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.