After backstopping the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Final, Carey Price has been left unprotected for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.
Price could become the face of the NHL’s 32nd franchise if general manager Ron Francis and his staff decide to take on one of the biggest contracts in hockey. He agreed to waive a clause in his contract to be exposed so Montreal could protect cheaper backup Jake Allen, but his goaltending ability, off-ice marketability and ties to the Pacific Northwest could make Price an attractive option even with a salary cap hit of $10.5 million for five more years.
The 2015 MVP and Vezina Trophy winner is the biggest star left unprotected for the Kraken to select, but there’s plenty of other talent available.
St. Louis winger Vladimir Tarasenko is an option two years removed from hoisting the Stanley Cup after asking the Blues for a trade. Calgary exposed captain and 2019 Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Mark Giordano. And Carolina surprisingly made forward Nino Niederreiter available.
The league released the protected lists of all 30 teams eligible for the expansion draft Sunday morning. Seattle will pick one player from everyone except Vegas — which just went through this process in 2017 — and announce those selections at the expansion draft Wednesday night.
Price is the most intriguing possible for Seattle, and the location likely helped convince the soon-to-be 34-year-old to waive his no-movement clause to be exposed. He played for the Western Hockey League’s Tri-Cities Americans a few hours drive away, and his wife, Angela, is from Kennewick, Washington.
That could make Price a natural cornerstone for the Kraken to build around like the Golden Knights did with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who was fresh off winning the Cup with Pittsburgh. Price and the Canadiens lost to Tampa Bay in five games in the final.
The back-to-back champion Lightning have easily the deepest pool of available players. Top-line winger Ondrej Palat, longtime forward Alex Killorn, third-line center Yanni Gourde and young defenseman Cal Foote are all exposed. Squeezed by the cap that’s remaining flat at $81.5 million, they could also work out a side deal with the Kraken to take Spokane native Tyler Johnson and his $5 million price tag for three more seasons.
Seattle has all the leverage and the benefit of cap space.
“The one thing that we think is extremely, extremely valuable in this environment is cap space,” Francis said Saturday. “We’ve got $81.5 million of cap space to play with, so that’s certainly something that we want to make sure we try and take advantage of moving forward.”
Seattle has certain minimums it must meet in the expansion draft, including selecting at least 20 players under contract for next season with salaries totaling at least $48 million. The Kraken must pick at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders.
There’s no shortage of options.
Beyond Price, Dallas’ Ben Bishop, Florida’s Chris Driedger and Washington’s Vitek Vanecek are among the available goalies. Driedger is a pending free agent, but the Kraken have an exclusive negotiating window until Wednesday to sign him and others to a new contract.
Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog, Toronto’s Alex Kerfoot and newly acquired Jared McCann, Pittsburgh’s Jason Zucker and Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk join the Lightning trio, Niederreiter and Tarasenko as the most productive forwards available.
Tarasenko’s Blues teammate Vince Dunn, New Jersey’s personable P.K. Subban and Washington’s Justin Schultz are among the unprotected defensemen _ a position not quite as deep in high-end talent. That’s by design.
“Teams knew we were coming, and they’ve had four years to prepare,” Francis said.