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

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

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    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.