Getting into Ron Francis’ head is both an exhilarating and excruciating experience.
The Seattle Kraken, the NHL’s newest franchise, fill out their first roster next Wednesday when Francis, the team’s general manager, announces the results of the expansion draft.
And in anticipation of the event, I decided to give it a crack myself.
A few weeks ago I stumbled across CapFriendly.com’s Seattle Kraken expansion draft simulator, an interface that does a great job of emulating the conditions Francis will be drafting under. So I put on my general manager’s hat and got to work. What I discovered was the process is far more complicated than I anticipated.
Let’s begin with a quick primer of the expansion draft rules, which are identical to those used for the Vegas expansion draft in 2017. Seattle will select one player from each of the NHL’s 31 teams, with the exception of Vegas which is exempt. Teams are allowed to protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, or eight skaters of any type and one goaltender, and players with no-movement clauses in their contracts must be protected unless they waive the clause. The Kraken must select a minimum of 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders, and 20 of the 30 selections must be under contract for 2021-22. Seattle will receive a 48-hour window in which it will have exclusive negotiating rights with unrestricted free agents, and any signed by the Kraken will count as the selection from that team. The 30 players must have contracts that remain under the $81.5 million salary cap, but they also must add up to at least 60% of the cap.
Then I added a few of my own rules. First, I needed protection lists, and rather than coming up with my own I figured The Hockey News was as good a source as any for projections, though I made a couple of adjustments based on transactions that happened after the lists were published — CapFriendly has a convenient feature where you can use crowdsourced protection lists with one push of a button, but I found some of those predictions unrealistic. I also decided not to make any side deals or sign any unrestricted free agents, because it’s impossible to know whether the parties involved would be open to those.
So onto the drafting. I decided to pick players I would pick, rather than try to predict what Francis would do. That meant I was drafting for ceiling rather than floor. I wanted younger players who still have growth potential, rather than those who are more established but have already reached their peaks. This strategy probably doesn’t result in the most competitive team right away, but it hopefully builds enough of a foundation for sustainable success. The bonus is that the younger players are less expensive, meaning there’d be plenty of room under the cap for pursuing free agents, either this year or down the line.
Simple, right? Wrong.
I immediately ran into complications. The biggest one was the need to select 20 players under contract. The type of players I wanted often were restricted free agents, and if the contract limitation wasn’t in place I may have picked 25 RFAs. But the limit was 10, so I had to use those slots wisely. I ended up picking some players not because they were who I wanted, but just because they were under contract. Indeed, I wound up with some players who beforehand I vowed I’d never touch.
Then, after making most of my selections, I realized I had gone about things in the wrong sequence. I was going team-by-team selecting players, but what I really needed to do was start with goaltending, then work back from there, because nothing is going to be more important to an expansion team than its goalie. It didn’t matter if there was a great skater available from that team, if there was a good goaltending option I had to take it. So my first draft quickly went into the rubbish bin.
All the while I was juggling players, seeing how their selection affected the quotas for specific positions as well as the salary cap. Does it make more sense to take this forward who’s under contract and that defenseman who’s a restricted free agent, or vice versa? Can this forward play center, and is that defenseman a right-handed shot? There was so much to take into account that my head felt like a tilt-a-wheel, and I quickly wore out the refresh button on my browser as I constantly went back to make changes.
Finally, after hours of wracking my brain over every little detail, I finally settled on a team I was satisfied with. Is it any good? I think it has promise. There are some obvious deficiencies — it’s short on established scorers because most of those were on heftier contracts than I wanted to take on, and it’s badly in need of a first-line center — but there are a lot of breakout candidates in the 22-24 age range. Some of them have to come good, right?
Ultimately I enjoyed playing GM, and I came away with increased respect for the process. If it was that difficult for a mere sportswriter sitting in front of his computer, I can’t imagine what it’s like in reality for Francis.
Your turn to play GM
Herald columnist Nick Patterson picked his team. Now it’s time to pick yours. Go to CapFriendly.com’s Seattle Kraken expansion draft simulator, choose your team, then email it to email@example.com along with your name and hometown. He will share readers’ teams prior to next Wednesday’s reveal of the Kraken’s selections.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.