After weeks and months of speculation the Seattle Kraken started to build their initial roster on Wednesday with the NHL expansion draft that saw them select 30 players (one from every other NHL team, with the exception of the Vegas Golden Knights).
The opening night roster will probably look very different from what we see right now. Free agency is still ahead and there will no doubt be trades in the coming days, both side deals that teams made with Seattle for expansion draft considerations and trades involving some players that were actually selected.
Still, a lot of the foundation for the inaugural season is in place so let us take a look at the initial roster and see what it says about Seattle’s approach
The Kraken did not take the name players or the risky contracts
When you looked at the expansion draft lists it was clear that there were several big name players available as teams looked to shed some of their contracts. Vladimir Tarasenko in St. Louis. Carey Price in Montreal. P.K. Subban in New Jersey. Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen in Nashville. Jordan Eberle and Joshua Bailey from the New York Islanders. James van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek, and Shayne Gostisbehere with the Philadelphia Flyers.
A lot of intriguing names that could have been early stars for the league’s newest team.
For the most part the Kraken avoided almost all of those players with the lone exception being Eberle from the Islanders.
The Kraken seem to be following the initial path the Vegas Golden Knights took by selecting a bunch of players on expiring contracts or that did not have a lot of term remaining.
Seattle took 10 players on expiring contracts, seven players that are currently restricted free agents this offseason, and five players that were unrestricted free agents. The already have deals in place with three of the latter, including goalie Chris Driedger (Florida) and defenders Jamie Oleksiak (Dallas) and Adam Larsson (Edmonton).
Salary cap space is their greatest strength
Salary cap space both this season and in the future.
As of Friday night Seattle remains more than $27 million under the cap for the 2020-21 season and only have a handful of players under contract with term.
Eberle, Oleksiak, Larsson, Driedger, Brandon Tanev and Yanni Gourde are the only players on the team signed for more than two years and none of them carry a salary cap hit larger than $5.5 million. Eberlie ($5.5) and Gourde ($5.1) are the only two out of that group with a salary cap hit larger than $5 million.
Mark Giordano‘s $6.75 million salary cap number is the largest on the initial roster, but he is an unrestricted free agent after this season.
That of course means they could be active in the free agent or trade market.
Keeping salary cap space and contract term to a minimum seemed to be the biggest focus, and could explain some of the head scratching picks. Instead of taking James van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek, or Shayne Gostisbehere from Philadelphia, they took little used forward Carsen Twarynski. They took pending unrestricted free agents John Quenneville from Chicago and Gavin Bayreuther from Columbus, passing on veterans like Nikita Zadorov, Max Domi, or Ryan Carpenter.
Defense seems to be the focus of the initial roster
The Kraken made a pretty significant investment on their initial blue line with long-term contracts for pending free agents Oleksiak and Larsson.
Assuming they keep Giordano for this season (could he be a potential trade chip?) he would be the clear No. 1 on this roster, but they should have enough pieces here to put together a solid unit around him, Dunn, Oleksiak, Larsson and Soucy. There is not a star in that group, but there are not many weak links, either.
Dunn is going to be especially interesting because he has been waiting for (and deserving) a larger role for two years now. He should have that opportunity in Seattle.
Forward depth needs some work
With Gourde, Jared McCann, Eberle, Calle Jarnkrok, and Joonas Donskoi the Kraken should be able to piece together at least two formidable lines. There is a significant drop off in offensive talent after that group, however.
Perhaps that gets addressed in free agency? Or with some of the yet-to-be-announced trades that could be announced on Thursday, though general manager Ron Francis said there may not be as many as are expecting.
Gourde and McCann are probably the two most intriguing forwards in that group because it should be interesting to see what they can do as the focal points of an offense. Gourde has been great the past two years centering Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow in Tampa Bay and has shown he can be a 50-point producer in the NHL.
McCann can be streaky in his goal production (every player is streaky to some degree) but should be a 20-25 goal scorer that can play a good two-way game. With his shot and talent it would not be a surprise to see him hit the 30-goal mark with a little luck and some significant minutes on the power play.
Seattle has not yet accumulated future draft assets yet
Perhaps this is a sign of the rest of the NHL’s general managers learning their lessons from the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft process.
The Kraken did not make any expansion draft trades prior to Wednesday that would allow them to accumulate future picks. Vegas used other team’s desperation to make several trades to acquire more assets in return for not taking certain players. Francis said on Wednesday night that teams were not willing to make that same mistake this time around.
There could, however, be some trades involving the current players on the roster as a means of acquiring future picks and assets. They need them, because as of now the Kraken only have their league allotment of seven draft picks per season. Vegas helped build its roster by accumulating a ton of draft picks and using them as trade assets.