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.)


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.

Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

“I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.

Vegas Golden Knights come back to beat Florida Panthers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS – Back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in five years and trailing the Florida Panthers less than 10 minutes into Game 1, the Vegas Golden Knights sent a very clear message.

“We were ready,” Jonathan Marchessault said.

Ready and dominant. Vegas rallied from an early deficit, got the go-ahead goal from Zach Whitecloud with just over 13 minutes left and arguably the best save of the playoffs from Adin Hill and beat Florida 5-2 Saturday night to take the lead in the best-of-seven series.

“We kept out composure, and it was good,” said Marchessault, one of six original Knights players left from the start of the franchise in 2017 who scored the tying goal in the first period. “We just wanted to play the right way and be disciplined, and tonight we were able to be the better team.”

Whitecloud put Vegas ahead, a crucial penalty kill followed and captain Mark Stone scored an insurance goal that was reviewed for a high stick and confirmed. Reilly Smith sealed it with an empty-netter to make the score look more lopsided than the game.

The combination of that offense and Hill’s 33 saves put Vegas up after a feisty opener between Sun Belt teams who wasted little time getting acquainted with big hits during play and plenty of post-whistle pushing and shoving.

“It’s exactly what we expected,” said Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore, who scored his first goal of the playoffs and ended a 27-game drought dating to March 7. “That’s how they wanted to play. We were just trying not to play into it.”

That stuff is just beginning. Game 2 is Monday in Las Vegas.

Before the Panthers even get a chance to respond, they ratcheted up the physical play late after falling behind by two. A handful of penalties resulting from a fracas with 4:24 remaining left the Florida bench well short.

The outcome was determined long before that.

After falling behind on a short-handed goal by Eric Staal that sucked the life out of the crowd of 18,432, the Golden Knights rallied for their ninth comeback win this playoffs. Marchessault – known since arriving in Las Vegas for scoring big goals – answered before the end of the first period.

Early in the second, Hill made a desperation stick save to rob Nick Cousins of what would have been a sure goal. The save was reminiscent of the one Washington’s Braden Holtby made against Vegas – in the same crease – five years ago.

“That’s an unreal save – it’s a game-changer,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You need those saves at key moments.”

Giving up a tying goal to Anthony Duclair with 10.2 seconds left in the second did not slow the Golden Knights’ momentum much. Whitecloud’s goal, with two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky screened and unable to see, fired up fans once again.

Bobrovsky, in the final for the first time, downplayed any reason for concern after stopping 29 of 34 shots and losing for just the second time in 12 games this postseason.

“I played a good game,” Bobrovsky said. “I played a solid game. They created some good chances other than goals. They had lots of good scoring chances, and that was fun.”

Part of the fun came when play was stopped.

Less than 10 minutes in, Hill was none too happy about Nick Cousins crashing into his crease and gave the agitating Panthers winger a jab that incited a handful of scrums. During the second period, Matthew Tkachuk let Vegas’ Nic Hague know he wasn’t thrilled about a hit in the corner on Cousins and a collision with Brandon Montour after the whistle.

“If guys are going to come in my crease and try to push me around, I’m going to stand my own ground,” Hill said. “I’m not going to do anything too crazy or get too wild, but, yeah, I’ve got to stand up for myself.”

Florida coach Paul Maurice, back in the final for the first time since 2001, displayed a similarly calm demeanor as he did all the way back in the first round, when his team fell behind 1-0 then 3-1 to NHL-best Boston before winning in seven.

“It’s going to be tight,” Maurice said. “Everybody breathe.”

The Golden Knights are in the final for the second time in six years of existence, five years after making it in their inaugural season. Vegas won the opener in 2018 and lost the series to Washington in five games.

The Panthers are back playing for the Cup for the first time since 1996. Florida got swept by Colorado in that final 27 years ago, 18 months before Tkachuk, the team’s leading scorer this playoffs, was born.

It’s the 66th different matchup of teams in the Cup final in NHL history and the 46th since the expansion era began in 1967-68. This is the first time since Washington-Vegas and just the third time since the turn of the century in which the final features two teams who have never won the league’s championship.

Penguins name former Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas as director of hockey operations

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Kyle Dubas wanted to take a breath and take a break after being fired as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Then the Pittsburgh Penguins called.

The break ended shortly thereafter.

