NHL’s Kraken expansion draft to be milestone for Seattle

A flag with the new logo for the newly-named Seattle NHL hockey team, the Seattle Kraken, flies atop the iconic Space Needle and in view of the team's arena, lower right, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Seattle. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

When the calendar flips to this time of year, there is normally a mix and anger and resentment for sports fans in the state of Washington’s largest city.

Not this year. Not with one of the biggest moments yet in the creation of the newest NHL franchise about to take place on Wednesday night with the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, during which the team will set the foundation for its first roster.

“I get emotional about this, but it was three-and-a-half years ago that the fans took this huge leap of faith,” Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke said. “And now it’s payback time.”

Ron Francis, right, and Seattle Hockey Partners CEO Tod Leiweke, left, take questions from reporters, Thursday, July 18, 2019, during a news conference in Seattle to introduce Francis as the first general manager for Seattle’s yet-to-be-named NHL expansion team. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

In an odd synergy of the calendar, the pandemic-related changes to the NHL season landed the expansion draft at a time that brings back painful memories for sports fans in Seattle.

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It was 15 years ago this week — July 18, 2006, to be exact — that the NBA’s SuperSonics were sold to owners from outside the region. A two-year fight followed that eventually led to the relocation of Seattle’s first pro sports team to Oklahoma City.

READ MORE: NHL approves Seattle expansion for 2021-22 season 

Seattle will finally get a winter pro sports replacement with the debut of the Kraken in October. Short of being awarded the franchise in December 2018, and the completion of its home arena, the expansion draft is the biggest step for Seattle and filling the void of what was lost more than a decade ago.

United States and team flags hang in the rafters of the Climate Pledge Arena during a media tour of the facility, Monday, July 12, 2021, in Seattle. The arena will be the home of the NHL hockey team Seattle Kraken and the WNBA Seattle Storm basketball team as well as hosting concerts and other performing arts events. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

“It’s really about the players and the fans and tomorrow is the coming together of those two things,” Leiweke said. “It’s just powerful.

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“Some fans feel it’s a long time coming. For me, it’s been three-and-a-half years coming, got some gray hairs as a result of it. But I think the fans are going to really like what they see.”

Watch below: Some videos about the Seattle Kraken.

The unveiling of the Kraken selections will be a quintessential Seattle event. It’s being broadcast from Gas Works Park on the north shore of Lake Union with picturesque shots of the skyline in the background. Fans will be in the park, but the team has asked for a flotilla of fans to assemble on boats, paddleboards and kayaks on the water.

The NHL has recruited local sports celebrities to help announce the selections, including a nod to the SuperSonics with the inclusion of Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp and Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens.

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Marshawn Lynch and Sue Bird are taking part as well. The Kraken jersey will be unveiled for the first time.

And yes, there will be a fish getting tossed at Pike Place Market as a way to reveal one of the selections.

“The goal here is to show off Seattle and show off the team to not only the hockey fans of the world, but the sports fans,” said Steve Mayer, the NHL’s chief content officer.

While the night will include plenty of pomp and circumstance, the team’s future ultimately rests with the decisions made by general manager Ron Francis and the rest of the Kraken front office.

READ MORE: NHL’s expansion struggles changed with Golden Knights and now with Kraken 

The 669 players left unprotected for the expansion draft created numerous avenues for Seattle, from trying to match the success of Vegas from its inaugural season to going younger and cheaper and looking to develop long-term.

Seattle must take at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies, and spend at least $48 million of its $81.5 million in salary cap space.

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) makes a save during the second period in Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Monday, June 28, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. AP Photo/Gerry Broome

The biggest decision could come at goalie. Montreal’s Carey Price, fresh off a sterling playoff run, is available but at a cost of $10.5 million per year for five more seasons and questions about his health. Price would be an instant face of the franchise with significant connections to the Pacific Northwest, but his salary hit could limit Seattle’s maneuverability.

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READ MORE: Price tops list of NHL players Seattle Kraken can steal from Canadian teams in draft 

There are also big names like Vladimir Tarasenko, Gabriel Landeskog, Mark Giordano, Ryan Johansen, Max Domi, Tyler Johnson and P.K. Subban all floating out there as potential selections if Seattle wants established veterans anchoring its roster.

In this Thursday, July 18, 2019 file photo, Ron Francis talks to reporters in Seattle after he was introduced as the first general manager for Seattle’s yet-to-be-named NHL hockey expansion team. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File

“I certainly think there’s going to be some good players available,” Francis said.

“Hopefully when they get selected here we can get them into town, and walk out on stage and they can become sort of the early faces of our Seattle Kraken lineup and the fans will relate to them as well.”

Watch below: Some recent videos about the NHL.


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