With the NHL Draft just two days away, Kraken general manager Ron Francis addressed local Seattle media on Tuesday after two significant hires were announced by the organization.
The first new hire was Steve Briere, who joins the team as goaltending coach, replacing Andrew Allen in the role after just one season. Briere spent seven seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he worked with Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol. Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell were both All-Stars while under Briere’s tutelage.
The second was the hiring of Jessica Campbell as the first assistant coach for the Coachella Valley Firebirds, making her the first female assistant coach in AHL history.
Here are some of the highlights and our reactions from the Ron Francis press conference.
On the hiring of Steve Briere as next goaltending coach
Francis called out the fact that Briere has “more experience,” and said, “Based on how things went last year, that was a key component of what we were looking for.” That is not a direct slight at Allen, but it does sound like Seattle was trying to find somebody who had been around the league longer and had more of a track record of coaching successful goalies.
We do like the Briere hire, mostly because several goalies showed improvement in a market known for intense scrutiny while Briere was with the Maple Leafs. Though Campbell had some tough stretches in 2021-22, he took huge steps in his career with Briere guiding him.
Here’s hoping things go a bit better in Seattle’s crease next season.
On the backup goalie situation, other areas of improvement
Speaking of Seattle’s goal crease, the Kraken have plenty of question marks in that area for 2022-23. Chris Driedger is out long term, recovering from ACL surgery, and Joey Daccord has not yet shown he’s ready for a full-time NHL role. Francis said Daccord is “certainly one of the options,” but didn’t cut it off there, as we would have expected him to do if he planned to actually have Daccord in the NHL next season.
“We have to now not only get a guy to work with [Philipp Grubauer] up top, but now with our franchise starting up in Coachella Valley, we need a couple of guys there, and we also need somebody that we have as a fifth guy in our organization.”
So, that practically confirms that Francis does want to find somebody externally to back up at the NHL level.
As for other areas that the team wants to improve this offseason, Francis said the team is looking for scoring, acknowledging that’s hard to find, and also indicated that although the team is comfortable with Jamie Oleksiak and Carson Soucy playing the right side, finding a right-shot defenseman is “certainly something we would be open to.”
On the hiring of Jessica Campbell as assistant coach in Coachella Valley
Francis said the hiring process for an assistant coach at the AHL level started as soon as Dan Bylsma became the head coach for the Coachella Valley Firebirds. Bylsma asked if Francis was “open to all candidates, male and female,” to which Francis replied, “Absolutely.”
“In Jessica’s case, I think she combines a lot of interesting things,” Francis said. “She’s got a strong background as a skating coach and some skill stuff, so that’s intriguing to bring in… We think she’s got a bright future in the game, and we’re excited to bring her into our fold and have her work with our prospects as we try to build up the Kraken from the ground up.”
Campbell and Bylsma also addressed media a bit later Tuesday. Bylsma said that Campbell’s name just kept coming up in his search for his assistant coach, and he eventually decided to reach out to her through a blanket email address for her skating school. On receiving the email, Campbell thought, “Is this spam?!”
“I’m very excited, obviously,” Campbell said. “It’s really special to be part of any first, and honestly, being at the start of Coachella Valley, I think I’m just very grateful and honored to take this next step and to work alongside someone like Dan. For me it was a very easy ‘yes.’”
Campbell is awesome. The Kraken continue to push the envelope of change for a game that so frequently has its culture as a white-male-dominated sport come into question. Cool stuff.
On the upcoming draft
Seattle has 12 picks in the NHL Entry Draft, which will be held Thursday and Friday in Montreal. Francis had previously indicated that he didn’t expect to necessarily use all those picks. But now that we’re within just a few days of the draft, and none of the picks have yet been moved, it’s becoming more likely the Kraken will simply use the selections to build up their almost-non-existent prospect pool.
Francis did imply that he has had conversations with other teams about players (Seattle was rumored to be involved in talks with Minnesota for Kevin Fiala, before he was traded to Los Angeles), but he says the Kraken’s situation is a bit unique, being that the organization only has a handful of prospects.
“Teams are looking for not only picks but prospects, and it puts us in a little bit of a tougher situation,” he said. Still, he says Seattle is exploring all avenues and could move picks for players or even picks for other picks.
As for moving the No. 4 overall pick?
“I would never say never, but it would have to be a pretty special player [coming back to us] for us to move that No. 4.”