If hindsight is 20/20, then foresight is a superpower. The Seattle Kraken are firmly planted in last place in the Pacific Division and look like a more traditional expansion team than many expected. With that in mind, there have been a lot of folks trying to figure out where the team’s front office went wrong with the work it did in building the inaugural roster.
While we’re disappointed that things have gone sideways in this first season, we always knew this was a possibility. Assembling a group of mostly spare parts from other teams could have produced a winner, as it did in Vegas, but with so many unknowns entering 2021-22, we were braced for a tough on-ice start for the franchise. Sadly, that is what we’ve gotten, as any cautious optimism has been quashed.
In hindsight, we’re thankful that the Kraken front office had the foresight to also recognize that a bad first season was plausible. We still believe general manager Ron Francis and his staff built a good foundation for sustained success in the future, but they also were clever in leaving themselves an escape hatch in case this first season didn’t pan out the way they hoped.
That escape hatch came in the form of selecting players with minimal term left on their respective contracts and signing free agents to one-year deals. As it stands currently, the Kraken only have 15 players under contract for 2022-23, including those on their taxi squad and those with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers. That number does not include the 10 players set to become restricted free agents, with whom the Kraken have exclusive negotiating rights, assuming they extend qualifying offers.
For context, NHL teams are allowed to give out up to 50 contracts at any one time, so even if they sign all 10 of their RFA’s to extensions, the Kraken still would only be halfway to the maximum number of allowable contracts.
Also worth taking into account, the Kraken currently share their AHL affiliate with the Florida Panthers. The Coachella Valley Firebirds are supposed to begin play in 2022-23 and are expected to be the exclusive AHL affiliate of the Kraken, so many more players will have to be added to the system in the relative near future.
With all this in mind, the Kraken are poised to look drastically different in 2022-23, as the front office has a mountain of decisions to make in the coming months. We figured this would be as good a time as any to look at the current roster and get an idea of which players could return next season and which could be on the move.
Players under contract
Let’s get this group out of the way quickly. These are the players that are under contract through next season and are currently on the Kraken’s NHL roster. Assuming no trades of these players, they are expected to still be Kraken in 2022-23.
Not currently on the NHL roster are Luke Henman, whose contract expires after 2023-24, and Joey Daccord, who is signed through next season. Both of those players will become RFA’s after their contracts end.
Unrestricted free agents
Here’s where decision making will have to come sooner rather than later for the Kraken brass. There are five players on the team’s current NHL roster that are set to become unrestricted free agents after this season. If the Kraken don’t re-sign these players before free agency officially opens in July, they are free to sign anywhere they want.
Do any of these players offer enough value to contending teams to fetch trade offers prior to the March 21 trade deadline? Do the Kraken want these players back after this season? If so, is there mutual interest from these individuals in continuing their respective tenures in deep-sea blue sweaters?
It’s just our hunch, but with the team struggling as much as it has, we would expect Francis to listen to any offers he receives on what would be rental players for other teams.
Current cap hit: $6,750,000
Surely the Kraken wouldn’t name a captain in their first season, only to trade him at the deadline, would they?
Well, if one player can bring value on the rental market, it’s Giordano. He’s a former Norris Trophy winner, he’s a leader, and he does the kinds of things teams salivate over for deep playoff runs. We also knew all along that with his age, his captaincy would be relatively short lived, even if he ended up playing in Seattle beyond this season.
One challenge is that Giordano has a modified no-trade clause, so he will have some control over where he goes. Still, at 38 years old, we have to think he would be open to a move to a contending team.
Current cap hit: $2,000,000
Two-way forward, Calle Jarnkrok, 30, had a tough start to his Kraken tenure. He began the season by getting COVID-19, then went without a single point in his first 12 games. He finally broke out with a goal and an assist on Nov. 21 against Washington, only to get injured the following game against Carolina and miss two more weeks.
Jarnkrok has turned it on of late, though. He looks like a different player now and has averaged a point per game over Seattle’s last nine contests. He could end up having a pretty good statistical season if he can stay healthy, especially if coach Dave Hakstol continues playing him with Yanni Gourde.
He also has 63 career playoff games under his belt with Nashville, so with his affordable cap hit, we think teams could inquire about Jarnkrok.
Current cap hit: $1,500,000
Marcus Johansson was one of those later-in-the-summer free agent signings by the Kraken, as they looked to fill out the rest of their roster prior to training camp.
On a one-year deal, we saw Johansson as a depth addition at the time. But the veteran forward has played a more significant role than we anticipated, including getting plenty of power play time—he’s been a big contributor as the net-front guy—and playing in the top six for a lot of the season.
Johansson has 97 career playoff games, and folks seem to remember his impressive performance during Boston’s 2018-19 Stanley Cup Final run, when he had 11 points in 22 games.
