After a lukewarm expansion draft last summer, Seattle Kraken General Manager Ron Francis received some criticism for his selections. Ultimately, he justified the process by stating their goal to “weaponize cap space”. Basically, the proven talent available to Seattle, for the most part, came with higher price tags. And many of those prices also had longer contract lengths tied to them, too. Instead, the Kraken built a team compromised mainly of cheap, short-term veterans and younger players with unknown ceilings. Aside from Jordan Eberle, Brandon Tanev and Yanni Gourde, none of their expansion picks carried more than three-year contracts with them to Seattle.
Now, just one season later, they own 10 roster players signed through at least 2024-25 (plus another four prospects across that length). It didn’t happen right away, but Francis began “weaponizing” the cap and now sits just $2.1 million shy of the upper limit. The Kraken roster continues improving, especially on forward, and teams shouldn’t expect the same opponent they saw a season ago.
Seattle Kraken Roster Improving ahead of 2022-23
The first strides towards Seattle’s future came at the entry draft, largely thanks to the deals made during last season. Remember all those short-term veterans Francis drafted? Tyler Pitlick, Kurtis MacDermid, Vitek Vanecek, Calle Jarnkrok, Mark Giordano, Colin Blackwell, Jeremy Lauzon, Mason Appleton, and Marcus Johansson (who, to be fair, signed in free agency with Seattle originally) all got flipped during 2021-22 in exchange for draft picks. Those nine players became 13 draft selections. Some, they since flipped for other picks or players (more on that later). Others still lie in future seasons, where Seattle currently holds six picks in addition to their own over the next two years.
Francis and the Waterfall Effect
At the time, the decisions looked iffy at best. Take Jarnkrok for example. Francis had the opportunity to draft Matt Duchene or Ryan Johansen from the Nashville Predators but went with Jarnkrok instead. Sure, Duchene and Johansen own long-term, high-dollar contracts. However, that’s warranted when the production matches the spend. Yes, they both had down seasons in 2020-21, but both bounced back and led Nashville to a playoff berth. Naturally, Kraken fans lamented all year long on “what could have been”.
Jarnkrok wound up traded to the Calgary Flames at the deadline. In return, Seattle obtained a second-round pick in 2022, which they used to select David Goyette 61st overall. (That was one of four second-round selections Seattle made this year.) They also received a 2023 third-rounder, and a 2024 seventh-rounder. In a separate deadline deal, Appleton went back to the Winnipeg Jets for a 2023 fourth-rounder.
On July 22nd, Francis paired that 2023 third-rounder from Calgary with the 2023 fourth-rounder from Winnipeg, and sent them to the Columbus Blue Jackets. In exchange, Seattle netted Oliver Bjorkstrand, a 27-year-old coming off a career-high 28-goal and 57-point campaign. Bjorkstrand carries four more years on his contract, too.
Kraken Roster Improving
In short, Seattle made out okay despite passing on Duchene and Johansen from Nashville. Sure, there’s a real chance that Bjorkstrand doesn’t amount to be the same calibre player as either of them over his full career. But, he’s under contract for a more-favourable $5.5 million cap hit, and through the prime of his career. Will Duchene be worth his $8 million cap hit in the last two seasons of his deal, when he reaches 34-35 years old? That seems less likely than a 27-year-old continuing to out-perform his $5.5 million cap hit.
Top Six Forward Improvements
Aside from Bjorkstrand, Seattle added two centres through their first two drafts, each taken with their first-round picks. Matthew Beniers came first, in 2021 with the second overall pick. Then, Shane Wright, long thought to go first overall in 2022, fell to Seattle at fourth overall. Both can make this roster out of training camp, without a doubt. Again, Wright looked to be a lock as the top prospect in this year’s draft. He should be NHL ready, even if he doesn’t produce immediately as a top line, or even top six, forward. Beniers joined the Kraken at the end of last season just to get a taste, and he looked phenomenal. He posted nine points in ten games, the highest points-per-game percentage on the entire roster last season. Sure, it was a small sample size. But it injected a huge amount of optimism into a team and fanbase that needed it after a long year.
So, theoretically, Seattle enters 2022-23 with their top two centremen in place. Neither was on the team for the first 72 games last year, so those are anticipated enhancements to this year’s group. Add Bjorkstrand to that on the wing in the top six as well. Plus, in free agency, Francis used more of his cap space to lock up Andre Burakovsky for four years. He just won his second Stanley Cup as a member of the Colorado Avalanche, and like Bjorkstrand, posted career highs in 2021-22. That totals four new faces, each of which will receive an opportunity to play in the team’s top six. Should they succeed there, it means 2/3rd’s of the team’s best forwards joined the club this season.
Returning Faces on Offence
The above four players bring tons of excitement to Seattle, but not just because of what they can do on their own. The bigger impact potentially comes from the trickle-down effect it has on the rest of the lineup. Suddenly, players thrust into top-line roles and minutes last season can take a step back and play in more appropriate depth roles. Names like Morgan Geekie, Ryan Donato, Joonas Donskoi and Alexander Wennberg won’t be relied upon as heavily now. For someone like Donskoi, who regressed from 17 goals in 51 games a year ago to a measly 2 goals in 75 games with Seattle, that might be just what he needs to find his game again.
Should Beniers and Wright hold the top two lines down in the centre position, and Bjorkstrand and Burakovsky flank one of those two, that leaves two wing spots up for grabs. Eberle is a lock for one of those. Gourde or Jared McCann probably snags the other. McCann, a natural centre, could even centre the second line if one of Beniers or Wright needs sheltering on the third line.
Plus, they have some players coming back from injury. The improving Kraken roster gets an additional bump from Jaden Schwartz and Tanev re-entering the fold. Those two, plus the seven names in the above paragraph, gives Seattle nine very solid forwards. Wennberg, Donskoi, Geekie, Donato, and the rest of their depth forwards now shift from regulars in the lineup to a battle for fourth-line minutes. That’s a very different scenario and gives them lots of options for plugging holes as injuries occur too.
What this Means for the Future
Now, hockey is a two-way sport. On the blue line, Seattle honestly looks marginally worse entering this year than it did last year. They brought back the same corps, only adding Justin Schultz, and obviously, Giordano won’t be there this time around. They have a few other new options below that, but nothing to write home about (yet). So they heavily bank on their offensive growth for 2022-23. The same is true in net, as Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger return. Driedger, who posted the better numbers of the tandem, won’t play until the last half of the season after suffering an offseason injury. To buoy them, Martin Jones signed a one-year deal.
Jones hasn’t looked good for years. And Grubauer was one of the worst goalies in the NHL last season. They hired a new goalie coach, and seem to be praying he’s a miracle worker. Again, the goaltending position went from bad to still bad, and the defence went from iffy to meh. The forwards look great, but will that be enough?
Francis can make more moves if necessary. After all, he’s got plenty of draft picks to sling around. He might need to clear a little cap space to do so, but the options exist. And realistically, expectations don’t sky-rocket yet either. They finished second-to-last in the West, and aren’t the only team trying to get better for next season. Ultimately, if Seattle can stay in the playoff race for a while longer, and finish even 10th in the west, that’ll be a significant step forward for an improving Kraken roster.
— Seattle Kraken PR (@SeattleKrakenPR) July 13, 2022