With the entry draft in the rearview mirror, an eventful free agency period now entering the sleepy August phase, and most in the NHL community taking some time for rest and relaxation, now is as good a time as any to take stock of the offseason and what might come next for the Seattle Kraken. Let’s dive in.
Best move by the Kraken
Andy Eide: The Oliver Bjorkstrand trade wins this hands down. It was such a shrewd move by general manager Ron Francis to pick up a player of that quality for basically nothing. It’s not that a third- and fourth-round pick are nothing, but they were extra picks the Kraken had received from the trade deadline. The move was also Francis using the cap as a weapon, as we had all been waiting for. Bjorkstrand wouldn’t have landed in Seattle if the Kraken didn’t have the space, something no other team really had to take on a contract like his.
John Barr: There is no doubt in my mind, the Bjorkstrand trade was an absolute steal of a deal. The fact that Francis was able to just give up a third- and fourth-round draft pick is a testament to how many teams do not have the cap space to acquire talent. I will not be surprised if Bjorkstrand ends up leading the Kraken in goals next season.
Darren Brown: The answer here is obviously Bjorkstrand, but I don’t want to write the same thing as others, so I’ll go in a different direction and say I was really impressed by how Francis handled the Ryan Donato situation. Knowing Donato could file for and likely win an arbitration case after a career year in 2021-22, Francis opted not to extend a qualifying offer to the versatile winger. That allowed Donato to explore free agency, but the team kept lines of communication open with Donato and his representation and ultimately re-signed him to a very team-friendly one year, $1.2 million deal.
The Kraken accepted the risk that they could lose Donato but banked on him not being a particularly hot commodity around the league. The small gamble paid off in a slick piece of work.
Curtis Isacke: Taking this question a bit of a different way, in my mind it was Seattle’s selection of Shane Wright at No. 4 in the NHL Entry Draft. Luck played a big part in Wright being available, of course, but it always does when a good pick comes together.
Wright’s future remains up in the air. Personally, I don’t have high expectations for his production this year, even if he remains with Seattle. And he is not a sure-fire star player long term. Still, there are plenty of attributes in his game that suggest a breakout is possible if NHL-level competition ignites some fire in his abilities. Playing alongside guys like Yanni Gourde and Brandon Tanev should help. But even if he does not reach his full potential, he still should emerge as a second top-six center alongside Matty Beniers over the next few years. That is an enviable tandem and a blueprint for long-term success.
Josh Horton: I was really impressed with Francis’ patience in acquiring Bjorkstrand. We’ve bandied about how the Kraken can “weaponize their cap space,” and while it’s not acquiring Max Pacioretty for literally nothing, this was a fine example of Francis leveraging available cap space to extract value out of a trade. Plus, since the Kraken are rich with draft picks next year, the sting of losing a third and a fourth is mitigated.
If it weren’t for that, signing Andre Burakovsky to a relatively team-friendly deal would have been the highlight.
Best move around the NHL
JB: The Calgary Flames pulling the trigger to move Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers for Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt, and a 2025 first-round draft pick was a good move for the immediate future of the Flames. They then signed 2023 pending UFA Huberdeau to an eight-year contract extension. The extension will be tough to swallow at some point, but it keeps the Flames relevant for the next few seasons.
AE: The Flames being able to assuage the damage of losing two 100-point players in Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk is impressive. General manager Brad Treliving was going to have some explaining to do, but he pulled the train out of the fire (no pun intended) by moving Tkachuk to Florida and getting back Huberdeau and Weegar. Treliving wasn’t done, however. Both players were scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, and that trade is not as good if they bolt. But Treliving has already extended Huberdeau and reports are that Weegar wants to re-up in Calgary, which would make the trade a win.
DB: I too think the aforementioned Flames deal is brilliant by Treliving, but since John and Andy beat me to it (again), I’m going to give some kudos to the Ottawa Senators. I’m cheating a little, since I’m not just mentioning one move here, but the Sens signed veteran star center Claude Giroux, took advantage of goalie drama in Minnesota to add Cam Talbot, and completed a blockbuster trade at the draft to land Alex DeBrincat. They also re-upped budding star Josh Norris.
