The Seattle Kraken Signed Some Free Agents

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.

Was The Seattle Kraken Entry Draft Underwhelming As Well?

Boy, I hope not!

With the Kraken selecting second overall (and third in every subsequent round), you’d like to think we’d nab at least one quality player among the seven, but you never know.

Matty Beniers, a center from the University of Michigan, was the big prize for the Kraken. Owen Power – also from Michigan – was the consensus #1 overall player, and he indeed went to Buffalo with the first pick. Beniers eventually became the near-consensus #2 pick, and the Kraken didn’t fuck around. He’s an 18 year old center with one year of college experience (according to Wikipedia, he was slated to go to Harvard before the Ivy League cancelled their season due to COVID), but has shined throughout his amateur career. He’s been touted as one of the most NHL-ready players in this draft, which you can take a couple of ways. He could be the “safe” pick that might not eclipse expectations compared to some higher-upside prospects (but at least we know we SHOULD have a good all-around player), or he could continue his trajectory as one of the best hockey players in the world and really put it all together in the next few years. Either way, there isn’t a lot of downside in taking Beniers.

Ryker Evans went to us in the second round; he’ll be 20 in December. He’s a defenseman who’s considered to be quite a reach as a second rounder. He’s got a lot of experience in the minor leagues, so obviously there’s something in him the scouting department likes. It’ll be disappointing if he doesn’t pan out in the next few years.

Ryan Winterton was taken in the third round. He’s a center who some projected as possibly going higher, which is nice I guess. Overall, he’s seen as more of a depth piece, but that’s not nothing.

Ville Ottavainen is a defenseman out of Finland who was selected in the fourth round. This could be a find for the Kraken, as we’re particularly well set up in our Scandinavian scouting department.

Jacob Melanson is a right winger taken in the fifth round. Apparently anyone drafted below the third or fourth rounds are lottery picks more than anything. I nevertheless find it interesting the Kraken took Semyon Vyazovoi from Russia in the sixth round. Anytime your team drafts a goalie – even in the later rounds – he’s going to be someone to watch. Finally, the Kraken drafted Justin Janicke in the seventh round; he just turned 18 years old and is a left winger.

From what I’m reading, there’s nothing that blows you away with this draft by the Kraken. They didn’t try to get too cute by picking someone else over Beniers; that selection was so easy a caveman could’ve made it. Where we’ll ultimately judge the organization’s scouting department – as well as GM Ron Francis – is how well the players in rounds 2-7 pan out. Just like the drafts in every other sport, we won’t have a great idea about how well they did for another 4-5 years. So, I’ll see you in 4-5 years, when I’m better able to have an actual opinion on matters.

Is Ron Francis A Good GM?

I don’t know much about hockey, but I’m willing to learn. So, I’ll try to trickle in some posts related to the new Seattle team (still without a name). As such, here’s a little blurb about the Seattle Hockey Guys hiring Ron Francis to be their first general manager.

He’s an NHL Hall of Famer and sounds like one of the greatest of all time. That’s awesome. But, does being an elite player qualify you for the GM job?

He was the GM at Carolina from 2014-2018. At that time, they were coming off of five straight seasons outside of the playoffs, finishing 13th in the conference the year before he started. In his four seasons, the Hurricanes never made the playoffs, with mediocre finishes each year. He was fired in 2018, immediately before they finished 7th in the conference and making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals (getting swept by the Bruins) this past season.

So, obviously I have a lot of questions. First and foremost, how easy is it for teams to turn things around from being dreadful to decent? It sure seems like this most recent Hurricanes team was built by and large by Francis (at least the top three position players by points were holdovers). But, the goaltending looks like it was a total revamp, with a couple of journeymen veterans coming in and playing the lion’s share of the games. Which leads me to the question: how important is goaltending to winning? Like, if you divided up the pie, is it 50/50? Is it more than half? Is goaltending everything?

What I don’t really know, but hope to find out thanks to the hard work of others, is how well did he draft? Does he have a solid plan for team building? Did he set up the Hurricanes to be successful for years to come? Or, did a mediocre team come together thanks to improved goaltending? I mean, I’d be happy to look into it, but I’m getting ready to go on a 5-week road trip at the end of the month, so I don’t have a lot of free time to dig into it.

I guess my biggest question is: how much of it is a total crapshoot? In baseball, it feels like the biggest crapshoot of all the major professional sports. Basketball feels like it’s pretty predictable for the most part (who’s going to be good coming out of the draft, vs. who’s just going to be a role player). The NFL is somewhere in the middle. So, where is the NHL?

We’ll find out, soon enough.