July 23 — Toews, ESPN & Seattle Selections

WE CAN’T WAIT FOR: NHL Draft: First Round Today 8 pm EDT, ESPN2, SN, SN NOW, TVAS — NHL Free Agency: July 28

Days until start of 2021-22 NHL Season: 81 days

Wednesday’s Wheelhouse

THEY GOT KRAKEN: At long last Seattle announced its team, and spent 90 minutes revealing a roster that had been leaked hours earlier (more on that later!). THW’s very own Eugene Helfrick put together a stellar tracker, in case you need to catch up on any of the action.

BE SURE TO TUNE IN: The CHL announced a multi-year deal with TSN, RDS, and CBC, beginning with the 2021-22 season. We can’t wait to watch!

Thursday’s Tap-in

RUN IT BACK: The full 2021-22 NHL schedule has been released, and the season kicks off on Oct.12 with a double-header — hockey-style — on ESPN. Tampa Bay will raise its Stanley Cup banner against Pittsburgh before Seattle plays its first-ever NHL game, a road contest in Vegas.

GET WELL SOON, SHEA: Shea Weber will not play next season, and his career is in question after Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin revealed the veteran defenseman has been battling serious injuries for quite some time now.

THAT WAS FAST: The Kraken traded forward Tyler Pitlick to the Flames for a fourth-round draft pick, just hours after he was selected from the Coyotes in the Expansion Draft. Was it something he said?

GHOSTED: The Coyotes acquired defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and two 2022 draft picks from the Flyers for, well, literally nothing. It’s the second deal in less than a week in which GM Bill Armstrong has given nothing up.

NED’S STILL IN RED: The Hurricanes traded young goalie Alex Nedeljkovic to the Red Wings for Jonathan Bernier’s UFA rights and the 94th overall pick in this year’s Entry Draft, a move that surprised some considering how well the Calder Trophy finalist played for Carolina down the stretch.

THAT’S GOOD-ROW: The Rangers signed Barclay Goodrow to a six-year deal after acquiring his UFA rights in a trade with the Lightning last Saturday. Welcome to the Big Apple, Barclay!

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: Avalanche forward Matt Calvert announced his retirement after 10 seasons in the NHL. Best of luck, Matt!

Feature Friday

With more than 130 writers across North America, The Hockey Writers offer something for everyone. While Pat, Kristy, Ben, and I love bringing you content every morning, we wanted to spotlight some of our other writers. Below is a special contribution from one of our talented members.

How Jonathan Toews’ Return Will Impact the Blackhawks – Gail Kauchak

Gail Kauchak has covered the Chicago Blackhawks as a content writer since 2014. She previously wrote for Fansided’s Blackhawk Up and has been part of The Hockey Writer’s team since 2017. It’s not always easy to balance life’s responsibilities with one’s passion, but Gail’s doing her best to make it happen. Let’s put it this way; she’s probably reading and writing about hockey instead of cooking and cleaning. Shh, don’t tell her husband! Follow Gail for her unique commentary about this storied franchise. And be sure to catch her and the rest of the Blackhawks’ crew on their weekly Blackhawks Banter show, as well as follow her on Twitter.

The Chicago Blackhawks received some extremely good news earlier this offseason. Their longtime captain, Jonathan Toews, finally provided an update to the hockey world after missing the entirety of the 2020-21 season with a mysterious illness.

It turns out Toews has been suffering from Chronic Immune Response Syndrome. Simply put, his immune system overreacted after not giving it enough time to rest and heal. His body fought back from all the stress he put it through over the years, triggered by a bout of COVID-19 in Feb. 2020. Moving forward, Toews will have to listen more closely to his body. He could struggle with the ongoing symptoms of his condition.

But the good news is Toews is feeling much better and practicing in Chicago. It’s his goal to be ready to play for the start of the 2021-22 campaign. While the rebuilding Blackhawks actually fared better than most expected last season, having Toews back would provide a much-needed boost for the team.

We all know Toews does a lot of things quite well. For starters, he brings his strong two-way play and his prowess at the faceoff dot. He furthermore offers veteran leadership and the invaluable experience that goes along with winning three Stanley Cups.

A healthy Toews will likely slot back into his previous role as the top-line center, giving the Blackhawks a much more balanced forward group. The long and the short of it remains. Unless Toews is an absolute shell of his former self, the Blackhawks are going to be much better off with him than without him.

Seattle & ESPN Make Their NHL Debut

The highly anticipated Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft is over and it didn’t exactly live up to the hype — and I don’t just mean the roster selections. Wednesday night’s production was ESPN’s first major hockey broadcast since announcing their partnership with the NHL — it was their first big shot and it appears they missed an open net.