Dubas joined the Penguins as the team’s president of hockey operations, less than two weeks after a somewhat ugly exit from Toronto following a second-round playoff loss to Florida.

The 37-year-old Dubas goes from one type of hockey crucible to another. In Toronto, he was tasked with helping the Maple Leafs emerge from two decades of postseason futility. In Pittsburgh, his mission will be to prop open the Stanley Cup window for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang a little longer.

All three are 35 or older and haven’t won a playoff series since 2018. Yet Dubas believes strongly the issue isn’t the age of the franchise’s core but deficiencies elsewhere on the roster. Dubas replaces Brian Burke, who was fired along with general manager Ron Hextall in April after the Penguins failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

“I heard a lot of people that were highly skeptical of the team’s ability to contend here and the way I view it, if the people want to bet against (Crosby, Letang and Malkin) they can go ahead and do so,” Dubas said. “But I’m going to bet on them and go with them here. I think it is a group that’s capable of contending to win a championship.”

Crosby and Malkin were excellent for much of last season and Letang showed remarkable resiliency while dealing with multiple setbacks, including a stroke and the death of his father. Yet save for a 14-2-2 stretch in November and December, the Penguins struggled to find consistency and ultimately stumbled down the stretch to snap the longest active playoff streak in major North American Sports.

While the Penguins do have $20 million in cap space and the 14th overall pick in this month’s NHL draft, significant changes or upgrades could be difficult in the short term.

Dubas inherits a team that was the oldest in the NHL last season and is littered with question marks, particularly in goal and the forward group outside of Crosby, Malkin and Jake Guentzel.

Two-time All-Star goaltender Tristan Jarry will become a free agent this summer and was beset by injuries over the second half of the season. Forward Jason Zucker, who served as the emotional sparkplug for long stretches, is also scheduled to hit the open market and may have priced himself out of town.

Pittsburgh also has several aging players with full or partial no-movement clauses, including 38-year-old forward Jeff Carter, 30-year-old Bryan Rust and 35-year-old defenseman Jeff Petry.

“I think that those are obviously very real situations, everyone knows that they exist,” Dubas said. “To me the effect on it … is what we can add in terms of depth pieces? What we can add in terms of younger players? That’ll be the real key.”

Dubas does plan to hire a general manager to fill the vacancy created when Hextall was let go after a short but largely unfruitful tenure. Dubas will serve as the GM on an interim basis until early July.

Dubas comes to Pittsburgh after nine seasons with the Maple Leafs, including the last five as general manager. Toronto won a postseason series for the first time since 2004 this spring before falling to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games.

Shortly after the Maple Leafs’ playoff exit, Dubas said that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to remain in Toronto. His contract was set to expire on June 30, but team president Kyle Shanahan opted to pre-emptively fire Dubas instead. Toronto hired former Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving as Dubas’ replacement.

Dubas helped build the Maple Leafs into a regular-season power during his tenure. Toronto set single-season records for wins and points, and went 221-109-42 in his tenure. Dubas also didn’t shy away from big moves – he fired Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock in November 2019 and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe – but struggled to find the right mix in the playoffs until this spring.

In the end, advancing beyond the first round for the first time since 2004 wasn’t enough for Dubas to remain in Toronto.

He joked he was maybe a little “too honest” during his season-ending press conference with the Maple Leafs when he expressed reservations about returning. Shanahan’s abrupt decision to move on came as a bit of a surprise, and Dubas planned to take some time to hit the reset button before looking for another job.

Yet the Penguins – who’d already been given clearance by the Maple Leafs to interview Dubas – provided a compelling reason to speed up the timetable. Dubas’ due diligence included speaking to Crosby and longtime coach Mike Sullivan to take the pulse of a leadership group that remains firmly in place.

Dubas called them “some of the best competitors” in hockey. Competitors that have – for one reason or another – been unable to recapture the magic of their runs to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017.

Time is running out for Crosby to put his name on the Cup for a fourth time in a career that will almost certainly end in the Hall of Fame. Dubas knows he’ll be judged in part on whether he can make that happen. After taking more than six weeks of searching before landing on Dubas, Fenway Sports Group Chairman Tom Werner believes Dubas is up to the challenge.

“Our philosophy is giving Kyle and his associates the best possible resources to win,” Werner said. “Kyle’s been very articulate today about his path to success … we’re very confident that Kyle will execute the plan he’s articulated to us.”