It’s no secret the Seattle Kraken intend to be active in free agency this summer. While the team was resilient throughout its inaugural season, it became abundantly clear in the end that there was a significant talent gap between what Seattle was icing and what its opponents were trotting out on a lot of nights. General manager Ron Francis has been frank in stating his intent to close that gap by bringing in talent from the outside, and there is a necessity for the team to fill out both its NHL and AHL rosters for next season. So a LOT of contracts will surely be handed out in the coming months.
But is now the time to hand out massive deals to bring in a top free agent or two? Or should Seattle hold off and build for the longer-term future?
Why the Kraken should swing for the fences in free agency
There are a couple players on expiring contracts—Johnny Gaudreau and Filip Forsberg—who would individually move the needle for the Kraken offensively. Both of these players are bona fide top-line forwards in the NHL who will be fresh off 40-plus-goal seasons. In a different way, right-shot, smooth-skating defenseman John Klingberg could also help and would also come at a big price tag.
With almost $23 million in available salary cap space, Seattle happens to be one of just a handful of teams in the NHL that can theoretically foot the bill for guys in this tier of unrestricted free agents. But after finishing two spots above last place in the NHL this past season, would big-name players in the primes of their respective careers want to come to a franchise that is just getting its tentacles wet? And if they do want to, should Seattle dish out long-term deal(s) that could land in the 10-digit-per-season realm?
The case study that supports signing a star player now would be the New York Rangers. In Feb. 2018, then-general manager Jeff Gorton and then-president Glen Sather wrote a letter to the team’s fanbase pleading for patience, as the franchise planned to sell off some of its core players. Later that month, Rick Nash, J.T. Miller, Ryan McDonagh, and Michael Grabner were jettisoned, followed by Mats Zuccarello the following year.
If we’re trying to draw parallels (which we are), an argument could be made that Seattle has already gone through this “plead for patience” phase that the Rangers experienced in 2018 and 2019. Though Seattle is certainly less established in the league, and it’s debatable how integral the traded players would have been to the team’s long-term plans, six regular Kraken players were dealt at this year’s NHL Trade Deadline for a bevy of draft picks. So, consider that part done.
The next step for the Rangers was a bit surprising at the time. Just a few months after sending Zuccarello to Dallas, New York landed the biggest fish on the 2019 free agency market, signing superstar winger Artemi Panarin to a seven-year, $81.5 million contract. The move raised eye brows because the idea of signing the biggest available UFA seemed to contradict the rebuild that had been signaled so clearly just one year prior.
The Blueshirts immediately returned to the playoffs in 2019-20, missed the postseason in 20-21, and are currently knotted at 2-2 in their second-round series with the Carolina Hurricanes in this season’s playoffs.
So, there’s proof that signing a star player and building around him can actually work.
Of course, the Rangers got some fortuitous bounces along the way, like landing the second- and first-overall picks in back-to-back drafts, hitting on late first-round picks Filip Chytil and K’Andre Miller, and somehow stealing 2021 Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox from Carolina for just a second- and third-round pick. Oh, and having Igor Shesterkin develop into perhaps the game’s best goalie hasn’t hurt.
Looking again at the current situation with the Kraken, they seem to have hit on No. 2 overall pick Matty Beniers and are set to select No. 4 overall in July. So, some parallels are certainly there. Should they follow in the mold of the Rangers and go for that big fish this summer?
Why the Kraken should be patient in free agency
Good things come to those who wait. But will Kraken fans wait?
Whether it has been stated by the franchise or not, there has to be some internal pressure to field a competitive team quickly. The team sold out its season tickets in the blink of an eye for the first year, and there was certainly excitement around the shiny new product in 2021-22. Still, we can’t help wondering how long that excitement holds if the team is around the bottom of the league for the next few seasons.
Having said all that, there is plenty of evidence to support the case for holding off for one or even two more seasons before trying to land big-time UFA’s. Looking at teams like Tampa Bay and Carolina, the cores of those clubs are built around homegrown talent that was drafted and developed in house. Now the Canes are perennial contenders, and the Bolts appear to be marching toward a third consecutive Stanley Cup.
