NHL teams had to submit their protected lists on Saturday for the upcoming Seattle Kraken expansion draft, and it always contains a good amount of fun when you see what GMs are prioritizing and what they’ll move along to avoid losing someone for free. Even if that someone is a complete dope. GMs are trying to prove they’ve learned their lessons from 2017, when the Vegas Golden Knights were allowed to assemble one of the league’s best teams through other GMs’ incompetence and lack of vision as to what worked in the NHL, and what didn’t. They mostly have Dale Tallon to thank, as well as Jarmo Kekäläinen in Columbus.
It’s not clear that everyone has learned their lesson, and the big news that dropped on Saturday was that the Montreal Canadiens had left Carey Price unprotected. Originally, the story was that the Habs didn’t think the Kraken would be interested in taking on Price’s contract, which has five years left to run at a cool $10.5 million cap hit per. This allowed the Habs to protect Jake Allen, who had been a very effective backup goalie for them this past season as Price struggled with injuries — and was actually better than Price in the regular season. The emphasis here, though, is on ”backup,” and “Jake Allen,” but we’ll circle back to that.
Of course, the shockwaves from just seeing Price’s name on the unprotected list started the rumor and projection mill spinning. And seeing as how Ron Francis — Seattle’s inaugural GM and architect of the Hurricanes — isn’t a dummy, people began to wonder if he wasn’t calling around gauging trade interest in Price, should he take him, because it was reported quickly that he was seriously thinking about calling the Canadiens’ bluff.
The mind reels, and clearly so did that of Montreal GM Marc Bergevin, because last night it started to leak out, oh so conveniently, that Price actually is carrying a couple of injuries, including a hip problem that could require surgery and keep him out for most of next season. Hip injuries are apparently the “dog ate my homework” of NHL teams these days.
This came hot on the heels of the Habs saying that Shea Weber, who also happens to have an onerous contract as his mobility on the ice trends down somewhere around “mastodon in their current state,” might not play again due to several ailments (known as the “Seabrook Method”) and would also be left unprotected. More and more curious.
The quirk to this is that in the new CBA, Price could waive his no-trade clause specifically for the expansion draft, which he apparently voluntarily did, but not fully waive it. So if the Kraken did take him, he would have full control of where they could and couldn’t trade him next. Or he could make it clear he wouldn’t accept any trade in the hopes that would throw the Kraken off of him. But that could just be a second game of chicken both sides play after this initial one.
This was apparently Price-driven, such was the desire for the team to keep Allen. And if Price is going to be out for a while, having a capable backup like Allen will be paramount for Montreal, as they return to their normal division where they’re going to be in a real fight just to make the playoffs again, at first glance. At the same time, it’s Jake Fucking Allen. He flamed out as Blues starter, and the Habs may be backing themselves into a corner where he’ll have to be a starter again. Plus, there’s a bevy of names on the free-agent market that can do what Allen does pretty comfortably (Freddy Andersen would be the most hilarious, but Antti Raanta, James Reimer, Petr Mrázek, and Linus Ullmark are all out there too).
The Kraken have to be salivating at the idea of what they could get for Price at the trade deadline, even if it has to be the 2023 trade deadline. If they play their cards right, the salary cap really shouldn’t be much of a concern, though the Vegas model certainly did away with that in exchange for having a contender right away, and they could retain salary on Price to sweeten the pot. One scenario I can’t get out of my head is the Kraken taking Price, and then shopping him to various contenders at the deadline, and there’s one contending team in particular that always needs a goalie that wears blue that would cause the hockey world to completely immolate itself and I need this to happen.
Price still holds most of the cards here, either through his injury problems or his still-intact NMC after the expansion draft. It also shielded the Habs from criticism on some other strange decisions, like protecting fourth-liner Joel Armia instead of one of the best checking centers in the league in Phillip Danault. Both are free agents, and Danault is reportedly dead-set on seeing what’s out there for him, but Armia is the definition of a grunt.
Either way, there’s going to be a lot of uncomfortable shifting in seats in Montreal this week. The definition of insanity and all that...