Kraken officially join NHL after final expansion payment

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The Seattle Kraken officially joined the NHL on Friday when they made the final payment of their $650 million expansion fee, allowing them to make trades ahead of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on July 21 and sign free agents ahead of their debut next season.

“On behalf of the Board of Governors, I am delighted to officially welcome the Seattle Kraken to the NHL as our 32nd member club,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Congratulations to David Bonderman, the Bonderman Family, their partners, the entire Seattle Kraken organization, the city of Seattle, and Kraken fans as the club continues on its exciting journey toward puck drop in October.”

Bonderman, the Kraken majority owner, said this brings the franchise one step closer to its first game next season.

“Today is another momentous day on the journey to puck drop,” Bonderman said. “I would like to thank Gary Bettman and the NHL for welcoming us to the League. I also want to thank my partners in our ownership group for their support and our incredible fans who have made their enthusiasm for hockey heard loud and clear since deposit day on March 1, 2018, through the name reveal and selecting their seats. We have an incredible few months ahead of us as we prepare to welcome our inaugural players and finally take to the ice at Climate Pledge Arena.”

The Vegas Golden Knights were the last expansion team to join the NHL, debuting in 2017-18.

“You’re always talking to your counterparts and having discussions with them,” Kraken general manager Ron Francis said April 13, the day after the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. “Obviously we’re not an official team within the League until we make our last payment, so you can’t make any trades, and you don’t have a season going on this year, so we’re not really involved on that front. But [the Kraken are] certainly talking to a lot of the guys and having discussions, and we’ll continue to do that as we move forward toward the expansion draft in July.”

Francis said April 13 that signing college free agents would be challenging because they often want to play in the NHL and use the first year of their entry-level contracts. 

“We can’t burn this year,” Francis said. “We would have to start next year, so that takes us out of a lot of those negotiations, anyways. But certainly, we’re looking at that. We’re looking at Ontario Hockey League or Western Hockey League or Quebec Major Junior Hockey League players as well as in Europe to see if there’s any free agents there we would have an interest in signing.”

The Golden Knights signed their first free agent, forward Reid Duke from Brandon of the Western Hockey League, on March 6, 2017. Duke has played four seasons in the American Hockey League.

Vegas made several trades ahead of the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, collecting players and assets in exchange for not selecting players left unprotected. That helped set up the Golden Knights for success.

They finished fifth in the NHL and went to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season, losing to the Washington Capitals in five games, and have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of their four seasons. This season, at 35-11-2, they have the best record in the NHL (.750 points percentage).  

Seattle will have the same expansion draft rules Vegas did (the Golden Knights will be exempt). Teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie. The Kraken must select one player from each of the other 30 teams.

Those teams are expected to have learned from their experiences from 2017 and have had time to prepare. Protection lists for the expansion draft are due July 17. Seattle is expected to have opportunities because of the NHL salary cap, which is flat at $81.5 million due to low revenues amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Francis said April 13 it would be interesting to see what teams do with some players, especially restricted free agents with arbitration rights this offseason.

“A lot of teams have some really good young players whose contracts are coming up, and it’s a challenge to find the money to make sure you pay those guys,” Francis said. “So we’re looking at all those different situations on a lot of different teams and trying to see if there’s something there that makes sense for us.”

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