It is safe to say that Kanye West’s drunken Beyoncé rant at the VMA’s was more rehearsed than Wednesday’s broadcast. Seattle used local personalities to help introduce the Kraken roster, which was great in theory. The problem was that some of these personalities struggled to read the player’s names. In fairness, none of those players were named “Smith” or “Jones” — but isn’t that why there is a rehearsal? We also can’t forget Chris Fowler’s stating Seattle would be announcing their pick from the Carolina Panthers — Oops. Thankfully, Twitter came in clutch and saved the night by providing a hilarious back and forth exchange between the Carolina Hurricanes and Carolina Panthers.

Toward the end of the draft, the team’s three owners took the stage. With one of the owners being Jerry Bruckheimer, the Kraken could have utilized more of their Hollywood magic. The Seattle stage was positioned in front of Lake Union on a sunny day in which boats and paddleboarders filled the water to take in the festivities. The perfect finale would have been Jack Sparrow approaching the Kraken stage on a sinking ship — à la the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie — to announce the Kraken’s final pick.

Between the draft selections and overall production, it seems that ESPN and the Kraken missed a handful of opportune moments. ESPN didn’t even include the famous NHL on ESPN theme music! We can only look ahead to ESPN’s first broadcast on October 12th when the Kraken take on the Golden Knights. I guess we will have to wait another 81 days to hear the NHL on ESPN theme and maybe — just maybe — Liam Neeson will yell “Release the Kraken.”

The Good, The Bad and The Kraken

After years of preparation from rival NHL GMs — and months of buzz — the expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken took place on Wednesday night and it was… kinda blah? A good portion of the blame goes to widespread leaks that allowed just about every league insider to report each pick hours before the prime time reveal show was set to air. However, it certainly didn’t help matters that GM Ron Francis opted to go extremely conservative despite big names being available.

You’ll surely see plenty of takes on the Kraken’s 30 selections, so we’re going to turn things around and look at the draft from the perspective of the clubs that each had to surrender a player to the league’s 32nd franchise. As was the case with the Vegas Golden Knights four years ago, there was a wide range of loss across each organization’s sacrifice, even as no trades were consummated to keep Seattle away from certain unprotected players.

With that in mind, let’s look at three teams that got hit hard and three that got off rather easy in regards to who they lost to the Kraken:

Oh No, Not Him!

Calgary Flames
Mark Giordano was the long-speculated expansion draft target for Seattle, but that doesn’t take the sting of seeing the Flames’ long-time captain leave Calgary for nothing. The soon-to-be 37-year-old isn’t getting any younger, but he’s still just two years removed from winning the Norris trophy. Now, the Flames have to replace not only Giordano’s locker room leadership but also the 23 minutes of ice time he provided as a top pairing d-man.

St. Louis Blues
Vince Dunn had fallen out of favor in St. Louis due to injuries and inconsistent play, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach the loss of a 24-year-old blueliner who offers solid offensive production from the back end. Now, after losing the restricted free agent for nothing, it’s tough to see the Blues getting much of a return on a Vladimir Tarasenko trade given his $7.5 million cap hit and severed relationship with the club.

Washington Capitals
Of the 30 players the Kraken selected on Wednesday, few were as irreplaceable as goaltender Vitek Vanecek. Now, Vanecek doesn’t even project to be the starter in Seattle, but his age (25), affordability ($716K cap hit next year), and potential on-ice value make for a hard-to-find combination. The Czech netminder stepped up admirably in place of Ilya Samsonov last season, going 21-10-4 with a 2.69 GAA. If Samsonov struggles again as he did this past year, the Caps have neither Vanecek nor any cap relief (as of yet) to find an adequate replacement.

That Guy? Sure, He’s All Yours!

Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina was always going to be an interesting situation to watch, given Francis’ inherent knowledge of the organization. It was somewhat telling, then, that Seattle bypassed Jake Bean and Nino Niederreiter to select Morgan Geekie. I don’t profess to have Francis’ knowledge of the Hurricanes’ system — but Geekie??? The 23-year-old has shown himself to be a capable depth forward in 38 career games, but he didn’t score 20 goals this season as Niederreiter did.

Montreal Canadiens
The Marc Bergevin hot streak has carried over from the playoffs — now extending through the expansion draft! The Habs GM’s calculated risk to leave Carey Price unprotected — and to keep Jake Allen — paid off in full, keeping the franchise goalie in Montreal without sacrificing his possible heir apparent. Furthermore, the Canadiens only had to part ways with expendable defensive depth piece Cale Fleury, who has just one goal in 41 career NHL games.

Philadelphia Flyers
There were more obscure players taken by the Kraken (who the heck is Gavin Bayreuther?) than Carsen Twarynski, but few such players were plucked from teams that had as much to offer as the Flyers did. I know Francis was focused on preserving cap space, but James van Riemsdyk is a bonafide scorer (even at $7 million) and Jakub Voráček should’ve been good for his fair share of goals too.

Today, some team executives are breathing a sigh of relief while others are cursing Francis’ name. Such is the nature of the expansion draft beast — one we may not see again for a long time to come.