Despite what the Golden Knights may have led them to believe, it was never going to be “easy” for the Seattle Kraken. Really, it shouldn’t be boring when they operate like most other NHL teams, which is to say often with a lack of imagination and innovation. But he is.
Look, the Seattle Kraken team building strategy that we, especially nerdy types, had in our heads may never have been truly realistic. And, given a marvelous 2022 NHL Draft run highlighted in – but not limited to – Shane Wright, the Kraken just might pull off the improbable. Maybe they can really take advantage of competitive teams today, while building the type of prospect pool that will reach greater heights tomorrow.
Still, it feels like the Kraken could have been even bolder with a strategy of short-term pain and long-term gain.
Right now, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that the Kraken are spending a lot of money on a team that mostly looks…OK. That may sound nice, but it could be far less desirable if they’ve sentenced themselves to purgatory. They could very well be too good for a 2023 NHL Draft that is getting high profile for being a game-changer, and they also might not be good enough to matter. (So they might not even make the playoffs.)
It could be about as disappointing as a Pirates sequel set in space because everyone really out of ideas.
Kraken continues growing tradition of mixed bag free agent moves
Last offseason, it was already a little frustrating that the Kraken passed up opportunities to weaponize salary cap space in the expansion draft. The trades that took place right after the expansion draft showed that there was some track for such a tinkering, even if GM “learned some lessons”.
(Let’s be honest: every year, free will casts serious doubts on what GMs are “learning.”)
More importantly, the Kraken added Andre Burakovsky (27, $5.5 million cap reached through 2026-27). In a vacuum, this deal made sense. More promising, Burakovsky adds an element of offensive dynamism that the Kraken sorely lacks.
Still, even this Burakovsky deal seems less appealing when you consider the Kraken’s broader state. Ask yourself: they were an Andre Burakovsky away from… what, exactly?
It’s certainly not the worst contract. As plausible as it is that Burakovsky might look worse without his Avalanche superstar teammates, he can also really shine a light on him as a go-to option. But it still sounds like the kind of contract you sign when you knock on the door for a Stanley Cup, not perhaps ride in the playoff bubble.
Kraken’s other free agent moves so far inspire reactions between “meh” and “why are you actively lighting money on fire?”
Stack these offers on some rather uninspiring contracts already on Kraken’s books.
Is a bloated ‘middle class’ the right way forward?
Jaden Schwartz is a good player. He’s also 30, dealing with injury issues and costing $5.5 million for four more seasons. Jordan Eberle is 32 and costs the same for two seasons. Yanni Gourde, 31, is another very good forward at $5.167 million through 2024-25.
Burakovsky and Jared McCann are good players, and at least they’re at their peak (Burakovsky is 27, McCann is 26). Alexander Wennberg remains a less desirable expense, as it looks like you could replicate the 27-year-old’s output for less than his $4.5 million cap (through 2023-24).
Consider the group of Schwartz, Gourde, Eberle, Burakovsky, McCann and Wennberg. Not bad, but not exactly for keeping defensive-minded goalkeepers and coaches awake at night either? That doesn’t sound like the most exciting way to invest over $31 million in salary cap space, which lurks at over $35 million when you add Joonas Donskoi. (Then add the polarizing expansion draft issue due to the price expansion of 30-year-old Brandon Tanev and $3.5 million for three more seasons.)
[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]
Unfortunately, the spending isn’t all that different in defense and at net either.
Scroll through the Kraken’s list and ask yourself: how many of these contracts would you really want?
Maybe the Kraken would cringe at the thought of trying to snag futures for issues like James van Riemsdyk, Blue Jackets like Jakub Voracek/Gustav Nyquist, or even Milan Lucic. It is unknown if these players (apart from Lucic) would be this out of place on an already disheveled list.
You can tell Kraken’s structure is like a sea beast or a creaking boat quite vulnerable to the rough tides of an NHL season. (Or…sea beast.)
Kraken could still figure this out, though.
On the same day the Devils leaned in a little too happily to blame their goaltenders, it’s fair to face the elephant in the room. Yes, the Kraken goalkeeper has lowered his overall outlook in 2020-21.
According to Hockey Viz’s tally, Grubauer, Driedger and the Kraken goaltending team as a whole allowed about 31 more goals than expected.
The (not entirely outrageous) hope of the Kraken is that while Philipp Grubauer won’t be a Vezina finalist every year, he won’t be the other way around either. (Too early to say “Martin Jones late in his days with the Sharks”?)
Last season the Kraken played like a team that would be an attacking black hole for both teams. With mediocre finishing on their side and a terrible goalie, the Kraken was more of a black hole for Seattle fans hoping to see a good hockey team right away.
If you get more saves, play solid defense and sprinkle some goals from Burakovsky/others, maybe they’re a decent team. Maybe even a playoff factor.
Towards a promising harvest
However, the real thing that is getting the most excitement is the future.
Both Shane Wright and Matty Beniers project themselves as intoxicating two-way centers. The team already has some quirky prospects to get excited about (perhaps too much), like the impeccable name of Jagger Firkus.
They also have the fuel to deepen that prospect base even further. Currently, the Kraken have their full lineup of seven 2023 NHL Draft picks, along with two additional second-rounders, one additional third, two additional quarterbacks and one additional sixth. There are already a few extras for the 2024 NHL Draft.
To have the best chance of thriving, the Kraken probably should have prepared for a subtle or even blatant tank (perhaps debating Fail Hard for Bedard versus other rhyme schemes). Along with that, it would have been nice to aim for the kind of creative crafts that might make Coyotes interesting over time.
(On a similar note: It’s fair to ask if the Kraken should be careful about preserving or scrapping Shane Wright’s entry-level contract, as other high picks have sometimes struggled to justify immediate jumps.)
[There’s some star power in their ownership group]
As it stands, the Kraken are at least showing potential new fans that they’ll be taking pictures. With nearly $10 million remaining in the salary cap space, the Kraken could potentially do even more.
It may not be the optimal path, but the Kraken do things their own way. Perhaps this path will start to look more promising from 2022-23?
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Write to him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.
Free agent moves highlight Kraken’s mixed present, future prospects originally appeared on NBCSports.com