It’s too early to tell if the Senators can compete this year, but they should at least be relevant after an outstanding offseason made them much, much better.
CI: The Carolina Hurricanes acquired Max Pacioretty—a legitimate top-line, goal-scoring winger—in a trade from the Vegas Golden Knights for… nothing at all. Carolina got the player simply because it had the cap space to absorb his salary and Vegas did not. From Carolina’s perspective, it was one of those trades that made fans say, “I wish my team could make a trade like that,” at least until the Kraken’s acquisition of Oliver Bjorkstrand made Seattle fans happily forget about this one. From the Vegas perspective: wow. That the Golden Knights then turned around and used most of the acquired cap space to re-sign Reilly Smith—a solid but inferior player—is even more troubling.
[Editor’s Note: Life comes at you fast in the hockey world, even in August. Just a couple hours after this story posted, the Hurricanes announced that Max Pacioretty had suffered a torn achilles and undergone reconstructive surgery. His six-month recovery timeframe will put him in the press box for the large majority of this season.]
JH: It’s hard not to be impressed with Columbus’ ability to capitalize on Johnny Gaudreau’s desire to be in the Eastern Time Zone. Sure, the Blue Jackets are probably a few years away from being truly competitive and perhaps weren’t Gaudreau’s first choice—looking at you, Flyers. But signing one of hockey’s best players—for less than $10 million AAV, I might add—is a great start in igniting some improvements.
Biggest surprise around the NHL
JB: The situation is tough to read, but I am still surprised someone has not signed Sonny Milano to a contract for next season. He had 14 goals for a mediocre Anaheim Ducks team. Depending on what he is looking to sign for, he seems like a solid middle-six forward that most teams look to add in the offseason.
CI: I agree, that is an odd one, John. Milano is a good play-driving winger. And he’s young. Being from New York originally, perhaps he has joined Nazem Kadri as a secret Islander?
I’ll go with the obvious one and say Johnny Graudreau signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets. I cannot ever remember being so surprised by a destination chosen by a legitimate star player, particularly when that team did not drastically overpay. If you watched the Blue Jackets’ behind-the-scenes video, you get the sense they were surprised too.
JH: The Flames-Panthers blockbuster really caught me off-guard, most notably with the Panthers trading away Huberdeau.
In hindsight, it makes sense. Perhaps the Panthers are trying to compensate for some early playoff exits with some added toughness in Tkachuk, but Florida is also building a young core around Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov that will be dangerous for years to come.
The price of Huburdeau, who should age well as a methodical playmaker, and Weegar, a polarizing defenseman with terrific advanced analytics, is a tough price to pay for Florida. It’s also a shrewd return for Calgary, making good on an unfortunate situation with their two star players both wanting out.
I was fascinated by this situation, and I’m really curious how it impacts the futures of both franchises. Will Florida break through with Tkachuk in the fold? Will Calgary remain a juggernaut in the Pacific? I’m excited to find out.
AE: The Gaudreau signing in Columbus was the big shocker. All the experts had him tagged for an east coast team like New Jersey or Philadelphia, but he chose Columbus and reportedly left money on the table. It’s refreshing to see a pro athlete not let the money dictate where he and his family will live and play… although $9.7 million a year is still a nice bit of cheddar.
DB: I should really try to be the first to fill in my roundtable answers next time, so I’m not left with such slim pickings. I think Gaudreau is the clear answer, though, so I’m just going to concur with Curtis and Andy and leave it at that.
Move around the NHL that will most impact the Kraken
CI: We’ve talked about this a lot, but the Flames’ acquisition and re-signing of Huberdeau to a long-term deal will have a big impact on the Pacific Division. After Gaudreau moved south of the border and Tkachuk informed the team that he would similarly like to move on from Calgary, the Flames were staring a rebuild in the face. That would have benefited Seattle by removing an obstacle to playoff positioning in the Pacific. Instead, the Flames acquired and extended a player who could provide a reasonable (if not perfect) facsimile of Gaudreau’s production on the first line. This is a core piece and one that should keep the Flames in contention for years to come.
JH: I’m going a little abstract here, but the Devils taking Simon Nemec instead of Shane Wright may be the most impactful decision on the future of the Kraken organization.
Nemec in his own right has his staunch advocates, but with Wright’s background as an exceptional player in the CHL and his prospect pedigree leading up to the draft, the public is led to believe this was a considerable risk to pass on Wright. Clearly the Devils believe in Nemec’s upside, and perhaps he’s the second coming of Victor Hedman, but New Jersey creating the domino effect that caused Wright to slip to No. 4—reading the tea leaves, it seemed Montreal had its sights on Juraj Slavkosky at No. 1 and Arizona was locked in on Logan Cooley at No. 3—might be the biggest “What if?” moment this offseason for Seattle.
If the Devils took Wright instead of Nemec, and the Coyotes held serve by taking Cooley, would the Kraken have been better off with the top defenseman in the draft instead? Or will Wright and Beniers up the middle be a huge steal for the Kraken for years to come? For me personally, when thinking back on this draft, I’ll always compare those two players.
AE: You have to go back to the Flames here. Being a Pacific Division rival—they won it last year—it looked like maybe Calgary would drop in the standings, but not so much after the Tkachuk trade.
DB: I will say the Columbus Blue Jackets re-signing Patrik Laine to a four-year deal at a $8.7 million cap hit. Coupled with the Gaudreau signing, that deal put the CBJ’s way over the salary cap, making Bjorkstrand available to Seattle and significantly improving the team at both ends of the ice.
There, I figured out a way to comment on the brilliant Bjorkstrand deal without repeating my colleagues.
JB: The Flames shake-up and the Ducks signing John Klingberg will certainly impact the Kraken in head-to-head play, but I am starting to believe the only way the Kraken make the playoffs is to take a wild card spot from the Central Division. So, I am going to say the Nashville Predators signing Nino Niederreiter and getting a still-productive Ryan McDonagh via trade with Tampa Bay keeps them in the hunt for one of the wild card positions.
Bold prediction – one more Kraken move before camp
JH: This is super bold, but how about the Kraken trading for Jesse Puljujarvi or Tyson Barrie? The Oilers aren’t currently cap compliant and need to make a move. The Kraken could be a suitor if Chris Driedger is moved to long-term injured reserve. Could Francis pull another Bjorkstrand-type heist out of his hat?
AE: Not sure if this is a hot enough take, but look for some moves similar to picking up Ryan Donato last summer. There will be players out there under the radar that the Kraken can sign and invite to camp for a chance to impress. It’s getting crowded up front so perhaps a defenseman.
DB: It’s not really a “move” per se, but I am interested to see if Andrew Poturalski gets a chance with the big club out of camp. There’s a decent amount of competition, but Poturalski—signed to a two-year, one-way contract this offseason—brings an incredible track record of scoring at the AHL level. He is fresh off leading the Chicago Wolves to a Calder Cup and notched a whopping 101 points in 71 AHL games last season. He’s one of those guys that has never gotten a real chance at the NHL level, despite scoring buckets of goals at every level.
JB: How about the Kraken bringing in Sam Steel on a professional try-out for camp, and he ends up making the squad for opening night?
CI: For a pre-camp signing, that’s definitely bold, John. I like it. I’ll predict the Kraken sign a “Riley” to build out their center depth chart going into camp. Riley Nash spent several years with Francis for the Carolina Hurricanes and provides good defensive value. Alternatively, Riley Sheahan is a nice all-around depth piece that won’t hurt you in your bottom-six group or could provide veteran leadership in Coachella Valley if he passes through waivers again. Come to think of it, Riley Andersen seems like she could be a good option too. Vertically challenged, but emotionally intelligent for a younger player. Will have to check on her age eligibility.
And an honorable mention: After the success with Donato, I was tempted to predict that the Kraken dive into the once-highly-touted-Boston-born-winger pool for a second straight year and sign Jimmy Vesey. But the Kraken are fairly deep on the wing, so I don’t see the appeal from Vesey’s perspective.