Forwards T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov are among the players the Washington Capitals are protecting from the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft.
Washington opted to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender rather than any eight skaters and one goaltender. The Kraken will get to select its chosen players Wednesday night in Seattle.
Seattle will pick one player from each NHL franchise, excluding the Vegas Golden Knights. By rule, the Kraken has to draft at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies. Players with two years or less of professional hockey experience are automatically exempt from the expansion draft. Players with no-movement clauses are also automatically protected unless they agree to waive those clauses.
The Capitals’ protected list leaves multiple notable players exposed, including goaltender Vitek Vanecek and defensemen Brenden Dillon, Nick Jensen and Justin Schultz.
Captain Alex Ovechkin was also technically left exposed, but that is not an immediate cause for concern for Washington.
Ovechkin’s 13-year, $124 million contract is set to expire at the start of free agency Wednesday, and he has not yet signed an extension. By not publicly agreeing to terms with him before the expansion draft, the Capitals were allowed to protect another forward. Seattle could still select Ovechkin, but there is a high chance the Kraken would lose him to the Capitals in free agency.
Washington used a similar method to re-sign Oshie in 2017, when it left him unprotected in the Golden Knights expansion draft but then re-signed him a few days later after he went unselected.
Protecting van Riemsdyk was the most intriguing decision to come from the Capitals. The team chose van Riemsdyk over Dillon, Jensen or Schultz, among its other blue-liners.
Van Riemsdyk signed a two-year, $1.9 million extension in March, and the coaching staff and management raved about his on-ice talent despite his lack of regular season minutes last year. Washington’s choice to protect van Riemsdyk over the trio of veterans on defense signals that the Capitals probably are content with losing a defenseman’s contract to shed salary cap space.
Washington has expressed that it wants to go younger, and it has defensive prospects, such as Martin Fehervary, ready to step into full-time roles.
Dillon would be an immediate option for the Kraken’s top-four defensive corps and its penalty kill. Washington leaving the 30-year-old exposed appears to be significantly rooted in his cap hit. He signed a four-year, $15.6 million extension in October 2020.
Another appealing pick for Seattle could be Vanecek, who was left exposed when the Capitals chose to protect Samsonov. Samsonov is a restricted free agent and will need a new contract before the start of the season.
Vanecek made waves with his impressive 2020-21 campaign, but it all depends on who Seattle General Manager Ron Francis believes is the best player — and at what value — for his team. The 25-year-old netminder was thrust into the No. 1 job after Samsonov tested positive for the coronavirus early in the season. He started Game 1 of the playoffs but was subsequently hurt and did not play the rest of the series.
Of the forwards, the Capitals notably chose to protect Sprong, who had a breakout 2020-21 campaign, over players such as Conor Sheary, Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway and Carl Hagelin.
Sprong tallied 13 goals and seven assists in 42 regular season games for Washington. He signed a two-year, $1.45 million deal with the Capitals in September 2020. He will be a restricted free agent when that contract expires next year.
Washington also notably chose to protect Oshie and Kuznetsov.
There was the possibility Kuznetsov would be exposed after an inconsistent last couple of seasons, combined with some off-ice issues and two bouts of the coronavirus last season. However, exposing Kuznetsov in the expansion draft would have meant possibly giving up the talented winger for nothing in return. He is entering the fifth year of his $62.4 million deal.
For Oshie, he had long been tied to the Kraken expansion draft, with his hometown connection to the Seattle area and a hefty long-term contract taking up a significant amount on the Capitals’ tight salary cap. Oshie is entering the fifth year of his eight-year, $46 million deal.
There was talk of Oshie being a potential next captain in Seattle, though Oshie made it clear at the end of the season he wanted to end his career as a Capital and hoped management felt the same. He scored 22 goals and tallied 21 assists in 53 regular season games last season.
“People bring up the C. That stuff’s not that important to me,” Oshie said in late May. “This is where I want to be with my buddies, my family; my kids are growing up in schools here. This is where I love to play hockey.”