Among the surprise names now available to the Kraken in Wednesday’s NHL expansion draft is Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price, the onetime Tri-City Americans junior team standout coming off a stellar playoff performance in which he made the championship round.
Price’s exposure to the draft on a list made public Sunday is one of the more jarring developments and leaves the Kraken with decisions to make on the 33-year-old and others. The Kraken, which received the final list Saturday afternoon, must decide whether Price’s salary-cap hit of $10.5 million for five more seasons is an anchor worth taking on in hopes of a late career resurgence akin to what Vegas got four years ago in plucking veteran goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Other prominent unprotected names the Kraken could be in on include Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, 28, a top-line forward and unrestricted free agent mired in a contract impasse, and Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton, 28, another free agent whose protection status had been uncertain after that team allowed him to make preliminary inquiries on the open market.
The Kraken as of Sunday had a 72-hour exclusive negotiation window with all free agents left exposed. If general manager Ron Francis signs any in advance of the draft, it counts as his pick from the player’s former team and toward the minimum $48.9 million cap commitment the Kraken must spend on at least 20 selections Wednesday that are under contract for next season.
Francis said Sunday that he won’t comment further before Wednesday morning, when the free-agency deadline expires and when Kraken will submit its list of expansion-draft picks to the NHL. The picks will be announced in a live telecast on ESPN2 from Gas Works Park at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko, 29, a former perennial 30-goal-scorer slowed by recent shoulder surgeries and who requested a trade from that organization, was also notably left unprotected. Tarasenko would give the Kraken a chance at offensive firepower in a draft where that once seemed harder to come by than top-flight defenders, though winger James van Reimsdyk, 32, was indeed left unprotected by the Philadelphia Flyers despite late rumors Saturday that his team would not expose him.
The Carolina Hurricanes also surprised many by making 20-goal-scorer Nino Niederreiter, 28, available for one season at a $5.25 million cap hit before the winger hits free agency.
New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban, 32, who also has one contract year remaining at a $9 million cap hit, is up for grabs as well.
On the opposite end of the goalie spectrum from Price, the Minnesota Wild opted to expose young netminder Kaapo Kahkonen, 24, while protecting veteran goalie Cam Talbot, 34, leaving the Kraken additional options to pursue between the pipes.
Teams had the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie, or eight overall skaters and a goalie. Only three teams — the Nashville Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning — opted for that second option to protect an extra defenseman.
And the Kraken will make calls on those aforementioned available names and others amid a landscape that, as a result of wheeling and dealing by several NHL teams in the 48 hours leading up to Saturday’s deadline, took several potential targets off the board.
Among those now protected and theoretically out of reach for Kraken GM Francis are Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie, Dallas Stars netminder Anton Khudobin, traded Colorado Avalanche defender Ryan Graves, traded Stars forward Jason Dickinson and traded Arizona Coyotes goalie Adin Hill.
Some of those developments may have influenced the Kraken switching direction. A report by Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic suggests the Kraken will sign Florida Panthers goalie Chris Dreidger, 27, an unrestricted free agent linked for months as a potential target for Seattle.
The trading of young goalie prospect Hill by Arizona, the Stars protecting veteran Khudobin and Montreal’s decision to protect backup Jake Allen instead of Price made it almost inevitable that the Kraken would try to ink Dreidger at some point. Florida also protected young forward Anthony Duclair, 25, removing another potential target from the Kraken’s list.
Capitals netminder Vitek Vanecek, 25, and Vancouver Canucks goalie Braden Holtby, 32, as expected, also were left unprotected and can be had by the Kraken in addition to Dreidger and the Wild’s Kahkonen.
As expected, the Lightning exposed Spokane native Tyler Johnson, 30, who carries a $5 million cap hit for three more seasons and has been pushed out of ice time with the two-time defending champions. But the Lightning also notably left a trio of desirable forwards exposed in Yanni Gourde, 29, Ondrej Palat, 30, and Alex Killorn, 31, opting to instead protect an extra defender.
Either of the three presents intriguing options for the Kraken beyond Johnson, which will only fuel additional rumors about the possibility of a side deal between the Kraken and Lightning as Wednesday’s expansion draft approaches.
Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano, 37, as expected, was left exposed, and there’s a good chance the Kraken selects him to become the team’s first captain now that Oshie is off the board.
Though Stanwood native Oshie, 34, was protected by Washington, another local product, forward Dylan Gambrell, 24, of the San Jose Sharks, has been exposed after signing a one-year, $1.1 million deal with that club last week.
But no decision looms larger for Francis than whether to take on Price, the planet’s top goaltender before his numbers declined in recent seasons. What makes Price so intriguing is the worst of his declines occurred during the two most recent COVID-19-impacted regular seasons followed by elite-level playoff outings.
This spring, Price, whose wife, Angela, is from Kennewick — the couple has an offseason home in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley — led the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Final by going 13-9 with a 2.28 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.
Price’s numbers were even better after the first three playoff rounds but dropped significantly during what he admitted was a subpar first three Cup Finals games in which his save percentage dipped to .815, .870 and .828 before rebounding to .941 and .967 the final two contests of a 4-1 series loss.
To be left exposed, Price had to waive his no-movement clause following months of rumors he’d likely prefer a fresh career start away from Montreal’s intense daily media scrutiny. The Canadiens’ exposing of team captain Shea Weber following reports he’s dealing with career-threatening injuries allowed Montreal to protect defensemen Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson, removing two big names of possible interest to the Kraken.
With Canadiens backup goalie Allen out of the mix, Price represents arguably the most interesting Montreal option unless Francis can pull off the unexpected and sign free-agent center Phillip Danault in the 72-hour pre-draft window.
The Canadiens, as expected, also exposed enigmatic winger Jonathan Drouin, 26, but — barring a side deal — the Kraken is not expected to chance reviving his inconsistent career in the Pacific Northwest after he took a leave of absence for undisclosed personal reasons in April and missed Montreal’s playoff run.