Francis was a big part of the building process for the Hurricanes, and he now is armed with 34 draft picks over the next three seasons. So could the long game be the route Seattle takes?
What will Seattle do?
If the Kraken can persuade a top-tier and a middle-tier free agent to come to Seattle this offseason, we believe they will dish out the money. Both at the NHL Trade Deadline and at the conclusion of the season, Francis made no bones about his intentions to be aggressive in free agency, and we believe this means taking a run at the Forsbergs and Gaudreaus of the world.
Here’s hoping he’s successful in landing the guys he wants and that some of the fortuitous bounces that the Rangers got will also happen for the Kraken.
John was talking about Rust… and he re-signed. I feel like Forsberg and Gaudreaus are more likely to re-sign than not. Have you been at all dissuaded from the notion that Fiala is going back to the Wild? The Kraken and the Wild have a ton of mutual interest and opportunity in that deal. Window, term, cap, build, fit… I think Guerin has made it clear your notion of them keeping him isn’t a priority. And he actually plays the way this team is supposed to play…
You were right on that one, Daryl, the Wild are definitely looking to trade Fiala. We were talking about that the other day, though, and I wonder if the Kraken really have what the Wild would want. Draft picks are great, but my guess (and this is just a guess) is MN would want young players. I don’t think they’re moving Beniers, the No. 4 pick, or Evans (well, maybe they could move Evans), so who else is there? Certainly worth giving Guerin a call!
Considering they only have 34 year old Cam Talbot signed, I think the Kraken could start in net with what the Wild need. As much as there’s a fantasy that MAF is coming back… I doubt it. I think the Reinhardt trade is worth considering… a 2023 lottery protected 1st and Driedger for a done deal on Fiala isn’t crazy… for either team. As much as I like 60, Gru’s 5×6 limits Driedger’s value. I just don’t see Francis going big on Forsberg or Gaudreau to out compete the home team. I feel like Fiala is more “UFA” than those two.
Francis made retaining cap flexibility a priority when he passed up on taking, or trading for, bad contracts in the expansion draft. If he signs a top free agent this summer to a bad contract, it will likely be driven by concern for sponsors and ticket buyers more than hockey considerations. The prudent move would be to make incremental improvement in the upcoming season, collect high draft picks in the deep 2023 draft and go bigger on FA in 2023. Francis could explore trades with cap strapped teams, like Minnesota or Toronto, identify young players who are blocked in their current teams, etc. Ticket buyers made 3 year commitments, and they should care more for the long-term development of the Kraken organization than having a shiny new big name to embroider on the back of their jersey.
The club clearly needs more aggressive scorers and tighter defense. The best course would be to recruit proven vets to keep fans excited rather than patient. Steady losing doesn’t take long to wear thin.
Pretty sure Tampa Bay and Carolina didn’t have (arguably) have the highest ticket prices in the league. This city and this team are backed by tech $$$$ and people with notoriously short attention spans. Being “patient” and building “internally” won’t resonate here. They had better hope they become a playoff team before the Sonics return or this team won’t have loyal fans paying $300 per ticket. I grew up with the Seattle Totems, but this team is dangerously close to losing its fan base and requisite financial resources needed to build a bona-fide playoff team. Does anyone want an on-ice version of the Seattle Marinters?
Wouldn’t an on ice version of the Mariners be precisely adding a FA like Cano to a half-baked roster and expecting that team to be anything more than mediocre?
Agree with the Cano take and I think this team has more time than some might think. As long as they’re improving I think folks will be patient. The Mariners had to stink for years before it really started showing up at the gate and the Seahawks were a long time losing and still had a huge waitlist. I don’t go back as far as the Totems but I went to a lot of T-bird games at Mercer Arena. The Seattle “Freeze” is a thing, but I don’t know about this “notoriously short attention span”.
Come on. It;s there first year. They need more than one player, they need a F / D / and G. They will get the D in the upcoming Draft (Ron loves D) we should try to trade for a F who is about $5M a year, and get that Goalie from a team with Cap concerns. Nothing special, but to make the playoffs….really? Keep getting young stars Like Matty, who will be our best in about 2 years.