Despite a relatively quiet offseason, the Seattle Kraken retained tremendous balance on defence. Some models label certain defencemen in Seattle as overpaid based on their calculated on-ice value. That said, the models depend on future projections, and six of Seattle’s eight defencemen on the roster see their contracts expire in the next two summers. For this year and (probably) next, the value appears mostly fair, with no big concerns. Furthermore, the balance they achieved and flexibility retained for coming free agencies makes their outlook really positive.
Balance a Key Attribute for the Seattle Kraken Defence
Compared to every other team in the league, the eleventh-highest payroll on defence belongs to the Kraken. They spend the second-most league-wide on goaltending, and rank 25th in forward spending, for what it’s worth. Despite higher-than-average figures in net and on the blue line, Seattle has no superstar-level players in those positions.
So initially, that sounds like cause for alarm. However, most of the money tied up in those positions falls off the books either next summer or the one thereafter. And, just because no single player ranks amongst the game’s elite doesn’t mean that the committee as a whole ranks poorly. In fact, the Kraken would argue the opposite.
Kraken Defencemen Under Contract
Instead of breaking the bank on one or two players, the team signed most of their “regular” Kraken defence group to modest deals. The highest-paid defenceman, Vince Dunn, just signed a four-year contract worth $7.35 million annually. That amount probably comes in pretty close to his value, especially after nearly doubling his career highs in goals, assists, points, hits, and takeaways last year.
After Dunn, the next five players on the Kraken defence unit earn between $2.7 million and $4.6 million per season. Jamie Oleksiak bookends the group on the high side, and William Borgen on the low side. Then Adam Larsson, Brian Dumoulin, and Justin Schultz make up the middle. Except for Dunn, Oleksiak, and a few prospects on entry-level contracts, every other defenceman in the Kraken organization hits free agency at some point over the next two summers.
Much of the concern for these other roster players has to do with their age. Oleksiak and Larsson turn 31 this season, while Dumoulin turns 32. Schultz just turned 33 himself, and even some of the next best defencemen in the Kraken system sit at or near the 30-year-old mark. It is reasonable to suggest that any of these players might begin sliding backwards in terms of ability, speed, or effectiveness.
How “Bad” are their “Bad” Contracts?
Now, even if Schultz or Dumoulin can’t play up to their contract value, there’s two things to keep in mind. First, the deals are short and won’t affect the team’s long-term goals. That money adds to the kitty in the next free agency classes, where tons of good players will be looking for new deals since the salary cap projects to increase.
Second, the deals are really not that expensive, either. If Dumoulin produces at a rate worth just $1.5 million instead of the $3.15 million he earns, that’s an overpayment but not a major one. Teams would much rather have a few players underachieving by small amounts, than one or two players underachieving by large amounts.
Worst-case scenario, a couple defencemen struggle pulling the weight of their contracts, and then depart via free agency sooner than later anyways.
How “Good” Could it all Wind Up Being?
On the opposite side of the spectrum sits the argument in favour of the Kraken defence. An easy reminder: this year’s core looks nearly identical to last year’s core. The only exchange came on opening day of free agency when Carson Soucy left and Dumoulin arrived. Connor Carrick also joined the organization on July 3rd, though he remains a depth option likely destined for the AHL.
Last year, the defence on the Kraken stood strong enough to finish one win shy of the Western Conference Final. Sure, the group gets one year older, but assuming every one of them will either fall off the cliff or regress significantly seems highly unlikely.
As a best-case scenario, bringing in a more experienced defender in Dumoulin shores up their third pair to actually improve the group overall. The depth on defence makes training camp an important place for everyone vying for a roster spot, too. Cale Fleury, Jaycob Megna, Gustav Olofsson and Carrick all logged NHL minutes at various points in their careers to date. That gives the Kraken defence a total of ten NHL-calibre players, with only six roster openings available.
Projecting Kraken Defence Pairs for Opening Night
Of the Kraken’s top ten options on defence, five shoot left and the other five shoot right. The team receives bonus points for that, as their pairings always feature balance on the left and right sides. At the top, Dunn seems likely to pair again with Larsson, as they did last season.
The next pairs remain difficult to pin down, though Oleksiak and Borgen played together plenty in the past and may do so going forward. If that happens, then Dumoulin and Schultz almost certainly stand as the third pairing.
That unit of six looks stellar when it comes to strengths and weaknesses. Dunn, Oleksiak and Dumoulin all shoot left, while their partners shoot right. Larsson plays a defence-first style, while Dunn compliments him with his strong offensive output. The next pairs after them fit just as nicely, too.
Dunn – Larsson | Oleksiak – Borgen | Dumoulin – Schultz
Oleksiak ranks as the heaviest player in the NHL, so his rugged defensive style comes as no surprise. Borgen fits nicely with him as the less-experienced playing partner. He played in every game last season, a first-time occurrence in his young career. Thanks to Oleksiak’s presence, Borgen’s game receives support and calming steadiness.
Then, Dumoulin arrives after years of top-four shutdown role minutes elsewhere. That experience makes the assignments he’ll receive on Seattle’s third pair feel a tad easier than he’s used to. Schultz also played bigger minutes earlier in his career, yet he still managed to produce more offensively than the rest of the Kraken defence outside of Dunn. In short, Dumoulin and Schultz could be the most under-the-radar third pair out there.
If anyone falters or an injury or two hurt the group, the Kraken still have plenty of options. Olofsson and Megna seem destined for depth roles as the first replacements for left-shot defenders. On the right side, Carrick and Fleury fill those same shoes. The depth chart fits together extremely nicely in Seattle, with plenty of flexibility looking forward to boot.
Main Photo Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports