing the Kraken won’t take on such a sizable contract and instead possibly opting for signing UFA forwards like Jayden Swartz or Mike Hoffman. This, however, is more of a head-scratcher than Price’s situation. Why not try to deal Tarasenko before the transaction freeze went into effect, a la Colorado sending Ryan Graves to New Jersey? You’d think the Blues would want a return for Tarasenko if he desired a trade. Perhaps St. Louis can swing a deal with the Kraken if and when the time comes for the Russian winger to pack up and head to the Pacific Northwest.
GABRIEL LANDESKOG, FORWARD, COLORADO AVALANCHE
Speaking of the Avalanche, captain Gabriel Landeskog did not make the list of protected Avs forwards come Sunday. Landeskog’s name has drawn some unexpected drama this offseason, with Colorado and the Swede reportedly “very far apart” regarding negotiations on a new contract. His seven-year, $39 million deal signed in August 2013 ranked as one of the more favorable contracts in the league in regards to talent, now with $9-$10 per season being floated as a desired amount for the 28-year-old winger.
Even with all the conjecture and supposed posturing, Landeskog left unprotected doesn’t mean the Avs believe he’s a lost cause. Again, there’s strategy in both the protected list AND the unprotected players, balancing out the projected contract amount for a high-end UFA and Seattle’s requirement to choose a minimum of 20 players under contract for next season. Defenseman Erik Johnson waiving his NMC and the availability of both Joonas Donskoi & J.T. Compher shifts the narrative away from Landeskog as Seattle’s choice from Colorado.
Also, remember when Joe Sakic signed a three-year, $21 million offer sheet with the New York Rangers back in 1997? Pepperidge Farm remembers.
MATT DUCHENE, FORWARD, NASHVILLE PREDATORS
We now jump over to a former Avalanche skater in 30-year-old Matt Duchene, who has been on four teams in four seasons since first being dealt by Colorado in 2017. His $8 million per year contract for the next five (!) seasons is certainly concerning for Seattle to pick up. Nashville also left forward Ryan Johansen exposed, unorthodoxly protecting three forwards and five defensemen as one of three teams opting for the eight skaters and one goaltender option for their protected list.
Nashville made some savvy moves ahead of Saturday afternoon’s roster freeze, dealing Viktor Arvidsson to the Los Angeles Kings for two draft picks on July 1 while shipping Ryan Ellis and his $6.25 million a year contract to the Philadelphia Flyers on July 17 for essentially Phillipe Myers and Cody Glass. Leaving the big money contracts of Duchene and Johanson available for the Kraken to choose over prospects like Alexandre Carrier and Tanner Jennot seems like a great move, especially after Duchene’s slump last season of just six goals and seven assists in 34 games played.
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MAX DOMI, CENTER, COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Columbus exposing a young centerman in an expansion draft? Hmm, a familiar scenario that didn’t work out so well for the Blue Jackets four years ago. In all fairness, a 26-year-old Max Domi, who has suited up for three different teams over the past six seasons, seems to be a more known commodity than William Karlsson was when he was left unprotected by CBJ in 2017. So, why leave the fourth-highest point scorer on your team last season free for Seattle’s taking?
It’s a little surprising that Columbus has exposed the left-handed winger after sending Josh Anderson and his signing rights to Montreal for Domi in October 2020. Again, money comes into play, with Domi set to make $5.3 million in 2021-22 on the final season of a two-year contract. While nearly $3 million less than some of the higher-end contracts already mentioned on this list, Domi could be a more likely addition to Seattle should the Kraken not want to take on such financial heft. Still, over five million dollars is a big contract, especially for someone rumored to have problems with previous coaches and criticized for sometimes being a loose cannon on the ice (no pun intended).
BEN BISHOP, GOALTENDER, DALLAS STARS
We started with a netminder whose unprotected status was a shocking tidbit this past weekend, and we’ll end it the same way. Dallas goaltender Ben Bishop hit the news rounds on July 15, doing the same as Price did for Montreal in waiving his no-move clause for expansion draft purposes. Multiple reports from Bishop himself stated he wanted to do what’s best for the team.
“The situation I’m in, the situation the team is in, it just made sense,” Bishop stated to NHL.com’s Mike Heika in a recent interview. “It wasn’t a hard decision to make, I know they wanted to protect (Anton Khudobin).”
The 34-year-old goalie, who didn’t play a single game last season and has fought with injuries the past two years, perhaps saw the writing on the wall as well (Khudobin leading the Stars to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020 can qualify, too). His cap hit for both 2021-22 and 2022-23 will be just shy of $5 million a year, and Dallas didn’t have to protect up-and-coming netminder Jake Oettinger (he’s exempt as a second year pro). With Seattle rumored to take current Florida netminder Chris Driedger — and if the Kraken don’t grab 31-year-old Braden Holtby and his $4.3 million contract that expires after 2021-22 — Bishop could very well be wearing an “S” on his chest come next season.