Inside the NHL
By all accounts, it was a busy lead-up to Monday’s NHL trade deadline for Kraken general manager Ron Francis despite his team not being allowed to deal.
As mentioned previously, the Kraken won’t officially join the league until finalizing its $650 million franchise fee payments by month’s end.
Unofficially though, Francis has discussed handshake side deals with teams that are considering which players to protect in July’s expansion draft. And it likely impacted Monday’s action, because teams knew that acquiring players with contracts running beyond this season would need to be protected in the draft. And that could lead to teams losing another player to the Kraken they originally had hoped to protect.
“I think GMs are looking at this and they know they’ve got expansion on the horizon, so that is going to be a consideration,” Francis told me after Monday’s noon deadline passed.
It was the quietest deadline day since 2013, with both the Kraken and the $81.5 million flat salary cap likely factoring. There were 17 deals Monday compared with 32 on last year’s deadline day, and 14 of them involved players who’ll be unrestricted free agents this summer.
Most of the 30 or so deals the past week also involved pending free agents.
Such players typically don’t cost as much in a trade because of the limited club control. And if an acquiring team fails to negotiate a contract extension, the pending free agent can be exposed in the draft and count as a yielded pick if the Kraken signs him ahead of time.
Francis estimates he spoke with most general managers in the deadline run-up.
“I think you just have a conversation with the guys and see where they’re at and what they’re thinking,” he said.
The Kraken will pick one player from each of the 30 teams in the expansion draft — Vegas is exempt — and clubs can protect only seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie, or eight skaters overall and a goalie. So teams dealing for players with additional club control beyond this season would likely want to protect them.
And that leaves one protection slot fewer to keep somebody else a team hadn’t planned to expose.
That’s where negotiations with Francis come in.
Let’s say a team trades for a defenseman it wants to protect in the draft and has a young blue-liner it does not want to lose to the Kraken. That team could offer Francis a side deal not to take that player.
Canadian analyst Pierre LeBrun of TSN reported that Francis wanted a future first-round draft pick plus a prospect as the price to steer away from certain players.
If that’s true, it’s no wonder most impact deals involved pending free agents. The cost of doing anything more could have become too pricey with the Kraken looming.
Take Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm, 30, under contract at a cost-effective $3.75 million a year through next season. Many expected him to be traded because the Predators have ample good blue-liners that can’t all be protected in the expansion draft.
LeBrun reported that Nashville’s asking price for Ekholm was a first-round pick, an elite prospect plus an additional player.
After acquiring Ekholm, a team would have to protect him in the expansion draft. So any team not wanting to lose another player whose protection slot went to Ekholm would have to pay Francis the LeBrun-reported rate of a first-rounder and a prospect to keep him away from preferred players. That, combined with the initial trade cost, equates to two first-rounders, plus multiple prospects for one-plus seasons of Ekholm.
Even before the Predators played their way back into playoff contention — making an Ekholm deal less likely — the Kraken-inflated cost for him was becoming prohibitive.
And when it came to deadline-month deals, Ekholm was a non-factor, and pending free agents such as Taylor Hall, Nick Foligno, David Savard and Kyle Palmieri took on starring roles as playoff rentals with a chance for more.
Hall, 29, a former No. 1 overall draft pick and 2018 league MVP, had only two goals this season with the terrible Buffalo Sabres. The Boston Bruins, hoping to revive Hall’s career, paid the relatively low cost of a second-round pick to acquire him, and he said he’d love to sign an extension.
Earning $8 million this season, Hall wouldn’t come cheap if he revives his game. But you’d think the Kraken, who must spend at least $48.9 million of 2021-22 cap money in the draft, would be interested if the Bruins pass.
And if Hall stays in Boston, that’s one fewer player the Bruins can protect from Francis. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney told the NHL Network on Monday that the Kraken was “paramount in a lot of our conversations” pre-deadline.
“You might pay a price to bring a player in, and then you’ve got an outgoing tax in Ronnie (Francis) and Seattle if you’re going to protect him,” Sweeney said. “It’s been complicated this year.”
Some teams undoubtedly acquired players as playoff rentals with an eye on exposing them in the draft to protect other assets.
Former Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter, 36, signed through next season and one of the few traded players that wasn’t a pending free agent, could be left exposed by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Pending restricted free-agent forward Lucas Wallmark, 25, a former Francis draft pick in Carolina who was acquired Monday by Florida from Chicago in a multiplayer deal, also could be unprotected.
The Blackhawks’s trade of defenseman Madison Bowey to Vancouver means Chicago likely will leave blue-liner Calvin de Haan, 29, exposed to the Kraken. And New Jersey’s trade for young defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler from Washington increases the likelihood of former Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban, 31, being exposed.
In addition, some teams got a jump Monday on keeping potential unrestricted free agents from the Kraken. The Philadelphia Flyers re-signed forward Scott Laughton, 26, to a five-year, $15 million deal, and the Los Angeles Kings signed forward Alex Iafallo, 27, to a four-year, $16 million extension.
“We thought the rosters were going to change between now and the draft, even though we had a list of guys and possibilities,” Francis said. “They did change for some teams. And now we’ll reassess and see where the players fit with teams and what we think those rosters will look like going forward.”
And Francis will calculate what, if possible, he can gain from teams hoping to pay him not to snatch away their future dreams.