Welcome to Last Word on Hockey’s 2022 summer series, exploring the best and worst free agent signings for each NHL team of the post-lockout, salary cap era. With this past offseason seeing some big splashes (and potential gambles) like Johnny Gaudreau, Claude Giroux, John Klingberg, and others, it’s time to take a look at how teams have boosted and stunted their progress in recent history. Today, we take a look at the Seattle Kraken’s free agent signings history.
Seattle Kraken Free Agent Hits and Misses
Best Signing: Adam Larsson
🚨SIGNING ALERT🚨: #SeaKraken sign defenceman Adam Larsson to a four-year, $16 million contract…
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) July 21, 2021
Former Edmonton Oilers defenceman Adam Larsson was general manager Ron Francis’ biggest coup of the Expansion Draft.
The Kraken were given an early window to negotiate with pending unrestricted free agents. The catch was any contract signed would count as a pick in the Expansion Draft. Francis took advantage to sign Larsson to a four-year, $4 million AAV deal. It carries a full no-trade clause for the first two years, decreasing to 10 team-only for the remainder of the contract.
It was a rocky inaugural season for the Kraken. The season saw injuries, poor results and a deadline day clear-out, including captain Mark Giordano leaving for the Toronto Maple Leafs. A much more typical inaugural season for an expansion franchise than what the Vegas Golden Knights accomplished. While several names were moved, Larsson has been pegged as being a key player for the Kraken moving forward.
The Swede consistently gave top forwards a tough night with his old-school type play and physicality. He also managed to contribute to the offence, putting up a career-high 25 points.
Larsson was never able to establish himself as the number one defenceman in Edmonton. For whatever reason, he has taken on this role in Seattle comfortably. With Giordano gone and Larsson locked in for the remaining three years, it is possible he could ascend to captain status. Considering the fair price of his contract and age (29), Larsson is easily the best of the Seattle Kraken free agent signings so far.
Honourable Mention: Jaden Schwartz
After spending his entire career with the St Louis Blues, Jaden Schwartz signed with the Kraken. He inked a five-year contract with a $5.5 million AAV. The first three years include a full no-movement clause, switching to a modified no-trade clause in the final two.
A Stanley Cup winner, Schwartz has helped bring experience, a winning pedigree and top-six talent to Seattle. His production for his new side has been as expected. He scored a respectable 23 points in 37 games played.
Clearly, Schwartz was a bright spark when he was healthy. However, 37 appearances out of a possible 82 is concerning, especially for a winger aged 30. His hefty contract could be hard to move in the future if he continues to struggle to stay healthy. When he is in the lineup Schwartz provides the Kraken with excellent skill and offence.
Worst Signing: Philipp Grubauer
Seattle makes it official. Goalie Philipp Grubauer signs with the Kraken for six years, $5.9 million AAV.
— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) July 28, 2021
Having already snapped up Chris Driedger, the Kraken made a big splash in free agency for another goaltender.
A Stanley Cup winner with the Washington Capitals in 2018, Philipp Grubauer had proven to be a solid NHL starter with the Colorado Avalanche. At the end of his deal in 2021, he opted to test free agency and signed with Seattle.
The deal confused many at the time. The German had recently performed very well and was a recent Vezina Trophy finalist. However, his career stats did not match the contract awarded. The team had given Grubauer a huge six-year deal, carrying a $5.9 million AAV and a full no-trade clause, which is modified in the last three years.
Unsurprisingly, the 30-year-old has not lived up to the standard of play his contract required. However, few predicted how poorly he would play. He posted a horrible GAA of 3.16, his career-worst since his rookie 2012-13 season and his save percentage was 0.889, a career low.
With Seattle having committed so much cash and term to Grubauer, it is unlikely he will stop being the number one goaltender for the foreseeable. Therefore, the fans and club will be praying his first year was just a blip, as currently, Grubauer is a major weakness on elite goaltender money.
Honourable Mention: Alexander Wennberg
After being bought out from his Columbus Blue Jackets contract in October 2020, the Florida Panthers snapped up Alexander Wennberg the following day and gave him a $2.25 million, one-year prove-it deal.
Wennberg’s play improved, with the Swede putting up 29 points in 56 games. He did not stick around in Sunrise however and opted to head to the Pacific Northwest, with the Kraken handing him a three-year deal. The contract carries a $4.5 million AAV and a 10-team no-trade clause.
Unfortunately, although his AAV doubled, Wennberg has seen a slight drop in production. Whilst he has provided his teammates with 26 assists, 11 goals in 80 games will not have been what Francis was hoping for when he signed the 27-year-old.
Of course, it has only been one season and the whole club is still finding its groove. However, if Seattle tries to move him at any time, his current cap hit could be off-putting for his production. Additionally, if a team is found that a no-trade clause could hinder proceedings.