How no-movement clauses are shaping Seattle’s expansion landscape

Ron Francis talks to reporters in Seattle, after he was introduced as the first general manager for Seattle's NHL expansion team. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Ron Francis talks to reporters in Seattle, after he was introduced as the first general manager for Seattle’s NHL expansion team. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Sportsnet

When it comes to the question of how NHL general managers will approach the Seattle expansion process differently after going through it with Vegas, you can start to find an answer in an unlikely place.

Four years ago there were 66 players who owned a no-movement clause in their contracts that required them to be protected in the expansion draft. Today there are 52 players in that position with the Kraken due to make their selections in July.

The shift wasn’t driven by players suddenly seeing less appeal in having a “NMC” included in their deals, but by executives who identified those clauses as the source of problems in expansion. And so, with an understanding of what was coming, they started to hold the line more vehemently on that item in negotiations.

By way of an example, look at the structure of two contracts the Toronto Maple Leafs signed with veteran defencemen over the past 14 months: Jake Muzzin and T.J. Brodie will both see their NMC’s convert to no-trade clauses for the 2021-22 season, which means neither is required to be protected in the expansion draft.

Under previous industry standards, those players would have had more than enough leverage to secure a full NMC. Muzzin passed up the opportunity to test the open market by signing his extension with Toronto, while Brodie arrived as an in-demand free agent to slot into a gaping hole in the team’s line up.

However, the organisation prioritised expansion flexibility to such a degree that it willingly made concessions with contract structure and signing bonuses in order to preserve it.

Where the Golden Knights really excelled in their expansion process was the way they leveraged teams with protection issues. They made 10 trades that yielded 12 draft picks, and added Marc-Andre Fleury, Shea Theodore, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault and Alex Tuch as part of those deals.

In almost every one of those cases, the team trading with Vegas was trying to navigate a situation brought on by no-movement clauses.

Take Anaheim: Kevin Bieksa is a fantastic broadcaster and Sportsnet colleague, but he didn’t have much hockey left in him in July 2017. However he had earned a NMC in his contract and required protection over younger teammates like Theodore, Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen.

Or how about Columbus?

The Blue Jackets had given Sergei Bobrovsky, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno and Scott Hartnell contracts with NMC’s long before there was any notion of expansion ramifications, and they suffered the consequences as a result.

It basically required them to leave Josh Anderson, Ryan Murray and Joonas Korpisalo exposed, and they didn’t want to lose any of those players. So instead they worked out a deal where Vegas would select Karlsson — who had one goal in his final 43 games in Columbus — while also receiving a first-round pick, a second-round pick and David Clarkson’s expensive contract.

(The Blue Jackets, incidentally, have since stopped giving out NMC’s and don’t have anyone that requires protection for Seattle).

Why this is relevant for Ron Francis is that it seems highly unlikely the Kraken GM can count on being able to harvest as many additional assets through trades as George McPhee did.

The other teams have had more time to prepare for their pending expansion decisions and they’ve got the institutional memory of how things played out last time. Plus they’ve got fewer headaches brought on by NMC’s populating their rosters.

While there are a handful of exceptions — Erik Johnson’s NMC in Colorado comes to mind, with fellow defencemen Cale Makar, Samuel Girard, Devon Toews and Ryan Graves also requiring protection; and Minnesota is somewhat squeezed by having to protect all of Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Zach Parise and Mats Zuccarello — this is definitely a different landscape than what McPhee found.

There’s still opportunity for Seattle to short the marketplace, especially in a flat-cap environment where teams will be tripping over themselves to try and unload contracts. Francis is in a strong position to charge a pandemic premium for any meaningful money he’s willing to assume, and he’s also permitted to talk trade with his colleagues already — although any deal consummated would only be sealed with a handshake subject to the league’s approval in the off-season.

The same rules used for the Vegas expansion draft also apply to Seattle, and they were designed to reward ownership groups that each paid a record-high expansion fee ($500-million by the Golden Knights, then $650-million by the Kraken). That price of entry was factored into allowing teams to protect either seven forwards, three defencemen and a goalie or eight skaters and a goalie because it guaranteed that quality players would shake free.

Then there’s the fact that only one team is doing the picking, as Laurence Gilman explained on Craig Custance’s ‘Full 60’ podcast in February 2018. Gilman is now the Maple Leafs assistant GM, but consulted with the NHL in drafting the Vegas expansion rules prior to taking that position.

“Quite frankly, once it was determined it was one team and it was Vegas, this was not an expansion draft,” Gilman told Custance. “It was called an expansion draft, but an expansion draft is what occurred in 2001 when Minnesota and Columbus selected players between them. This was an asset harvest event.

“Las Vegas wasn’t competing with another franchise and had the ability to map out exactly what they wanted to harvest.”

That dynamic remains in place for Seattle.

It will just be up to Francis and his hockey operations staff to find some different leverage points to maximise their first crop of talent.

Here is the full of list of players with applicable no-movement clauses for the Seattle expansion draft (**-denotes injured player likely to be exempted)

Anaheim (1): **-Ryan Kesler

Arizona (2): Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phil Kessel

Boston (3): Patrice Bergeron, Charlie Coyle, Brad Marchand

Buffalo (1): Jeff Skinner

Carolina (1): Jordan Staal

Calgary (2): Milan Lucic, Jacob Markstrom

Chicago (4): Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews

Colorado (1): Erik Johnson

Dallas (4): Jamie Benn, Ben Bishop, Alexander Radulov, Tyler Seguin

Florida (3): Sergei Bobrovsky, Jonathan Huberdeau, Keith Yandle

Los Angeles (1): Drew Doughty

Minnesota (5): Jonas Brodin, Zach Parise, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter, Mats Zuccarello

Montreal (3): Brendan Gallagher, Jeff Petry, Carey Price

Nashville (1): Roman Josi

N.Y. Islanders (1): **-Johnny Boychuk

N.Y. Rangers (4): Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Mika Zibanejad

Philadelphia (2): Claude Giroux, Kevin Hayes

Pittsburgh (3): Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin,

San Jose (2): Erik Karlsson, Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Tampa Bay (3): Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos

Toronto (1): John Tavares

Vegas (2): Alex Pietrangelo, Mark Stone

Winnipeg (1): Blake Wheeler

Washington (1): Nicklas Backstrom