Kraken kick off Vince Dunn experiment with interesting two-year deal

Kraken kick off Vince Dunn experiment with interesting two-year deal
Getty Images

A lot of times, especially during this dizzying offseason, an NHL defenseman’s contract will inspire a violent reaction. It’s usually one of shock, but sometimes in a good way. Yet, in the case of the Kraken signing Vince Dunn for two -years at a $4M cap hit, the most honest reaction is …

“Hmm.”

(Maybe you’d roll with a monocle or “scratching chin” emoji?)

Just look at Friday’s signings. Maybe Darnell Nurse will make the Oilers look smart, but an eight-year extension at a $9.25M cap hit looks borderline reckless. On the other hand, the Islanders might’ve gotten a steal with Adam Pelech‘s $5.75M AAV.

Sometimes, those deals take time to go rotten. Other times, they look sweet or sour right away.

But an investment like the Kraken made in Vince Dunn (again, two years, $4M cap hit)? That’s trickier.

Kraken try to solve that Vince Dunn mystery: two years, $4M cap hit

This take from JFresh is a quicker way of summarizing the larger thought that, maybe, we just don’t know what the Kraken have in Vince Dunn:

At 24, Dunn’s accomplished quite a bit during four seasons in the NHL. During his first two seasons, Dunn averaged a bit more than 17 minutes per night, then dipped a bit in 2019-20, to an average TOI of 16:16. Even with limited deployment, Dunn generated solid scoring totals (24 points, 35, then 23).

Pretty impressive, and by most metrics, he was useful-enough defensively. Generally, it seemed like Dunn was an asset to the Blues as they won that elusive Stanley Cup in 2018-19.

That said, the Blues often showed reluctance to truly rely on Dunn, and that situation became more dramatic in 2020-21.

It seemed bumpy from the start, really. The Blues merely committed to Dunn with a one-year, $1.875M contract. He occasionally found himself in the doghouse, even as a healthy scratch. There were rumors about a Dunn trade, but either there wasn’t enough interest, or the Blues were asking for too much.

Yet, in some ways, the Blues put Dunn on greater display. Dunn generated 20 points in 43 games, averaging easily a career-high with 19:15 TOI. In a heightened role, it was a mixed bag for Dunn, and the Kraken snatched him up from the Blues during the expansion draft.

Honestly, seeing Dunn only receive that $1.875M temporary-fix of a contract made me wonder if he’d be a bargain again. Instead, $4M for two years seems … fair enough?

Dunn has the talent to exceed that value. The offensive ability’s there, and will be welcome on a Kraken defense that — for all its strengths — lacks much scoring “pop.”

It would be most interesting if we got a better idea of how valuable Dunn is all-around, though. Did the Blues and others fixate too much on sometimes-ugly mistakes, ignoring a bigger picture that looked quite bright? Is Dunn merely a skilled defenseman who’s flawed in his own end, and thus needs to be sheltered?

Updated look at Kraken defense

For the Kraken, the two-year, $8M commitment in Dunn represents an interesting choice.

On one hand, the term and reasonable cap hit protect in case his underlying stats are a mirage. On the other hand, if Dunn is more or less as good as he looks by the “fancy stats,” then the Kraken don’t enjoy a big window where they’d take advantage of a dull market. If Dunn proves himself, he can quickly cash in.

The Kraken are heavy enough on defensive defensemen that it might not really matter much if Dunn is truly one-dimensional. Their overall defensive structure remains curious, but potentially a strength.

  • Both Adam Larsson and Jamie Oleksiak have been sneaky-good at times. The Kraken took some risks in handing them new contracts at age 28, though. (Larsson: four years, $4M cap hit; Oleksiak: five years, $4.6M.)
  • Mark Giordano, easily their oldest defenseman at 37, carries low-risk long-term. Yes, he’s at $6.75M, but just for one season. Will he be trade fodder, or will the Kraken sign him down the line?
  • Dunn joins a younger group of defensemen signed either for two years or one. In the case of Dennis Cholowski, he still needs a deal as an RFA.

For a larger look at the Kraken’s growing list of risks, check out this breakdown. Dunn doesn’t represent much of a risk for the Kraken. By keeping it at two years, the rewards may be more muted, however.

Overall, a two-year “prove it” contract seems reasonable enough for Dunn. It’s also understandable that people wanted them to be a little bolder here.

(Plenty of the Kraken criticisms revolve around “be a little bolder.” Well, except with goalies. Most argue Seattle was too bold there.)

Kraken also bring in Johansson

Beyond signing Vince Dunn, the Kraken also dipped into the free-agent market with Marcus Johansson. They signed Johansson, 30, to a one-year, $1.5M contract.

At one point, Johansson was something of an analytics darling himself.

Things started to unravel when the Devils snatched him up in what seemed like a savvy move where they “weaponized cap space.” Instead, concussions dogged Johansson, and perhaps the aging curve took care of the rest.

That said, there are worse darts to throw.

Admittedly, the part of the Kraken’s press release that made me do a double-take was labelling Johansson as “clutch.”

Maybe it’s just easy to forget that he has accrued quite a bit of playoff experience?

The meatiest part of Johansson’s resume, unsurprisingly, comes from his seven seasons with the Capitals (69 playoff games played over six postseasons). Johansson also put together a solid run with the Bruins, generating 11 points in 22 playoff games during their run to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Managing a point every-other-game isn’t awful, especially with a modest 14:01 TOI average.

Johansson also appeared in three playoff games for the Wild this past postseason, but went pointless in three playoff games.

Still … that’s maybe more playoff prominence than you’d think of when you hear the name “Marcus Johansson.” At least since his better days with the Capitals. On a fairly grindy-looking Kraken team, he has a shot to give them a bit of a change of pace.

Like with Dunn, the Kraken could’ve made a worse gamble than giving Johansson a shot.

 —

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.

Scroll Down For: