Among the surprise names now available to the Kraken in Wednesday’s NHL expansion draft is Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price, the onetime Tri-City Americans junior team standout coming off a stellar playoff performance in which he made the championship round.
Price’s exposure to the draft on a list made public Sunday is one of the more jarring developments and leaves the Kraken with decisions to make on the 33-year-old and others. The Kraken, which received the final list Saturday afternoon, must decide whether Price’s salary-cap hit of $10.5 million for five more seasons is an anchor worth taking on in hopes of a late career resurgence akin to what Vegas got four years ago in plucking veteran goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Other prominent unprotected names the Kraken could be in on include Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, 28, a top-line forward and unrestricted free agent mired in a contract impasse, and Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton, 28, another free agent whose protection status had been uncertain after that team allowed him to make preliminary inquiries on the open market.
The Kraken as of Sunday had a 72-hour exclusive negotiation window with all free agents left exposed. If general manager Ron Francis signs any in advance of the draft, it counts as his pick from the player’s former team and toward the minimum $48.9 million cap commitment the Kraken must spend on at least 20 selections Wednesday that are under contract for next season.
Francis said Sunday that he won’t comment further before Wednesday morning, when the free-agency deadline expires and when Kraken will submit its list of expansion-draft picks to the NHL. The picks will be announced in a live telecast on ESPN2 from Gas Works Park at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko, 29, a former perennial 30-goal-scorer slowed by recent shoulder surgeries and who requested a trade from that organization, was also notably left unprotected. Tarasenko would give the Kraken a chance at offensive firepower in a draft where that once seemed harder to come by than top-flight defenders, though winger James van Reimsdyk, 32, was indeed left unprotected by the Philadelphia Flyers despite late rumors Saturday that his team would not expose him.
The Carolina Hurricanes also surprised many by making 20-goal-scorer Nino Niederreiter, 28, available for one season at a $5.25 million cap hit before the winger hits free agency.
New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban, 32, who also has one contract year remaining at a $9 million cap hit, is up for grabs as well.
On the opposite end of the goalie spectrum from Price, the Minnesota Wild opted to expose young netminder Kaapo Kahkonen, 24, while protecting veteran goalie Cam Talbot, 34, leaving the Kraken additional options to pursue between the pipes.
Teams had the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie, or eight overall skaters and a goalie. Only three teams — the Nashville Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning — opted for that second option to protect an extra defenseman.