Given the immediate success of the Las Vegas franchise, a lot of attention will justifiably be paid to how the new Seattle franchise approaches their draft in 2021. Despite the rules being consistent, I believe there will be some disadvantage to Seattle compared to Vegas. While there are lessons to be learned from the Knights’ experience, most teams will also be hesitant to make some of the same mistakes that allowed Vegas to be so successful immediately. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on how to approach the draft and an initial thought on a potential team.
Determine What is Being Undervalued Around the League, and Focus on That
The key to using analytics to benefit building a team is always in evaluating what the league is undervaluing and taking advantage of that. Currently most of the league is focused on smaller, quicker players and building their team around that. That may not be the focus by the time Seattle is making their selections. The last two Stanley Cup winners have had more size than most teams, and NHL GMs always love to follow trends.
If teams don’t follow the Capitals and Blues, then looking to build a bigger team could benefit Seattle. On the other hand, there could end up being an opportunity to take advantage of teams looking to offload smaller players.
Have a Clear Idea of the Team’s Strategy, and Focus on That Instead of the Best Player
When many people put together fantasy drafts or project expansion drafts, they look for the best player from each team. While that makes sense, it isn’t necessarily going to result in a quality team. Instead, it’s important to understand what the strategy behind the team’s roster will be, as well as how they expect to play. From there, a team can be built with how they fit into that strategy in mind.
Look for Trades that Include Prospects or Players on Entry-Level Deals
One of the biggest downsides to the rules of the draft is that it doesn’t provide a chance to get players on their entry-level contracts, or those who haven’t become professionals yet. That makes it difficult to have any sustained success, since there’s a large gap between your current roster and the players that would potentially be coming in to start their careers. If Seattle could make a trade that guarantees they won’t select a certain player but allows them to gain a prospect or young player, they’d gain by doing so.
Be Willing to Trade for an Overpaid Veteran if it Makes Sense
This could be tied to the note above. It will be tempting to load up on lower-paid players that are still in their RFA years. However, teams may be looking to offload some overpaid veterans on their UFA contracts; that could be especially true depending on the long-term impacts of lost revenue from the COVID pandemic. If taking on a player could allow Seattle to both spread out their contract commitments and gain some young talent, that’s something they should pursue.
Current Team Projection
Below is by current version of the team. This doesn’t follow some of the guidelines above, primarily because no trades are assumed. It also assumes that everyone is still on the team their current contract is with – once the next off-season has passed, I will do another version that will account for movement and contract status/salary cap. This is based on a projected protection list from The Hockey News compared with the most common selections on CapFriendly’s expansion draft tool.