Early on, Seattle Kraken carry air of missed opportunities

Early on, Kraken carry an air of missed opportunities
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After the first day of 2021 NHL Free Agency, PHT reviewed the Seattle Kraken as they actually exist. But what about the Seattle Kraken that could have been?

As mentioned in that post, it’s not that the Kraken are a disaster. Instead, they feel vaguely uninspired. From the expansion draft to the opportunity to “weaponize salary cap space,” it felt like the Kraken squandered a lot of opportunities.

Some serious value slipped through Ron Francis’ fingers (or the Kraken’s, um, tentacles?).

All might not be lost, though. Maybe, by sifting through perceived missed opportunities, the Kraken could consider different strategies for the future?

Side deals, weaponizing cap space — trades the Kraken missed out on around expansion draft

That said, the Kraken won’t get another shot at the once-in-an-expansion-franchise opportunity to squeeze every drop of value out of an expansion draft. While we don’t know what happened behind the scenes, there’s evidence that they squandered some appealing opportunities.

Notably, Francis emphasized that teams learned from their Golden Knights-related mistakes.

“ … Last time where GMs were more willing to, in a sense, overpay to protect certain assets,” Francis said, via the AP. “This time, they learned from that and they weren’t willing to make the mistakes that they made last time.”

Indeed, it seems like the Kraken weren’t given the type of offers that gave them extra NHL roster players. It didn’t seem like there were instances along the lines of the Panthers bribing the Golden Knights with Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, possibly to protect (cough) Alex Petrovic.

[PHT’s NHL Offseason Trade Tracker]

After seeing some of the trades soon after the expansion draft, it seems reasonable to guess that the Kraken could’ve landed some lucrative “side deals,” though.

  • In accepting Shayne Gostisbehere, the Coyotes landed a trade package that included a second-round pick.
  • A little bit later, the Coyotes accepted a similar bribe for Anton Stralman.
  • Jake Bean, one of the potential Hurricanes expansion draft picks, commanded a second-rounder in a trade.
  • Even the most prominent Kraken trade carried bittersweet feelings.

Yes, the Kraken sent Vitek Vanecek back to the Capitals for a second-rounder. Yet, before that, the Capitals traded someone the Kraken could’ve picked in the expansion draft (Brenden Dillon) for two second-round picks.

In just about every case, rebuilding teams didn’t even need to take on really long deals to land some nice draft assets. Not much pain for some long-term gain.

2021 NHL Expansion Draft Early on, Kraken carry an air of missed opportunities Eberle Tanev
(Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images)

Missing out on “sweeteners?”

Even with players they wanted, the Kraken possibly could’ve played coy to get “sweeteners” to take some of their less-expected picks.

  • Once again, the Islanders jumped through some hoops to clear cap space. If the Kraken floated a small bribe to take Jordan Eberle — someone they apparently wanted anyway — maybe the Islanders would bite?
  • Along with Eberle, the Kraken raised eyebrows by taking Brandon Tanev with no strings attached.

Like Eberle, Tanev’s a very nice player.

In both cases, term is a consideration, and neither are super-young. The Islanders and Penguins might have paid a bit to get Eberle and Tanev off the books, even if they like(d) both players.

Beyond that, it’s downright questionable to add Eberle and Tanev to the Kraken salary structure, anyway. For a team that was emphasizing salary cap space, it was strange to see them indulge in such extravagant contracts.

(Then, in 2021 NHL Free Agency, the Kraken added more of those baffling luxuries.)

Not enough of an eye toward pump-and-dumps, 2022 NHL Trade Deadline?

Speaking of indulgences, please tolerate a more “out-there” section.

Did the Kraken really stock up enough for “sell-high” opportunities, such as the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline?

There are certainly some options. Mark Giordano, in particular, seems like the sort of veteran who could fetch a big price from a team hoping for that extra push to a Stanley Cup. A team might also look at Jared McCann as the next Blake Coleman/Barclay Goodrow. Both are in contract years, so the Kraken may not be convinced about their place on the team, long-term.

