Upon submitting his protection list on Saturday, Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin started to to come to grips with the fact that he’s going to lose a good player to the Seattle Kraken in Wednesday’s NHL expansion draft.
Now, will Guerin make a side deal with Kraken general manager Ron Francis to dictate which player he loses? That remains to be seen.
That’s something former Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher opted to do back in 2017, sending top prospect Alex Tuch to the Vegas Golden Knights so that they selected Erik Haula. Though that move kept the Wild blue line in tact, the fact that Tuch has emerged as a face of the franchise for the Golden Knights makes the move tough to stomach.
There’s a good chance the Wild have learned from the past and will simply accept the fact that they are going to lose a good player this time around. Plus, the Kraken reportedly are asking for too much to complete a side deal.
It all comes down to who the Wild will lose on Wednesday. Here are the three most likely players to go:
Why he’s the pick: Soucy, 26, is a solid defenseman who has the potential to grow into a bigger role. He spent most of last season skating alongside veteran Ian Cole on Wild’s third pairing and impacted the game with his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame. He has been extremely solid defensively throughout his career and there’s reason to believe he has more to give offensively. Maybe he can play on the second pairing for the Kraken next season. Plus, his team-friendly $2.75 million cap hit is intriguing to a franchise trying to build from the ground up.
What the Wild lose: After buying out veteran defenseman Ryan Suter last week, if the Wild lose Soucy in the expansion draft they would have to replace a couple of defensemen before next season. That could be done with some prospects already in the farm system or through NHL free agency next week. Or both. Nonetheless, the blue line has been a strength of the Wild for much of the past decade, and losing both Suter and Soucy in the same week would sting.
Why he’s the pick: Kahkonen, 24, proved last season with the Wild that he’s, at best, a legit No. 1 goaltender, and, at worst, a viable No. 2. In other words, Kahkonen is going to be in the NHL for a long time with somebody. That’s extremely valuable considering the lack of goaltender depth across the league. If the Kraken want to build around a young player between the pipes, Kahkonen might be the best option available in the expansion draft. He already has gotten some NHL experience under his belt and his $725,000 cap hit would allow the Kraken to spend big money elsewhere.
What the Wild lose: The fact the Wild opted to protect veteran goaltender Cam Talbot instead of Kahkonen speaks volumes. They clearly see Talbot as the goaltender of the present and didn’t want to risk losing him. That said, if the Wild lose Kahkonen, they would need to find a backup ahead of next season. While there are some solid options in NHL free agency, none of those players will have Kahkonen’s upside.
Why he’s the pick: Rask, 28, was a draft pick by Francis when both were with the Carolina Hurricanes. Maybe that type of familiarity tips the scales in the expansion draft. More likely, Rask is the pick only if Guerin decides to gift Francis an extra asset like a draft pick or a prospect. It’s hard to imagine the Kraken taking on Rask and his $4 million cap hit otherwise. It’s worth noting that Rask plays center and there aren’t many good options at center available on Wednesday.
What the Wild lose: Not much. While he was a valuable player for the Wild last season — his analytics were actually quite impressive despite what his reputation might suggest — clearing out Rask and his $4 million cap hit would be more valuable than anything else. That said, it would create a small problem in the process, as the Wild are already extremely light up the middle.