Despite having yet to play a single NHL game, people have high expectations for the Seattle Kraken. Never before in the league’s history have expectations been this way for a brand-new team. For the most part, new franchises experienced little to no success for at least their first few seasons. After all, they had very limited options available to them in previous iterations of NHL expansion drafts. All that changed with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18. With the most favourable expansion rules in the league’s history, Vegas’ options included far more talent than previous teams could obtain. Thankfully for the Kraken, those same rules applied this summer to their very own expansion draft. Teams absolutely learned from the Vegas experience just five years ago, though. Far less wheeling-and-dealing took place ahead of Seattle’s draft than what occurred for the Golden Knights. All that in mind, the Seattle Kraken can and should be contenders immediately in a relatively weak Pacific Division.
Seattle Kraken – Immediate Contenders in Pacific Division
Many hockey fans saw the protected lists submitted around the NHL and thought, “the Kraken will have plenty of superstars right away”. After all, tons of big names sat up for grabs. Seattle could have drafted the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jakub Voracek, P.K. Subban, Carey Price, Matt Duchene, and/or Ben Bishop.
But then, none of those players wound up in a Seattle uniform on expansion draft night. Instead, the Kraken loaded up on cheaper contracts and prospective talent. Throughout the night, fans watched and scratched their heads, thinking “who?” after plenty of the selections were named. Carsen Twarynski, William Borgen, Alex True, Joey Daccord, Morgan Geekie, Kole Lind, and plenty of others all possess little to no NHL experience to date. That being said, they’re all in their early 20’s and project to develop further into professional players.
But projections are one thing, and fans have their reservations. After all, drafting this many players who “might become NHL’ers” over players who, today, are bonafide NHL’ers already, felt like a missed opportunity.
Remembering Vegas after their Draft
It’s easy to forget how fast things changed for even the Golden Knights after their expansion draft, too. Yes, they managed to obtain far more side deals and secure extra prospects and draft picks during their draft. So right away, there’s a disparity between them and the Seattle Kraken, one that would, at first glance, make fans think Seattle won’t be as successful as Vegas.
But, Vegas immediately traded multiple players after their draft. The Kraken followed suit here, moving a forward, defenceman, and goaltender within the first days after draft day. Vegas continued making deals afterwards, and only have a small few players remaining on their team today who were part of the franchise in year one.
Seattle Kraken Highly Active in Free Agency
Instead of taking the big names available in expansion, Seattle left themselves nearly $30 million in cap space ahead of free agency. Not to forget, either, the seven remaining Restricted Free Agents they selected in expansion, who will each need contracts put in place ahead of next season. None of their cap hits will come in especially high, though, so the team still had plenty to work with.
Seattle drafted plenty of NHL-calibre defencemen in expansion but didn’t have much to show on offence. Jordan Eberle, Yanni Gourde, Joonas Donskoi, Brandon Tanev, and Jared McCann were the biggest additions offensively on draft day. That left plenty to be desired, especially at centre. General manager Ron Francis then signed Alexander Wennberg and Jaden Schwartz at centre and wing, respectively, in free agency. They also landed Philipp Grubauer, probably the top free-agent goalie on the market, which made Vitek Vanecek expendable. They then traded Vanecek back to the Washington Capitals for a draft pick.
So, reviewing the roster today against what it looked like after the expansion draft, there’s undoubtedly more to be excited about. Their cap space fell from $30 million down to the $16 million they have available as of today. Rumours continue circulating that the team wants to acquire another top-six forward, which would really solidify their group.
Seattle Kraken Building for Short- and Long-term Success
So, as of today, Seattle still sits well below the league’s salary cap, with a roster that could enter opening night and compete just fine. Sure, it’s probably not a Stanley Cup-calibre roster, but it’s also a step above the league’s bottom-dwellers and rebuilders. If even just one of the prospect picks from expansion pans out immediately, much like William Karlsson and Alex Tuch did for Vegas, then maybe they can be a Cup team.
Seattle Kraken Might be Contenders for a Long Time
Looking to the future, too, the outlook appears to be very promising. Since they loaded up on young talent, there’s plenty of depth competing for NHL jobs right away. If any of them take the next step, they can grow right into a role with the Kraken. If many of them take that step, then some inevitably will wind up leaving via trades to acquire some other assets in return. Maybe that will be for impact players for the team today, maybe for additional draft picks. As it stands right now, they own eight picks in seven rounds of the 2022 entry draft, and nine picks in the 2023 entry draft. They just drafted Matthew Beniers at second overall of the 2021 entry draft, and he plans to return to the University of Michigan next season. As the top-rated centreman in the draft, the Kraken may already have a cornerstone of the franchise moving forward.
In a division with meddling teams like the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, and Vancouver Canucks, the door is wide open. None of those franchises made the playoffs last season, and only three of the five qualified the season prior. (The season prior, 24 teams qualified as well due to the COVID-19 pandemic; and still, three of the seven left out came from the Pacific Division.) The Seattle Kraken are immediate contenders for a playoff position within the Pacific Division. Once you make the playoffs, as everyone knows, anything can happen.