It feels like the Kraken could have loaded up a lot more than they did, though.

Shayne Gostisbehere lingers as an opportunity to “double dip.” After the Coyotes accepted a second-rounder for “Ghost Bear,” they could rehab his trade value, and add even more. The Kraken also presented a situation where that was feasible. Would it be that outrageous to picture Gostisbehere and other available players killing it on the power play, and then fetching a great trade return? (Or even just cementing a permanent place with the Kraken?)

[More on the Coyotes’ rebuild, which could go even further]

The Kraken could’ve cherry-picked their favorite options in the expansion draft.

  • Nino Niederreiter, a very good winger on an expiring contract.
  • Like Gostisbehere, Max Domi‘s perceived value is at an all-time low. While flawed, Domi’s an elite passer, and could also be pumped up enough to be a target at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. Even if that went sour, Domi’s on an expiring contract. Low-risk, decent potential for a nice reward.
  • Mix Gostisbehere (two-year deal) with Domi (recent Hab, young, at a low point) and you have Jonathan Drouin.
  • James van Riemsdyk: where others are young but in a sell-low situation, JVR’s a little older, but closer to the sell-high range.
  • Vladimir Tarasenko: Probably too risky, but also worth mentioning.

Truly, it’s almost irritating that the Kraken didn’t roll the dice at least a few times.

That’s especially pertinent since those gambles would have been minor. Plenty of those contracts are short-term. Most importantly, they could open more avenues to add precious draft picks for 2022 and 2023.

If the potential for turbulence threw the Kraken off course, well, they took some serious risks in 2021 NHL Free Agency, anyway.

Half measures via free agency

With all of these critiques, it’s not all bad news. If nothing else, the Kraken still have room to maneuver. Cap Friendly puts the Kraken at about $16.4 million in cap space. Vince Dunn and a few others may eat into that number, but still … they have some room to work with.

That said, the Kraken burned through quite a bit of their salary cap room, and not just for 2021-22.

You can read in-depth about it here, but in the span of a couple weeks, the Kraken took on quite a few long-term contracts, and for players already threatened by the “aging curve.” Yes, it’s possible that the $9.4M duo of Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger might be a hit. Considering how unpredictable goalies are — and their limited NHL experience, collectively — it doesn’t exactly feel like a “best practice” for an expansion franchise.

Seeing the Kraken make “rookie mistakes” with Grubauer’s contract doesn’t inspire the utmost confidence, either.

Honestly, such odd maneuvers make it tougher to give less appealing decisions the benefit of the doubt. Could Dave Hakstol be a pleasant surprise? Sure, but it could also be another uninspired decision by a franchise that hasn’t shown the greatest imagination early on.

Not all doom and gloom, but …

Now, you shouldn’t panic if you’re a Kraken fan. For an expansion team, they should be quite competitive.

These first few weeks just don’t inspire a ton of confidence that they’re giving themselves a great chance to truly contend for a Stanley Cup down the line.

Ultimately, they only have a few extra picks than the standard seven they’d receive in each draft. Heading into the expansion draft, there was room to either tank for the future, or go bold in the present. Instead, the Kraken seemingly charted a path toward the middle, risking the “puck purgatory” of enduring the worst of both worlds.

Yes, most of us were underwhelmed by the Kraken after the expansion draft. They gave themselves more room to work with, however, loading up on draft picks and taking swings at potential. Identifying the next William Karlsson is by no means easy. Did the Kraken take enough cracks at those types of players to even give themselves much of a shot, though?

In time, the Kraken’s approach might look much wiser than it does right now. Or, maybe they’ll rebound and make better moves down the line. Right now, the Kraken feel like a befuddled batter who struck out looking, rather than swinging for the fences.

(Yanni Gourde‘s really good, though.)

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.