Day one of NHL free agency came and went over the weekend. With 166 signings worth a total of $650 million (per CapFriendly), teams got to work fast. Most franchises opted for shorter term deals, a trend that continued beyond day one as well. With many of their own depth players departing, the Seattle Kraken made moves to upgrade the team without sacrificing long-term cap flexibility. They surely want to do more still, too.
Seattle Kraken Search for Upgrades Ahead of 2023-24
Entering this offseason, Seattle sat in a confident place with their roster. The vast majority of impact players remained retained on their current deals (though next summer brings more action their way). That said, their entire fourth line expired and signed contracts elsewhere (Ryan Donato, Daniel Sprong, and Morgan Geekie), along with Carson Soucy on defence.
Those free agency casualties may be replaceable, it does mean a different look in the bottom half of their lineup next year. And on a “win by committee” roster that received enormous contributions from its fourth line, it could hurt them more than the average team.
Already though, Seattle added a pair of new forwards as well as a new defenceman to the fold. Whether those pieces serve as upgrades for the Kraken, or straight replacements, remains to be seen. They still need to finish up signing key RFA’s, but have enough cap space to add further roster pieces beyond that.
State of the Union: Seattle Kraken
At the moment of this writing, Seattle holds 11 forwards, five defencemen, and three goalies under contract. That includes Andre Burakovsky, who missed almost half the season due to injury yet still posted 39 points. His scoring pace over an 82-game season equated to 65 points, which would’ve placed him second on the team in scoring.
While five defencemen sounds concerning, it does not yet include three RFAs. William Borgen, Vince Dunn and Cale Fleury all need new deals and will receive them in time. So, no need for alarm there, although it does indicate their $14.5 million in cap space isn’t entirely available for free agents.
And in net, Seattle plans to throw it back to their inaugural season. Martin Jones departed, but Chris Driedger returns after a season obliterated due to injury. Plus, Joey Daccord received a two-year contract to keep him in the fold as well.
Kraken Upgrades by Position
On offence, Seattle added Kailer Yamamoto (one year, $1.5 million) and Marian Studenic (one year, $775,000). The latter only has 44 games of NHL experience and may wind up with the Coachella Valley Firebirds in the AHL. The former, though, has 244 games, all with the Edmonton Oilers.
Yamamoto grew up in Washington too, so this feels like a home-team signing. His 50 goals and 68 assists came across parts of six seasons as an Oiler. Though his advanced statistics slipped in the last couple of years, he also received fewer offensive zone starts. That helps explain it, at least a bit.
A big sign of encouragement, Yamamoto arrives as a former 20-goal scorer who also turns just 25 years old this year. He might wind up an upgrade over the Kraken departures and can add production from anywhere in the lineup.
Kraken Situation on Defence
The single most important contract left remains, with Dunn yet to ink a new deal. That may eat up over half of the team’s cap space today, but looks well worth it. From year one to year two in Seattle, Dunn nearly doubled his production output. He also went from a minus-21 to a plus-28, with three more minutes of ice time per night. His relative Corsi-for percentage increased by two percentage points as well.
Dunn became the team’s bonafide top defenceman and should be paid as such. The dollar figure, though, must be one that works long-term too. After all, Jordan Eberle, Eeli Tolvanen and Justin Schultz hit free agency next summer. That’s without any mention of Matthiew Beniers, who finishes his entry-level contract this next season.
While Soucy fits nicely in Seattle, Dumoulin produces at roughly the same clip and plays a more “defence first” style. Dumoulin also eats more minutes, particularly on the penalty kill. Between Dumoulin, Jamie Oleksiak and Adam Larsson, Seattle looks really strong in their own zone. Dunn, Borgen and Schultz round out a very reliable blueline for next season, one that might be slightly upgraded for the Kraken compared to a season ago.
In the Crease
As mentioned, the Kraken goaltending situation remains basically unchanged. Jones left, but he only came to Seattle because Driedger suffered a long-term injury last summer. With Driedger healthy, the original Grubauer-Driedger tandem appears set to reunite.
Re-upping Daccord provides a safety valve, too. He helped lead the Firebirds to the Calder Cup Final, where they lost in dramatic fashion (game seven overtime). At 26 years old, he may still have a ceiling to reach.
In their 14 playoff games, Grubauer shined bright. In the regular season, though, he struggled for a second straight season. If he carries the playoff momentum into next season, this team becomes significantly more difficult to beat.
Other Potential Decisions to Upgrade the Kraken Roster
All-in-all, the back half of this team looks ready for opening night. Their blueline looks solid. After the starting six, they have Fleury, Connor Carrick and Gustav Olofsson as depth options. Ryker Evans remains atop the prospect pipeline as well. In goal, the Grubauer-Driedger-Daccord group feels set too.
That leaves the team with (hopefully) around $5 million in cap space, assuming all the RFAs sign for roughly $10 million combined. Ideally, that figure for the RFAs is an overestimate. Seattle could keep that space for a midseason move, once they have a good grasp on their roster. Or, they could acquire another forward in free agency.
And if they wanted to get a free agent, they could commit all the money to try attracting one of the remaining “big fish” candidates. Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko still need new homes, but surely come with a hefty asking price. Maybe instead, Ron Francis takes a flier on second- or third-tier names. Andrews Johnsson, Jesse Puljujarvi, Denis Gurianov and Oscar Sundqvist, to name a few, all remain available. Any of those players could help round out the team’s roster on offence.