Two more sleeps. Then comes expansion. Soon, the Seattle Kraken will have an organizational depth chart that will chart the course of the league’s 32nd franchise.
It’s unlikely the Kraken will challenge the Golden Knights inaugural season that was like something out of a movie–51 wins, 109 points, a division title and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Like Vegas, reports are that Seattle GM, Ron Francis has set the price “exorbitantly” high for teams facing expansion crunch.
The Devils won’t be one of those teams, having zero prohibitive clauses and no-brainer decisions on who should be protected in nearly every position. In 2017, they protected eight skaters and Cory Schneider in goal. Of those players just one–Damon Severson–remains on the roster, and is among the clear-cut Devils to be protected again before Saturday’s 3pm E.T. deadline to submit official protection lists.
Jonas Siegenthaler, who inked a two-year extension last week, will also be among the blue line members protected. The Swiss-born defenseman came over in a pre-trade deadline trade via the Capitals. There will be a judgement call to be made over a third defenseman in order to utilize a 7-3-1 protection option. P.K. Subban, who is the most expensive Devil with one season left at $9 million, may not be protected. And, Will Butcher, who has a year left on his deal at $3.733 million, is also very likely to be left exposed. Ty Smith might be the only other defenseman on the roster that’ll compete in the top-four, but is exempt. It’s extremely possible Colton White, the 24-year-old defenseman who has played 11 games since 2018-19, is protected and kept as a back-end depth option for next season–he signed a one-year, two-way contract on Wednesday.
Graves, 26, can be swapped out for White as the sure-fire third blueliner protected from expansion. In 149 games, he’s scored 46 points and has been touted as a defensively-reliable presence with puck-moving capabilities and strong skating.
Up front, the conundrum–which again on the scale of what some clubs are experiencing and have already done to combat (i.e. Minnesota) is quite minuscule.
Nico Hisher, Jesper Bratt, Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, Yegor Sharangovich and Janne Kuokkanen are virtual locks to be part of GM Tom Fitzgerald’s protection lists. Jack Hughes is exempt, in case that wasn’t already clear by his absence above. Still, that’s six. There’s one up-in-the-air question at forward.
Perhaps Andreas Johnsson, who at 26 is the most senior rostered forward under contract, could be protected. He had an up-and-down season and was scratched at times, but there’s certainly a body of work that suggests he can rebound of a career-low season in nearly every category.
Nick Merkley, who was limited to 27 games last season, showed moments of up-tempo play that seemed to compliment the mix of players, but he didn’t do a ton to stand out. He’s 24 and was lone part of the Taylor Hall trade with NHL experience. He’s played 31 games with the Devils since 2019-20, which is a small sample size but in the crunch of expansion, it might have to do. If it does, it’s likely that Merkley is left exposed.
Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian are the last two candidates for potential protection. The pair of Mississauga Steelheads, who were selected by New Jersey in 2016 twelfth overall and 41st overall, respectively, are close friends and have been teammates at seemingly every step en route to the NHL. In 52 games, McLeod finally broke through, scoring 9 goals and 6 assists. Bastian saw action in 41 games and became a core part of the team’s bottom-six. McLeod is a restricted free agent without arbitration rights, which might give the edge to him. Bastian signed a two-year, two-way extension worth $825,000 per season, earlier this summer. He might compliment the overall team better.
It might be another tough call up front–but again, it’s not overall costly to the organization and especially by league comparisons.
Mackenzie Blackwood is the slam-dunk protected goaltender by New Jersey. Scott Wedgewood and Evan Cormier will be left exposed, but you’d have to think the Kraken look for help in net from another source.
Two more sleeps and other potential mayhem in-between. Side deals with Seattle and other moves between the 30 eligible clubs remain on-going. Fitzgerald has previously stated an interest in capitalizing on some of those opportunities should they present themselves–which could mean that third defenseman or seventh forward spot is utilized on a less-desirable option, but with compensation.