Early on, Seattle Kraken carry air of missed opportunities

Early on, Kraken carry an air of missed opportunities
Getty Images

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.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

Andrei Kuzmenko
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.

Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.


Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

He found a little of both.

The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

“I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

“It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

“That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

“We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

“It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”


Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.