The Habs are about to lose a player to Seattle in Wednesday’s expansion draft. Which one will it be? Our writers make their predictions.
Tom Haapanen: Jonathan Drouin. Drouin is the only realistic option on the Habs’ unprotected list for a top-six forward, is still young, and has a reasonable-cost contract for just two years. The big question mark is his recovery from his (unspecified) personal issues, but the indications are that Drouin will be ready for the next season, and Kraken will be able to assess this. The potential upside of a healthy, motivated Drouin should outweigh the risk of an incomplete recovery or release.
As for other options, as desirable as Shea Weber’s leadership might be, his health is not looking good, and there is a significant risk that he may never play in the NHL again. And Carey Price comes with an expensive long-term contract — and recurring injuries, making him an unlikely pick for the Kraken. Beyond those two, there is Phillip Danault but it’s unlikely that the Kraken would use their pick on a UFA who has clearly said that he will be exploring the market anyway.
Allan Katz: In reverse order – rated by chance;
Cale Fleury 1% – Fleury has a ceiling and floor on the third pairing and is seemingly only looked positively on by Montreal fans. In a recent article in The Athletic, the writer gave him and Kulak no chance of being picked because so many better defensemen are available. I cannot comment on this, but the management team will happily deal with Fleury or Kulak being picked.
Brett Kulak 2% – Kulak brings in a ready to go 5/6/7 defenseman. The fact these two guys are listed is because there is a small chance they could be the ones going, possibly with a second or third-round pick as a gift to the Kraken.
Paul Byron 4% – The 4% is slightly higher than it should be, but I love this guy. Byron seems too specific a specialist for the Kraken to grab at his salary.
Tomas Tatar 8% – There is a chance the team talks to the Tatar people and see what he’s looking for. Choosing an almost sure-fire 22-goal scorer sounds like a no-brainer, but the team could sign Tatar after the draft as a free agent. Will be interesting to see if they discuss this when they meet. “We won’t take Tomas in the draft, but we have a two-year, $4 million dollar contract waiting for him if he wants it.”
Shea Weber 8% – Again this seems too high for an overpriced injury-plagued veteran, but check this out. Let Shea heal for a year (where they could spend up to his $7.857 million cap hit if they spent to the cap ceiling since he’s out for the year) and then trade him to a super contender while retaining salary and getting a #1 draft pick or two #2 picks. Remember the Kraks draft more players than they need so one guy sitting for a year won’t hurt them and then they score with something when he heals.
Phillip Danault 16% – This can happen if they work out a deal during a short negotiation window and then the Krak can take a crack at a high-class specialist. Does not feel right though. This would be a pure hockey move, but does that fit the Kraken game plan? Possibly not, but enough to rate him #3.
Carey Price 25% – The Krack get to pick three goalies. Everything but the price is right for Price. Their first two goalies can hold the fort for 30+ games and then Price replaces the goalie who disappoints when he returns. Carey will rep an incredible publicity coup if he is drafted by Seattle. This will be a cup half-full, half-empty voyage. Everyone can win here and everyone can lose here. The Krak get an actual Kraken in net and the native Canadian star brings soooo much to what could be a true love story with the fans and team. The Habs use the saving to get a top-notch goalie and either supplement the recruitment of a bona fide defenceman or a sniper. OR Carey never properly regains his form after the operation and an albatross is left after the other two goalies thrive (or not). The Habs find a goalie that lands up disappointing or a sniper that, for some reason, forgets how to snipe. Scary stuff!!!
Jonathan Drouin 33% – 50-point players do not grow on trees and Drouin can potentially be better than that. The guy could be rested and really ready to go … go where is the question. Every player on this list has a flaw in his game or certainly great reasons not to pick them. Most reading this know why Drouin might not be picked, but MAN, I think he would flourish in laid back Seattle.
And finally WTF 3% – In a province where Hockey is up there with the Pope, anything can happen. It would not be the first time Bergevin pulled a WTF and his success rate is around 75% so we might have to trust him … thus the WTF. FYI: For those who don’t know what WTF is, it is an acronym for Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot. Used by the Navy it is often presented as a question; I’m sure you can guess what that one is.
My money’s on Drouin.
Brian La Rose: I can’t see Seattle taking on a big contract here which takes Price and Drouin off the table. Cale Fleury is a possibility but there are a lot of other similar defencemen out there in terms of age and limited experience. They will probably wind up with a few of them so why add another?
That leaves Brett Kulak as the viable pick. He only has a year left on his deal so there’s no long-term risk and if they opt to play him in the top four, he’s someone whose trade value could be boosted heading into the trade deadline. That makes more sense to me than a shot in the dark on Fleury or taking on an expensive contract that carries a really high risk/reward level.
Paul MacLeod: I was as shocked as everyone else when I heard that Carey Price was being exposed in the expansion draft. At that point I thought that the Kraken might take him despite his age, huge contract and cap hit. Why? The marketing is nearly irresistible: Olympic and world champion from nearby BC, with a wife from Washington State, who played junior hockey in Seattle, and who just carried his underdog team to the Stanley Cup Final. Imagine him coming “home” to lead his underdog expansion team to the playoffs! Disney could not write it any better.
Then came the bad news that Price was seeing a doctor for hip and knee injuries and volunteered to waive his no-movement clause to allow the team to protect Jake Allen as he might miss significant time at the start of the season. After that news, I thought “No way Seattle takes that big of a gamble”. But after some thought, I think that Seattle is going to go for the big splash, pun intended, and take Price. They will use the PR coup to launch the franchise with a bang and get fans in their market and across the NHL to sit up and take notice — and with the hope that Price emulates what Marc-Andre Fleury has done with Vegas.
Norm Szcyrek: The player I expect Montreal will lose to Seattle in the expansion draft is Phillip Danault. While I would like to see him return to Montreal, the talk before the season started that he turned down a $5 million dollar contract over six years which shows that he is looking more for a big payout. The first half of his regular season was very bad as he could not score a goal and the rest of his game was subpar but he did pick up his offence somewhat in the second half. In the playoffs, he showed he was still an excellent shutdown forward with great penalty killing and faceoff skills but his offensive numbers were very low. The list of unprotected players available for Seattle is light on quality centres, and if the Kraken select him, they will have an early window to try to convince him to sign with them. They are likely to offer him a spot on one of their top two lines and could overpay to keep him. Although, in the long run, I am not sure this strategy will suit them well and it would not work out well for the Habs if they overpaid to keep Danault.
Dave Woodward: When I first heard the news that Carey Price would not be protected in the expansion draft, I was surprised but thought it unlikely that Seattle would select him. I initially thought Price’s injury history, the mileage on his body and, most importantly, his $10.5 million cap hit (including an $11 million bonus payable in September) would deter Ron Francis from selecting him. However, when one considers the Seattle Kraken is a new franchise that will want to establish itself in the Pacific Northwest and beyond, the marketing advantages of selecting the former Hart, Vezina, and Lindsay award winner may persuade the Kraken to select Price and make him the face of their franchise.
Francis has extolled the value of cap space and this selection would be inconsistent with those comments. And from a hockey and cap perspective, selecting Price with five years left on his gargantuan contract and with his age and injury history, Seattle should not go there. However, in the late 1980s, we all witnessed how star power could alter the course of a struggling franchise. From a marketing perspective, Price to Seattle makes a lot of sense, even at that Price.