Still, despite getting plenty of opportunity, Johansson only has nine points on the season. So, will we see him back in a Kraken uniform next year?
This one could go either way. If Seattle can get him back on a similar contract for another year or two, we think they’d take him. But we also think Francis will be able to replace Johansson if other teams come calling, or if they can’t find a team-friendly extension.
Current cap hit: $725,000
Forward Colin Blackwell had something of a breakout season with the Rangers in 2020-21, registering 12 goals and 10 assists in 47 games. That led to his selection by the Kraken in the Expansion Draft.
He has had a similar first half to Jarnkrok, though. He started the season on injured reserve after missing all of training camp with a nagging lower-body injury. He then got COVID and missed most of December. He also has found himself in the press box as a healthy scratch on several occasions, but now on the line with Jarnkrok and Gourde, Blackwell seems to have found a home.
We don’t expect too many callers for Blackwell at the deadline. But if he can continue to build and be a regular player on a contributing line, we don’t see why the Kraken wouldn’t bring Blackwell back, especially if they can get him for around $1 million.
Current cap hit: $850,000
Depth forward Riley Sheahan has been exactly what we expected him to be. A good soldier and a responsible two-way center, Sheahan plays a simple and quintessential fourth-line game. There are probably players out there with more offensive upside that can replace Sheahan, but it doesn’t hurt the Kraken to keep him around beyond this season.
He did pass through waivers and had a brief stint in the AHL this season as well, so if anything, he can provide some veteran leadership to the Firebirds in 2022-23.
Current cap hit: $750,000
Max McCormick is another player like Riley Sheahan. He has filled in well on the fourth line when given the opportunity, but there isn’t a ton of offensive upside. He’s in a similar spot to Sheahan in that he has played his role admirably, but if he doesn’t return, there are other players out there that can replace him.
Restricted free agents
With restricted free agents, the Kraken hold most of the cards. Assuming Seattle wants these guys back, it can keep them; it’s just a matter of how long and for what price.
To keep their rights, Seattle just has to extend qualifying offers to these players. This means something equal to or higher than their previous salary, with some slight variations in the rules depending on what they made before.
The player can either reject or accept the qualifying offer, but once the qualifying offer is made, the player can really only sign with Seattle.
All of the Kraken players set to become RFA’s do have arbitration rights, but even if negotiations get to that point, it becomes guaranteed that a deal will get done for one more year. Arbitration hearings are rare, as most negotiations get settled before getting to that contentious stage.
Here are the players that will be RFA’s after this season:
From this list, we want to focus on a few individuals, with the first being Jared McCann. Talk about a guy who has flourished with an expanded role, McCann appears to be the steal of the Expansion Draft for the Kraken. He has already set a career high for goals and has more than three months of hockey left to play in this campaign. He leads the Kraken in that category and is nipping at Jordan Eberle’s heels for the team scoring lead.
McCann was already getting paid relatively well, but what if he stays healthy and pots 30 goals this season? What kind of a number could he command from Seattle to keep him around long term?
Working in Seattle’s favor on this front, McCann seems to love it here. Every time we ask him about what this season has meant, he gushes over how much he appreciates the opportunities he’s gotten. With this in mind, we’re confident Francis will be able to keep McCann around for years to come. We just wonder how much he’ll have to pony up to get the budding star to remain here beyond next season.
Morgan Geekie, Mason Appleton, Jeremy Lauzon
We believe these three will be extended, and none of them should break the bank. They’ve all played admirably in their roles and have solidified themselves as regular players for the Kraken. We like Geekie’s offensive upside, Appleton’s two-way play, and Lauzon’s physicality.
The case of Ryan Donato is an interesting one. We spoke to him before the season about the bumps in the road that he had experienced in his pro hockey career, and how Seattle could provide an opportunity for him to finally take a big step forward.
He has seized that opportunity for the most part and has earned Hakstol’s trust as an every-day player. Donato is on pace to set career marks in pretty much every category, including games played, goals, and points. After bouncing from Boston to Minnesota to San Jose, we think Donato may have found a home in Seattle for the foreseeable future. Keep an eye on this one, though.
Unless something changes with his usage in the second half of the season, we wonder if Haydn Fleury could be moved either via trade or via Seattle simply letting him get on with his career elsewhere. Stuck in a logjam on the Kraken blue line, Fleury has found himself scratched far more often than he could have anticipated entering the season.
Back on Nov. 23, Fleury was asked how his career has progressed. With a downtrodden look, he said, “Umm… I think it got better in Anaheim, and… I don’t know. I’ll leave it at that.”
So, we don’t get the sense he’s particularly thrilled with his situation.
What do you think, folks? Who stays and who goes? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.