The 2021 NHL season was a difficult one for Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov. He was placed in coronavirus protocols twice and simply was unable to produce the way he has in years past.
So, when it came down for Washington to send in its list of protected players for the Seattle expansion draft, some fans thought there was a possibility that the Capitals would expose the 29-year-old.
That thought never crossed the mind of Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan, however.
"I don't think it was even a consideration to put him on the exposure list to Seattle," MacLellan said Friday on the Sports Junkies.
As for why the Capitals chose to protect Kuznetsov, MacLellan said that finding center depth in the NHL is already difficult as it is and that no team should be willing to part with a player of Kuznetsov's talent for free.
"As far as the expansion draft, I don't think you just let a team take that player for free," MacLellan said. "It's hard to create depth up the middle on your team. So if you have that, you want to maintain that."
Additionally, the Capitals general manager was quick to point out that in past years, Kuznetsov has been one of the most productive centers across the league.
"Kuzy is a good player. He's been a first- or second-line center for the duration of his career," MacLellan said. "He's been productive, remarkably productive. He's approximately 20 goals, 30-40 assists a year."
Ultimately, Seattle selected goaltender Vitek Vanecek from the Capitals in the draft, but the Kraken then traded him back to Washington one week later after they signed Philipp Grubauer to a lucrative contract.
The Capitals didn't end up ultimately losing anyone to the Kraken, but defenseman Brenden Dillon was traded to Winnipeg in exchange for two second-round draft picks as a result of Seattle not selecting a player from Washington with a higher salary cap hit. The Capitals then sent one of those picks they acquired from Winnipeg back to Seattle to reacquire Vanecek.