Free agent moves highlight Kraken’s mixed present, future outlook

Free agent moves highlight Kraken's mixed present, future outlook
Christopher Mast/NHLI Images via Getty Images

Despite what the Golden Knights maybe tricked them into believing, it was never going to be “easy” for the Seattle Kraken. Really, it shouldn’t be annoying when they operate like most other NHL teams — meaning, often with a lack of imagination and innovation. But it is.

Look, the Seattle Kraken team-building strategy us especially nerdy types had in our heads may never have been truly realistic. And, considering a wonderful 2022 NHL Draft haul highlightedbut not limited to — Shane Wright, the Kraken might just pull off the unlikely. Maybe they really can enjoy competitive teams today, and still build up the sort of prospect pool that will reach greater heights tomorrow.

Still, it feels like the Kraken could’ve been even bolder with a short-term pain, long-term gain strategy.

At the moment, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the Kraken are spending a lot of money for a team that mainly just looks … OK. That might sound nice, but it could be a lot less desirable if they’ve doomed themselves to puck purgatory. They could very well be too good for a 2023 NHL Draft that is getting hype for being tide-turning, and they may also not be good enough to matter. (Thus, they might not even make the playoffs.)

That could be about as underwhelming as a Pirates sequel that takes place in space because everyone truly ran out of ideas.

Kraken continue growing tradition of mixed-bag free agent moves

Last offseason, it was already a little frustrating that the Kraken passed on opportunities to weaponize salary cap space at the expansion draft. Trades that happened just after the expansion draft showed there was some runway for such tinkering, even if GMs “learned some lessons.”

(Let’s be honest: every year, free agency casts serious doubts over how much GMs “learn.”)

Most prominently, the Kraken added Andre Burakovsky (27 years old, $5.5 million cap hit through 2026-27). In a vacuum, that deal made some sense. Most promisingly, Burakovsky adds an element of offensive dynamism that the Kraken sorely lack.

Yet, even that Burakovsky contract feels less appealing when you ponder the larger state of the Kraken. Ask yourself: they were an Andre Burakovsky away from … what, exactly?

It’s certainly not the worst contract. As plausible as it is that Burakovsky may look worse without superstar Avalanche teammates, he may also really light it up as a go-to option. But it still looks like the sort of contract you sign when you’re knocking on the door for a Stanley Cup, not maybe climbing into the playoff bubble.

So far, the other Kraken free agent moves inspire reactions between “meh” and “why are you actively lighting money on fire?”

  • In a baffling move, they signed Justin Schultz, 32, to a two-year deal with a $3.2 million cap hit.
  • Yes, it’s noteworthy that Chris Driedger is injured. Spending $2M on Martin Jones still feels odd.

Pile those deals on some rather uninspiring contracts already on the Kraken books.

Is a bloated “middle class” the right way to go?

Jaden Schwartz is a nice player. He’s also 30, deals with injury issues, and costs $5.5M for four more seasons. Jordan Eberle’s 32, and costs that much for two seasons. Yanni Gourde, 31, is another pretty good forward at $5.167M through 2024-25.

Burakovsky and Jared McCann are nice players, and at least they’re in their prime (Burakovsky’s 27, McCann is 26). Alexander Wennberg remains a less desirable expenditure, as it sure feels like you could replicate the 27-year-old’s production for the less than his $4.5M cap hit (through 2023-24).

Ponder the group of Schwartz, Gourde, Eberle, Burakovsky, McCann, and Wennberg. Not bad, but not exactly keeping goalies and defensive-minded coaches up at night, either? It doesn’t seem like the most exciting way to invest more than $31M in salary cap space, which lurks over $35M when you add Joonas Donskoi. (Then add the polarizing-because-of-price expansion draft snag of Brandon Tanev, 30, and $3.5M for three more seasons.)

[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

Unfortunately, the spending doesn’t look that different on defense and in net, either.

Scroll up and down the Kraken’s roster and ask yourself: how many of those contracts would you really want?

Maybe the Kraken would cringe at the idea of trying to snag futures for problem contracts such as that of James van Riemsdyk, Blue Jackets such as Jakub Voracek/Gustav Nyquist, or even Milan Lucic. It’s unclear if those players (aside from Lucic) would be that out of place on an already-disheveled looking roster.

You may say that Kraken structure looks like a sea beast, or a creaky boat quite vulnerable to the challenging tides of an NHL season. (Or … sea beast.)

Kraken could still figure this out, though

On the same day that the Devils leaned a bit too gleefully into blaming their goalies, it’s fair to confront elephant in the room. Yes, the Kraken’s goaltending dragged their overall outlook down in 2020-21.

By Hockey Viz’s count, Grubauer, Driedger, and the Kraken goaltending crew as a whole allowed about 31 goals more than expected.

The Kraken’s (not-totally-outrageous) hope is that, while Philipp Grubauer may not be Vezina finalist material every year, he may not also be the opposite. (Too soon to say “Martin Jones late in his Sharks days”-level?)

Last season, the Kraken played like a team that would be a black hole for offense for both teams. With weak finishing on their side and that really bad goaltending, the Kraken instead were a black hole for Seattle fans hoping to see a good hockey team right away.

If you get more saves, play strong defense, and sprinkle in some goals from Burakovsky/others, maybe that’s a decent team. Perhaps even a playoff factor.

Building toward a promising harvest

The real thing to be most excited about is the future, though.

Shane Wright and Matty Beniers both project as heady two-way centers. The team already has some quirky prospects to get (maybe too) excited about, such as the impeccably-named Jagger Firkus.

They also have the fuel to deepen that prospect base even more. Right now, the Kraken have their full array of seven 2023 NHL Draft picks along with two extra second-rounders, one extra third, two additional fourths, and an extra sixth. There are some extras for the 2024 NHL Draft already, too.

For the best chance to thrive, the Kraken probably should’ve geared up for a subtle or even blatant tank (maybe debate Fail Hard for Bedard vs. other rhyme schemes). Along with that, it would’ve been nice to aim for the sort of creative trades that could make the Coyotes interesting over time.

(On a similar note: it’s fair to ask if the Kraken should be cautious about either preserving or burning Shane Wright’s entry-level contract, as other high picks have sometimes struggled to justify immediate jumps.)

[There’s some star power in their ownership group]

As is, the Kraken are at least showing potential new fans that they’re going to take some shots. With almost $10M remaining in salary cap space, the Kraken could conceivably do even more.

That may not be the optimal route, but the Kraken are doing things their way. Perhaps that way will begin to look more promising starting in 2022-23?

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