It’s been another week in the NHL, and you know what that means. It’s time for another version of the NHL Power Rankings.
First things first, it’s going to be an intense week for sports, in general. March Madness is finally kicking off as the nation prepares to figure out how their brackets will inevitably be busted. NFL free agency begins as teams prepare to pay up to get their team ready for the upcoming season. Needless to say, speculation is going to be running rampant for the next little while.
However, the NHL also has it’s own speculation-laden events coming up. While I’ve talked extensively about the Trade Deadline, there’s one major offseason happening that’s sure to draw attention: the expansion draft. It may be more than six months until the Seattle Kraken (yep, that name is still music to my ears) take the ice for their maiden season, but it will be about half that time when hockey fans in the Pacific Northwest learn who might be donning the Kraken’s dark blue jerseys.
Now, how the Kraken approach the Expansion Draft won’t be discussed here (trust me, I plan to get around to that later), but this is the time to start really looking into who might be up for grabs for Ron Francis, whoever he selects as the team’s first coach, and the rest of the Kraken brass. They’ve been doing their homework for the last year or so now to build their ideal squad, and we’re not too far away from figuring out just who will fill each spot. That’s why for this week’s power rankings, aside from listing how the teams stand, I will also be looking at just who might entice Francis and the Kraken’s mystery coach enough to hear their name called in a few months’ time.
Who might be headed to Seattle to release the Kraken? And where do the 31 teams they’ll be competing against stand compared to last week? Let’s find out.
Disclaimer: These rankings are reflective of games played and statistics recorded on or prior to March 13.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (Even): While Tampa still has a couple of intriguing young players, it is widely expected that the Kraken will chase a side deal for a more expensive veteran. Spokane native Tyler Johnson is the obvious choice, but Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn could draw some interest (maybe Seattle can find a way to get two of these players, a la Panthers in 2017?)
2. Carolina Hurricanes (+4): Now this will be an interesting conundrum for Francis, as many of his former draft picks from his days as Hurricanes GM will be up for grabs. Former first-rounder Jake Bean would be at the top of the shortlist, but Morgan Geekie, Haydn Fleury, and Alex Nedeljkovic are decent alternates if Bean gets protected.
3. Vegas Golden Knights (Even): In exchange for not gaining anything from the Kraken’s expansion fee, the Knights will not have their players be eligible for selection. Knowing this, could Vegas weaponize that fact and use it as leverage against teams preferring to get something out of certain players?
4. Florida Panthers (Even): Plenty of salary dumps to choose from here, from Brett Connolly and Alex Wennberg to Markus Nutivaara and Radko Gudas. If the Kraken are looking for an NHL-caliber veteran on a more manageable salary, Noel Acciari might be worth looking into (trying to land Henrik Borgstrom in the process might be worthwhile, as well.)
5. Toronto Maple Leafs (-3): The Leafs have some intriguing young forwards in their ranks, but their ceilings might not be as high as other targets. I’d expect the Kraken to attack Toronto’s back end, with options like veteran blueliner Justin Holl, young defenseman Travis Dermott, and solid backup goalie Jack Campbell.
6. New York Islanders (+3): The Islanders’ protection list will have some questions to ask towards the bottom: do they keep veterans Josh Bailey and Nick Leddy, cost-effective players Kieffer Bellows and Scott Mayfield, or a combination of the two? Whoever gets the short end of those decisions instantly becomes a target.
7. Washington Capitals (Even): T.J. Oshie would easily be the local choice, but he’ll be 35 before the Kraken finish their first season. There’s far more interesting options in Washington, whether it be a side deal for a veteran defenseman (Justin Schultz, Dmitry Orlov, Brenden Dillon) or a younger player (Vitek Vanecek, Jonas Siegenthaler, Daniel Sprong, Garrett Pilon).
8. Winnipeg Jets (Even): The Jets have a few young players that aren’t getting extended NHL stays, making them easy pickings for the Kraken. Mason Appleton, Jansen Harkins, Logan Stanley, and Sami Niku are all high-upside plays.
9. Boston Bruins (-4): Middle-six stalwarts like Ondrej Kase and Craig Smith would both be side deal options, but would Boston really let recent acquisitions slip away that easily? Young defensemen like Jeremy Lauzon, Connor Clifton, and Jakub Zboril are all more interesting options, as is young netminder Daniel Vladar.
10. Minnesota Wild (+4): Matt Dumba and Kevin Fiala would be prizes for Seattle depending on what approach the Wild take for their protection list, making this a dangerous game for Bill Guerin. If he could convince the Kraken to instead take one of Marcus Foligno, Nico Sturm, or Louis Belpedio, how much would he have to give up to ensure that decision?
11. Edmonton Oilers (+4): The Oilers have one young player at nearly every position that could be of interest to the Kraken. They have a forward in Tyler Benson, defensemen in Caleb Jones and William Lagesson, and even a goaltending option in Stuart Skinner.
12. Pittsburgh Penguins (+5): Jared McCann and Teddy Blueger will both likely be exposed by the Penguins, giving the Kraken a choice of two capable middle-six forwards. Marcus Pettersson could be a side deal option, however, as Ron Hextall tries to clear up cap space.
13. Colorado Avalanche (-1): Regardless of what the Avalanche decide to do with Devon Toews, they are nearly guaranteed to lose a good player. Veterans like Nazem Kadri and Joonas Donskoi could be available, as well as younger options in Tyson Jost, Valeri Nichushkin, and Ryan Graves.
