The NHL expansion draft is still six days away, but the Seattle Kraken may have already gotten then No. 1 goaltender.
The Dallas Morning News on Thursday reported that goalie Ben Bishop is willing to waive his no-move clause prior to the draft, allowing Dallas general manager Jim Nill to protect Anton Khudobin from the Kraken’s clutches and leave Bishop exposed.
Bishop’s decision was part of a promising trend for NHL GMs who are making difficult decisions before the Kraken make their picks next Wednesday. Previously Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner, Calgary’s Milan Lucic and Colorado’s Erik Johnson agreed to waive their NMCs to open up protection slots for their respective teams, according to CapFriendly.com.
But Bishop is the one player among this quartet that’s a no-brainer for GM Ron Francis to pick, especially if Seattle’s serious about being even one half as competitive as the Vegas Golden Knights were in their inaugural season in 2017-18.
Although the St. Louis native missed last season while recovering from offseason knee surgery, Bishop is just 34 and was a Vezina runner-up for the second time in his career as recently as 2019. He has a career .921 save percentage and could do for the Kraken what Marc-Andre Fleury did for the Golden Knights. Having a goaltender of Bishop’s caliber can cover up deficiencies in the Kraken’s initial lineup and give them a face for their franchise. Who better to rep a team named after a sea monster than a 6-foot-7, 215-pound specimen that wears a scary mask?
Best of all Bishop is signed for two more seasons at just a little less than $5 million per year. His NMC would make it difficult for the Kraken to trade him if things don’t work out, but they can guarantee they’ll get something for him if he performs well but the team fails to match his success.
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It wasn’t much a surprise to see the other players waive their NMCs. Lucic, 33, is signed for two more years at $6 million per season. His production picked up a tad during the shortened 2020-21 regular season, but he’s nothing more than a third-liner these days.
Skinner, 29, probably agreed to waive his NMC as both a favor to Buffalo and a Hail Mary that he might get to escape that dysfunctional organization. Of course, his eight-year, $72 million contract — which has six more seasons left — is a big part of the Sabres’ problems. The only way Skinner lands in Seattle would be in a post-draft trade where Buffalo retains a lot of salary.
Johnson, 33, was limited to four games last season by injury. He carries a $6 million cap charge for the next two seasons — probably a bit too steep for the Kraken to take a chance he’d be healthy and productive enough to be a veteran anchor for their defense corps. (Although Francis is known for stocking up on as many defenseman as possible, as he did when he was GM in Carolina.)
There’s no telling if there will be more players who agree to help out their GMs before protection lists are due to be submitted Saturday. It’s certainly within the players’ rights to stick to their guns, especially since there are fewer examples of management helping players in situations like these. The GMs, also, aren’t obligated to leaves these players exposed, although it sounds like all four will be bait for Seattle.
In a sport that relies so much on performance from one position for success, the way hockey relies on goalies, this is great news for Francis and the Kraken because Bishop can give them an instant boost that might not have been available without the goalie’s altruistic decision.