Inside the NHL
We could at last see the final NHL season before the Kraken’s debut conclude Wednesday, as the Tampa Bay Lightning takes another shot at clinching the Stanley Cup in Game 5 on home ice.
The Montreal Canadiens avoided a sweep with an overtime victory Monday, only the third time in their century-plus existence they’ve won in sudden death when facing final-round elimination. There’s local history to that, as the first such Montreal overtime winner happened right here in Seattle in 1919 when Jack McDonald’s goal prevented the hometown Metropolitans from clinching a championship series later abandoned due to a Spanish Influenza outbreak.
And some personal history as well, as Ken Mosdell’s overtime winner in 1954 prevented Detroit from clinching a Cup it eventually captured in seven games. Mosdell’s daughter, Bonnie Bermingham, was later my longtime bank teller and assistant branch manager in Montreal — having for years known my mother, who worked at the travel agency next door. Bermingham introduced me to her hockey-playing son, Jimmy, whom I profiled for a story while covering his Laval Titan team at the much-celebrated 1990 Memorial Cup major junior championship tournament.
Anyhow, enough about memory lane. When you grow up in the world’s premier hockey market, everybody has personal stories about NHL players past and present.
Despite Canadiens netminder Carey Price finally showing up for Game 4, the Lightning has had superior goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy and that has been the difference in Tampa Bay’s 3-1 series lead. It again highlights the value of a top goalie, and why that’s arguably the critical position the Kraken will select three candidates for in the July 21 expansion draft.
And it got me thinking about how this postseason might have shifted Kraken expansion draft thinking on the goaltending front and other areas when it comes to both Cup finalists. For a long time, it was assumed the Kraken would select veteran Montreal goalie Jake Allen, who looked good backing up Price this season and was decent in an injury-forced No. 1 role.
But now, Montreal’s surprising Cup appearance has spotlighted other Canadiens the Kraken might consider, some of them pending free agents it can try to sign during its 72-hour pre-draft negotiation window if left unprotected. Foremost is 28-year-old two-way center Phillip Danault, who famously shut down Toronto, Winnipeg and Vegas scoring threats ahead of this round and whose penalty-killing work against Tampa Bay is one of the only reasons his team remains alive.
If not Danault, there’s 28-year-old Joel Armia, the enigmatic Finnish winger who this postseason has five goals and three assists on a highly productive fourth line. The big knock on Armia has been his inconsistency, but this postseason has seen him better utilize his 6-foot-3, 212-pound frame while deploying considerable offensive skills.
Defensemen Joel Edmundson, 28, and Ben Chiarot, 30, have also emerged as top-four blue-liners, logging huge playoff minutes in extremely aggressive fashion. Montreal will likely protect one, but not both. Edmundson has three years remaining at $3.5 million annually, and Chiarot has one season left at that figure.
Some might want the Kraken to consider forward Jonathan Drouin, 26, the highly talented Quebec native who has struggled playing in his home province and took a leave of absence for undisclosed personal reasons in April without returning.
Frankly, Drouin watching his second team in six years play for a Cup largely without him — he was a healthy scratch for 20 of 26 Lightning playoff games in 2015 and played only 26 minutes total in the team’s six-game Finals defeat — should give the Kraken pause. Danault, Edmundson, Chiarot and maybe Armia would seem more in the hard-nosed mold preferred by Kraken coach Dave Hakstol.
And there is still goaltender Allen.
As for Tampa, it long has been assumed Tyler Johnson, 30 — who scored two huge goals in Game 3 — will be the Kraken’s choice given he’s from Liberty Lake outside of Spokane and the Lightning desperately needs to clear his $5 million annual salary through 2024-25. But you also have third-line center Yanni Gourde at a similar $5.17 million annually through those same three years. Gourde, 29, has excelled this postseason as a forechecking beast that gets under everybody’s skin, while adding six goals — including the lone Game 7 clincher in the conference final against the New York Islanders — and centering the team’s second power-play unit.
For a shorter-term Kraken outlook, there’s Ondrej Palat, 30, earning $5.3 million next year. That could be enticing if the Kraken wants to limit longer-term financial exposure.
Palat enjoys a top-line role alongside Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov and has five goals, eight assists these playoffs while manning the left point on the second power-play group. In this Cup Final, he scored a huge goal in Game 2, then had two assists in a critical Game 3 victory.
Also, there’s 31-year-old Alex Killorn, a winger with eight goals, nine assists these playoffs but who suffered a Game 1 Finals injury and hasn’t returned. Though slightly older than the other options, he has a potentially attractive two contract years remaining at $4.45 million annually.
The cap-squeezed Lightning can’t keep all, even though it would like to. Johnson is different, given he has been bypassed for ice time by newer teammates and the Lightning needs to offload him someplace.
Whether the Kraken wants Johnson remains a question mark. Much could depend on whether Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie of Stanwood is left exposed. Oshie has said he wants to stay put, but the hiring of his former University of North Dakota coach Hakstol could make for a nice reunion if Washington leaves him unprotected.
You could see the Kraken taking on either Oshie’s $5.75 million annual cap hit through 2024-25 or Johnson’s money. But it’s doubtful it would carry both in-state products. So it likely would consider Lightning pieces beyond Johnson.
Also worth noting: Passing on Oshie leaves the Kraken free to select Caps goalie Vitek Vanecek, or incumbent No. 1 Ilya Samsonov, depending on who isn’t protected. This could be important should the Kraken bypass Montreal netminder Allen for a different player.
Regardless of how things play out, these playoffs and Cup finalists have certainly given the Kraken food for thought. And from a different menu it may have been perusing at regular season’s end.