The 2021 Expansion Draft is set to take place on July 21st and the Seattle Kraken are going to select a player from each team. Some teams will be content with their exposed player pool, while others will be desperately looking to move players in order to minimize the damage of the draft. The Nashville Predators did so by sending longtime forward Viktor Arvidsson to the Los Angeles Kings for a pair of draft picks.
As more teams dive into their lists and make mock protections, they will encounter different scenarios and combinations of protected players. The Montreal Canadiens are one of them.
In an ideal world, Montreal loses someone who doesn’t fit their long term goals. With how the roster is built, it’s expected they will lose a good player.
Notable players exempt from the Seattle Expansion Draft: Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Alexander Romanov, Jesse Ylonen, Ryan Poehling, Josh Brook and Cayden Primeau.
Should Montreal chose to go the standard route of seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, they will likely expose Ben Chiarot.
The chances that captain Shea Weber, defensive partners Joel Edmundson, or Jeff Petry are left exposed are very slim, especially with Marc Bergevin in charge. Therefore, Ben Chiarot is the odd man out in this scenario. He has one-year left at $3.5 million and is a very attractive piece for the Kraken or any other team they wish to flip him to should they see that as an option.
Chiarot, 30, is a viable left-handed defensemen with a good defensive skills and above average offensive skills. He could be a candidate to be flipped, or Seattle could even keep him around.
Carey Price is the backbone of this team, he holds all the cards in is stay or his departure from this team. He will make that decision and Marc Bergevin will honour it, but in this situation, he stays.
In this scenario, backup goaltender Jake Allen is left exposed, and just like Ben Chiarot, who was mentioned above, he could be a very attractive piece to an expansion team or anyone looking for a backup.
Allen will start the first of a two-year contract next season at $2.875 million. That’s a low cap hit and could easily be a contract many teams could afford. He proved worthy of a higher work load when Carey Price was sidelined this year. Seattle could use a 1A-1B tandem with Allen.
Byron is a tricky one. He has two more years left on his deal at a $3.4 million cap hit. He’s regressed and hasn’t been the same since his fight with MacKenzie Weeger a few years ago. He might end up being a cap dump deal with Seattle to free up money.
The issue with Byron being the casualty of the expansion draft is the left-wing group was the weakest part of the team this season and it will likely be even weaker heading into the offseason. Tyler Toffoli is currently on Nick Suzuki’s left side, Jonathan Drouin has been on a leave of absence since April 28th 2021, Tomas Tatar was a healthy scratch for most of the playoffs, Artturi Lehkonen is a restricted free agent and Joel Armia is an unrestricted free agent. Paul Byron is the only real left winger on this team.
As Marc Bergevin heads into the offseason, he has to shore up the left wing, and it might not be ideal to see Paul Byron go for nothing, especially with so much uncertainty. However, he is the one player on this team, which the Canadiens could lose via expansion and get the most benefits from it in terms of salary cap space.
Kulak is another intriguing player heading into expansion. He’s been relatively stable for the Canadiens over the last few years and it saw him get some more ice time. The problem is Kulak seems to have fallen out of favour in these playoffs.
At a $1.85 million cap hit for next year, he might not be a bad selection for the Kraken.
Montreal likely goes into next season protecting Shea Weber, Joel Edmundson and Jeff Petry. Alexander Romanov isn’t eligible in the draft and should in theory slot in the top-six as a regular. They’ll role the dice with Ben Chiarot, should they only protect three defensemen, and hope he isn’t picked since they think highly of him. That leaves Brett Kulak as the sixth defensemen or on the outside depending on a few factors this offseason and looking towards training camp. It doesn’t look like Montreal has plans for him as a regular moving forward.
Should Seattle look at Kulak’s skillset and contract, this might be the best value for them. He’s also only 27-years-old and moves the puck well. The analytics community of hockey likes Kulak a lot.
Should Seattle look to go younger, there are a few developmental options they can look at.
Jake Evans, Cale Fleury, Michael McNiven
Jake Evans is a young, speedy and multi-dimensional forward who can play all three positions on a line. He’s shown a lot of growth since signing his entry-level contract and he could be a viable and cheap bottom-six forward for the Kraken.
Cale Fleury is a little more raw, but has decent bottom pair upside. He has good mobility, nice gap control and plays with an edge. He could still use some more reps at the minor league level, but would be a risk-free gamble for Seattle if they’re looking at affordable depth for the next few seasons.
Michael McNiven is a bit of a stretch when looking at all the other available players, but he has a good skillset as a netminder, and even though his last few years have been chaotic bouncing around multiple ECHL affiliates and the AHL, he has been a great pro and still has good potential at just 23 years of age. Another low risk gamble.
Unless Marc Bergevin changes his mind and makes a deal with Seattle to take a specific player he had previously said he was not going to, Montreal should lose a somewhat important player to the team. The good news is that their best players and prospects are either expected to be protected or exempt from the expansion draft. Even though Seattle has a chance to pick a good player from Montreal, the team should not fall apart because of it; worst case scenario it frees up money to make more moves during the offseason.