Things are really rounding into shape!
The two drafts – particularly the expansion draft – gave us some insight into what to expect from the Kraken, both in the inaugural season, and as an organizational philosophy going forward: defense and toughness, versatility and flexibility. But, if there were two concerns heading into free agency, it was the lack of proven stars, and wondering where the scoring would come from. I mean, defense is great, but you have to actually score goals to win, right?
Well, with around $30 million to play with, the Kraken got to work settling our concerns by signing three guys who are varying degrees of proven stars, two of which appear to be among our strongest goal-scorers on the team.
Philipp Grubauer is the big “get” for us, a goalie who recently played for Colorado. This was a bit of a surprise, as we’d taken three goalies in the expansion draft, and Chris Driedger signed a 3-year contract to give the appearance of being our primary net man. It seemed like the Kraken were all too happy to go on the cheap with a potential up-and-comer, especially with the strong defensive squad giving him all the help he’d need.
But, Grubauer is legit. He was a Vezina Trophy finalist last year, leading the league in shutouts. He’ll be 30 years old in November, so his six year deal should encompass the vast majority of his prime. Colorado was the best regular season team in the NHL last year, and Grubauer was a big reason why; I love this deal!
That obviously led to an opportunity to trade from our glut of goalies, so we sent Washington Vitek Vanecek – the player we’d taken from them originally in the expansion draft – for a 2023 second round draft pick. Brilliant! I mean, it’s 2023, and that player could wind up being a nobody, but how cool is that? This is the type of deal I think a lot of us expected the Kraken to be making originally (prior to this year’s draft), but I think I prefer having this type of stockpile saved for the future.
Jaden Schwartz is a forward out of St. Louis that we signed to a 5-year deal. He was instrumental in their Stanley Cup run of 2019, and having just turned 29 years old, is also right there in his prime. He’s scored 154 goals in 10 seasons in the league, giving us some punch in the lineup and some veteran savvy. I’m expecting to see quite a bit out of him in the early going.
Finally, we brought in Alex Wennberg on a 3-year deal. He played most of his career in Columbus, but had 17 goals with Florida last year. He’s only 27 years old, and is a center, so there’s room for him to grow and blossom. But, his contract is reasonable, and it seems like he’d fit in nicely with the group of guys we have here so far. We’re veteran where it counts – Schwartz, Giordano, Grubauer, Gourde, Tanev, Eberle, Larsson – but a lot of our guys are kind of fringey who have some experience, but haven’t realized their full potential just yet. If enough of those guys take the next steps in their development, that could set us up for immediate success.
At the very least, after the first season, we should have a good idea of where to attack free agency in year two. But, so far, I’m really happy with the direction Ron Francis is taking this team.