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3 teams primed to make side deals with Kraken

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In 2017, Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee took full advantage of the expansion draft rules, making several side deals that immediately helped establish his team among the NHL's elite.

While most GMs have likely learned that it might be best to let an expansion team take one player instead of giving a new club multiple assets, there's still a handful of franchises for which side deals make sense. And Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis is surely licking his chops at the prospect of fleecing a few teams the way McPhee did.

Below, we examine three clubs that might be eager to work out a handshake agreement with the Kraken ahead of the July 21 expansion draft.

Tampa Bay Lightning

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Objective: Get rid of Tyler Johnson

Everyone is aware of the Lightning's cap crunch. It was temporarily alleviated this season with Nikita Kucherov landing on LTIR, but Tampa is in a bind once again. The defending champions will enter the offseason sitting nearly $5 million over the ceiling, according to CapFriendly.

The best way for the Lightning to get under the cap is to get rid of Tyler Johnson's contract, which carries a $5-million AAV through 2024. But that won't be easy after the 30-year-old went unclaimed on waivers before the start of the 2020-21 campaign - his worst NHL season. Plus, Tampa's protection list will leave several other valuable assets exposed.

The Bolts are likely going the 4-4-1 route, protecting the following:

Pos. Player
F Nikita Kucherov*
F Brayden Point
F Steven Stamkos*
F Anthony Cirelli
D Victor Hedman*
D Ryan McDonagh
D Mikhail Sergachev
D Erik Cernak
G Andrei Vasilevskiy

* indicates no-movement clause

This format would leave Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde, and Alex Killorn exposed up front - Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow are pending unrestricted free agents - while 2017 first-rounder Cal Foote would be available on defense.

Johnson's contract is the only undesirable one of the bunch, meaning the Kraken will be in the driver's seat for any side deal involving him.

In exchange for taking Johnson, Seattle could ask for the Lightning's first-round pick in 2022 or a player (likely Foote, Palat, or Killorn) and a 2021 third-round pick. Either deal would seem to benefit both sides, though it's possible the Kraken could demand even more.

Johnson would fit nicely with Seattle. Not only is he a native of Spokane, Washington, but he's also certainly capable of a bounce-back season in a more prominent role. The Kraken need to reach the cap floor and will have difficulty securing quality centers in the expansion draft.

Colorado Avalanche

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Objective: Protect Ryan Graves

Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic has built such a deep and talented roster that it's almost a foregone conclusion Colorado will lose a valuable piece in expansion. Fortunately, Erik Johnson will waive his no-movement clause. The veteran defender has two years left on his deal at $6 million per season and missed all but four games in 2020-21 due to a concussion.

Here's how the Avalanche's projected protection list shakes out:

Pos. Player
F Nathan MacKinnon
F Mikko Rantanen
F Nazem Kadri
F Andre Burakovsky
F Tyson Jost
F Valeri Nichushkin
F Joonas Donskoi
D Cale Makar
D Devon Toews
D Samuel Girard
G Philipp Grubauer

This scheme would leave J.T. Compher and Ryan Graves as the most valuable assets available to the Kraken. Colorado surely doesn't want to lose Graves - young, affordable, 6-foot-5 defensemen don't grow on trees. But going 4-4-1 and exposing a valuable forward to protect the 26-year-old seems out of the question.

The Avalanche could offer Donskoi, Compher, and one of their many prospects (perhaps someone like Sampo Ranta) to keep the Kraken from choosing Graves. Seattle would get two proven NHL forwards and a prospect, while Colorado would clear cap space and keep a valuable defenseman. It could be a win-win.

Nashville Predators

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Objective: Get rid of Ryan Johansen or Matt Duchene

The Predators appear to be entering a transition period after shipping Viktor Arvidsson to the Los Angeles Kings for a pair of draft picks. GM David Poile was poised to be a deadline seller this past season before changing course amid his team's red-hot second half.

Nashville's two underachieving, high-priced centers have played big roles in the team's inability to get over the hump over the last two seasons. Ryan Johansen, 28, is signed for four more years with an $8-million annual cap hit and has 58 points in his last 116 games. Matt Duchene, 30, is signed for five more years at $8 million per season and has 55 points in 100 games since joining the Predators.

Poile would surely love to get one of those big contracts off his books, but it won't be easy. Nashville's protection list projects as follows:

Pos. Player
F Filip Forsberg
F Colton Sissons
F Luke Kunin
D Roman Josi*
D Ryan Ellis
D Mattias Ekholm
D Dante Fabbro
D Alexandre Carrier
G Juuse Saros

This setup leaves forward Calle Jarnkrok, who has one year left on his deal, as the most desirable exposed asset.

Nashville could perhaps offer Seattle a package of Fabbro, Jarnkrok, and one of its two 2021 second-round picks to take Duchene or Johansen. Fabbro, a 2016 first-round selection, seemingly fell out of favor with the Predators this postseason when they scratched him for the entirety of their first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. But the 23-year-old right-handed blue-liner could still become a valuable building block for the Kraken.

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