Hockey

First Impressions on the Seattle Kraken

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The Seattle Kraken came into their inaugural offseason with a somewhat unexpected opportunity to build a talented squad. With players such as Vladimir Tarasenko, Max Domi, Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, Jakub Voracek, and Carey Price available for selection at the expansion draft, they could have had a Stanley Cup contender right away, if everyone was at their best.

But the Kraken took a more modest approach, avoiding hefty contracts and prioritizing those who are not necessarily superstars but are almost guaranteed to make an impact in some way or another. Their current roster may not look super exciting, but they will be a tough team and have a great chance to build a strong foundation for the future.

Expansion Draft

As mentioned, the Kraken passed on many of the big-name players available to them and were more conservative with their selections. This was smart not only because those players had such lavish contracts, but because nobody knows if any of them will ever be as good as they have been in the past.

Every player listed at the top has concerns such as injuries, aging, and even lack of work ethic in some cases. If the Kraken were to select these players, they would have done so based on the idea that they could return to their once great form, not because they are promising right now. They also likely would have had a one or two-year Cup window before having to seriously retool, which is not ideal for a new franchise.

If you look at the players they selected, you can tell they are trying to build long-term stability in areas such as being tough to score on and frustrating their opponents. With no position did they make this more apparent than in net.

One of their first major moves was announced days before the draft, in which they were expected to select unrestricted free agent Chris Driedger from the Florida Panthers. They would do that and then sign him to a new contract right away.

They would also select Vitek Vanecek, who turned in a solid rookie season for the Washington Capitals last year. He would be traded back to the Capitals for a 2023 second-round draft pick a week later, mainly due to another move that will be discussed later.

As for the skaters, the Kraken continued to build from the bottom up by solidifying their defense. Their most notable selection on the back end was Mark Giordano, who will provide veteran leadership in addition to his play on the ice, but Jamie Oleksiak and Adam Larsson are strong shutdown guys who can hit in bunches as well. The selection of Vince Dunn was also wise, as he is young and mobile and has lots of potentials.

None of their forwards will scare anyone in terms of being big-time producers, but like their defensemen, many of them are strong defensively and can lay the body when needed. These include the likes of Jordan Eberle, Yanni Gourde, Brandon Tanev, Jared McCann, Calle Jarnkrok, and Colin Blackwell.

The only thing that was shocking is that the Kraken did not make any trades to get compensation for some of the players they selected. For example, they easily could have gotten a return from the Columbus Blue Jackets for selecting Gavin Bayreuther, and it feels like Ron Francis and the company failed to maximize their assets in some instances.

But overall and most importantly, the Kraken did a good job of selecting a deep and well-rounded roster that can make an impact now and into the future. And they would only add to it in free agency a week later.

Free Agency

The Kraken continued to build on their forward depth by signing Jaden Schwartz, Alexander Wennberg, and Marcus Johansson in free agency. Surprisingly, these have been some of their weakest moves all offseason, as the Schwartz deal is a bit steep after his down year in 2020-2021, and Wennberg was recently bought out of a similar contract to the one he just signed. What does make sense, however, is that these moves ensured that they would be able to roll four lines on any given night.

But the big piece was in net, as Philipp Grubauer seemingly fell out with the Colorado Avalanche. They made it clear that their main priority in free agency was re-signing Gabriel Landeskog, and the Kraken took the opportunity to swoop in and sign the guy who finished third in Vezina voting last year. They would sign him to a six-year deal at a $5.9M AAV and considering the term handed out to players this offseason, that is quite a steal.

This signing would prompt the aforementioned Vitek Vanecek trade, which all but had to happen since the Kraken could not realistically roll with three goaltenders of that level. Even then, they absolutely hit it out of the park by signing Grubauer. First and foremost, the key to having a successful team is having strong goaltending, and they have arguably the best tandem in the league between him and Driedger.

Final Thoughts

The Kraken is unlikely to be a true contender this year, which may be disappointing because of what the Vegas Golden Knights did in their inaugural season. Acquiring big-name players may have also been a good way to sell jerseys and get the fans involved, but the true way to get the fans involved is to build a winning team and culture, and that is what the Kraken is trending towards.

Realistically, they are one or two big-time forwards away from being one of the best teams in the league, and showing promise and being tough to play against will make any team an attractive one to join. Not to mention that they have just over $9M in cap space this year, and players such as Giordano, Jarnkrok, and Johansson are unrestricted free agents next offseason. And who knows, with how strong their goaltending is, they might be able to trade Driedger for assets and gain even more cap space.

Will they make the playoffs this coming year? They honestly have a strong chance to do so. The only team in the Pacific division that is unquestionably playoff-caliber is the Golden Knights, and every other team has significant question marks. I doubt the Kraken go anywhere past the second round, but for a new franchise, a playoff berth is a successful season.

They are playing their inaugural offseason smartly, as they are building a team that should be strong enough to excite the fans, but not hampering their future at all. And especially with those BEAUTIFUL jerseys they have, everyone should look forward to watching the Kraken in their first season.

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