The lack of growth in the NHL’s salary cap for the past few seasons forced many teams into making moves they otherwise wouldn’t have. In 2023-24, the league expects the cap ceiling to raise by at least $1 million. While a good sign overall, that still provides little additional breathing room to most teams. The average “win-now” franchise already sits up against the cap limit, forcing difficult decisions upon teams desperate for some chanis ge. All that aside, a few teams his old a major upper hand. One example: the Seattle Kraken, with cap flexibility that other franchises lack entirely.
Cap Flexibility Gives Seattle Kraken an Upper Hand
Of all 32 teams, the Kraken possess the seventh-slimmest NHL payroll number for 2023-24. Yes, plenty of contracts need to be executed for UFA’s and RFA’s league-wide for next season. In fact, the six teams with more cap space than Seattle actually sit underneath the cap floor right now.
The point, though, remains the same: extra cap flexibility offers the Kraken many options to add to their roster. Plus, only two other teams who made the postseason along with the Kraken this last season have more cap space available than they do. In other words, Seattle both had success this season and has the upper hand going into the draft and free agency.
Entering the 2023 NHL Entry Draft
Before free agency opens in July, the league completes the Entry Draft on June 28-29. With a whopping ten picks at their disposal, the Kraken could absolutely do more before or during the draft than just select prospects.
For a franchise with only two drafts in their history, stocking their cupboards with legitimate prospects remains a priority. That said, it feels unlikely that the Kraken expect to actually utilize every single one of their ten picks for themselves. And with over $20 million in projected cap space, acquiring roster players via trade sits well within the realm of possibility.
Part of that decision, though, depends on what Seattle decides regarding the future of their own pending free agents. Many of those players, whether carrying UFA or RFA status, played significant roles on the team last year. Plenty can command higher salaries after their performance and growth, eating into the cap flexibility the Kraken boast.
Evaluating the Kraken’s Needs
The Kraken have nine pending free agents on their NHL roster today, five of which become RFA’s. The assumption here is that the team retains the RFA’s. Those RFA’s likely consume $12-15 million, quickly reducing their $20 million in space to a single-digit figure.
That means the UFA’s Ryan Donato, Martin Jones, Joonas Donskoi and Carson Soucy probably depart Seattle. And honestly, if anything, maybe some from the RFA class leave too. Realistically, the most important free agents to retain are Vince Dunn, William Borgen, and arguably Daniel Sprong. The other two (Morgan Geekie, and Cale Fleury) sat in smaller roles already.
Identifying Trade Targets
So, the voids left behind look pretty negligible on offence. That said, they still need help at forward; the “score by committee” approach worked fantastically in 2022-23, but just imagine that team with one or two more quality offensive players.
On the blueline, Seattle need someone to fill Soucy’s shoes. In net, Chris Driedger should resume his role at the NHL level as the goalie partner of Philip Grubauer.
Whether they address these needs via free agency or trade, the Kraken’s cap flexibility suggests they’ll definitely do something.
Conor Garland and/or Alexis Lafreniere
Seattle Times author Geoff Baker identified a couple of possible trade targets for Seattle this summer. He pinpointed Alexis Lafreniere of the New York Rangers, and Conor Garland of the Vancouver Canucks, as possible fits. Lafreniere, a former first overall pick from 2020, scored a career-high 39 points last season. Garland posted the best two years of his young career over the last two seasons too.
The Rangers only have $11 million in cap space for next season, and still need to get K’Andre Miller extended. Lafreniere, and RFA himself, has not progressed at the speed the Rangers may have hoped. With some big name UFA’s too (i.e. Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko), Lafreniere’s tenure in The Big Apple may end this summer.
Garland carries a $4.95 million cap hit for the next three seasons. The difference here, though, is the Canucks need to shed cap space. They already sit over the 2023-24 salary cap, and remain in rebuild mode moreso than win-now. Given the Kraken’s position, both Garland and Lafreniere stand out as feasible options to acquire.
Cap Flexibility: Kraken’s Greatest Asset
The Kraken’s successful 2022-23 campaign put them on the map. Without a doubt, players look at Seattle much differently than they did a year ago. They earned that with a proof-of-concept season, and their vision should attract others looking for an opportunity to win.
This team fell one win short of the Western Conference Final, not to mention they did it without Andre Burakovsky. Add his offence and playoff experience to their group, and maybe they find a way to get a little deeper. Now, bring that back next season, and add another weapon or two. Heck, maybe one of those additions is Wright making the jump to the NHL.
In total, Seattle needs to retain its RFA’s. Then, the Kraken use their cap flexibility to acquire a forward. They need to add a top-six defenceman, too. With plenty of cap space, as well as a plethora of draft picks, Seattle has the means to accomplish all these goals without sacrificing their present or future.
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