14. St. Louis Blues (-3): If Vince Dunn stays in St. Louis past the Trade Deadline and is exposed to the Kraken, he’d be a great pickup for the organization. After him, though, is a selection of depth forwards like Zach Sanford, Sammy Blais, Oskar Sundqvist, and Ivan Barbashev.
15. Philadelphia Flyers (-5): Side deal opportunities exist in cap dumps from Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk to Justin Braun and Shayne Gostisbehere. Younger players like Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Scott Laughton, however, are more likely to draw Seattle’s interest (throwing intriguing goaltending prospect Felix Sandstrom in a deal is an option.)
16. Chicago Blackhawks (-3): Andrew Shaw and Calvin de Haan are both capable veterans who can play shutdown roles and come with a little extra incentive to select them, while young players in Brandon Hagel and Lucas Carlsson could fight for extended roles in Seattle. If Malcolm Subban keeps putting in good work as Kevin Lankinen’s backup, however…
17. Montreal Canadiens (-1): After two straight years of shining in relief of the likes of Jordan Binnington and Carey Price, Jake Allen has earned the right to fight for a starting job again. If the Kraken don’t see him as a starting goaltender, however, they could go for shutdown forwards Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia, or take a young defenseman such as Cale Fleury or Victor Mete.
18. Los Angeles Kings (Even): Good luck to the Kings if they want to try and push the contracts of Jonathan Quick or even Dustin Brown onto the Kraken. Third-pairing defenseman Matt Roy stands out as a great value choice, but former Seattle Thunderbird Austin Strand and young forwards like Andreas Athanasiou and Matt Luff could make the choice interesting.
19. Arizona Coyotes (+1): Adin Hill seems like the near-unanimous choice for Seattle after multiple seasons of toiling away behind Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta. Whichever energy forward between Tyler Pitlick and Christian Fischer doesn’t get protected could be in play, or the Kraken can go off the beaten path and select an interesting prospect in Brayden Burke.
20. Calgary Flames (-1): Sam Bennett would be the easy choice if he wasn’t a likely trade candidate, and Mark Giordano would only be in play if the Flames added sweeteners and were ready to begin a teardown. Past those two, young players in Glenn Gawdin and Oliver Kylington are the only other ones with any solid intrigue.
21. New York Rangers (+1): If the Kraken want to establish an identity as being tough to play against, Brendan Lemieux would be a nice choice if he’s exposed. Past him, however, lies a trio of high-upside young forwards in Julien Gauthier, Brett Howden, and Tim Gettinger.
22. Columbus Blue Jackets (-1): Slim pickings from the Jackets this time (no William Karlsson deal this time), but what they do have might be worth the time. Eric Robinson, Kevin Stenlund, and Gabriel Carlsson are all starting to carve out roles in the NHL.
23. Dallas Stars (Even): It was once believed that Anton Khudobin would be the pick, but his rough season has thrown that into question. Whoever isn’t protected between Jason Dickinson and Radek Faksa could fill in roles in the middle six, or the Kraken can choose to grab some toughness with Jamie Oleksiak.
24. Vancouver Canucks (+3): Similar to Khudobin, Braden Holtby was another Kraken goalie option that is now doubtful due to a mediocre season. The Canucks would love to make a deal to get Antoine Roussel off their hands, but it’s more likely the Canucks target youngsters like Kole Lind, Brogan Rafferty, and Jalen Chatfield.
25. Nashville Predators (Even): Let’s not beat around the bush: the only way the Predators win the Expansion Draft is to get an awful contract off of their hands. Ryan Johansen would be the best bet if the Preds can convince the Kraken of the possibility of a William Karlsson-esque renaissance, but Matt Duchene and Colton Sissons would also be adequate.
26. San Jose Sharks (Even): A couple of young forwards make the most sense here, with Bonney Lake native Dylan Gambrell and former Seattle Thunderbird Alexander True having ties to the area. After them is another decent prospect in Jonathan Dahlen, or the Kraken could see about a deal to take Radim Simek.
27. New Jersey Devils (-3): A side deal for P.K. Subban might not make much sense on the surface, but the Kraken might bite for an expiring contract on a player who can still be useful and would be the first face of the franchise. There are other options, however, ranging from decent players on manageable contracts (Miles Wood and Will Butcher) to high-upside forwards (Janne Kuokkanen, Nathan Bastian, Yegor Sharangovich).
28. Anaheim Ducks (Even): It may require a sweetener or two, but the Ducks could really use taking Adam Henrique or Josh Manson off the books to get their rebuild started. Young defensemen like Brendan Guhle and Josh Mahura might not find the chances they need here, though, so the Kraken could strike and nab one as a development project.
29. Detroit Red Wings (+1): Not much here in Detroit to look at, but a grinder in Givani Smith would help as far as building an identity and fostering potential in young players. Veteran defenseman Troy Stecher or younger alternative Gustav Lindstrom would also be in the mix.
30. Ottawa Senators (-1): Like the team above them, Ottawa doesn’t have much to bring to the table. Dirt-cheap veterans like Nick Paul and Austin Watson can fill certain roles, while Vitaly Abramov, Christian Wolanin and Joey Daccord represent the closest thing to upside plays you’ll find here.
31. Buffalo Sabres (Even): Colin Miller might be closing in on being the answer to the trivia question “Which NHL player was selected in the Expansion Draft by two different teams?” If the Kraken won’t take a side deal for him, they could land a fourth-line forward like Curtis Lazar or Riley Sheahan, or go for a third goaltender in Jonas Johansson.