Emerging from the All-Star break of their second season, the Seattle Kraken sit tied atop the Pacific Division standings with 63 points. Seattle is also tied for third in total standings points and second in points percentage in the entire Western Conference. And the path from here to the playoffs is not the most difficult in the league; as measured by opponent point percentage, the Kraken have the second easiest schedule in the NHL the rest of the way.

But nothing is assured. The nine Western Conference teams on the top of the leaderboard are tightly grouped between 66 and 57 standings points. And a tenth, Nashville, checks in with 54 standings points. Any team is just one long losing streak away from wondering how it all fell apart.

The engine of Seattle’s success has been elite even-strength scoring. The Kraken are first in the league by a healthy margin with 131 five-on-five goals.  As we analyzed previously, though, there is some reason to think that Seattle may project as a middle-of-the-road even-strength scoring team moving forward. Combine that with special teams units that have not found sustained success this season, and there is fair cause to project a more “average” second half for the team. If Seattle’s competitors surge, things could get very interesting for the Kraken.

But none of this is news to the Kraken front office. They know the opportunity afforded by Seattle’s sterling first half. They know the strengths and weaknesses of their team better than anyone, and they know the levers they can pull moving forward to mitigate the risk of collapse.

The most notable lever is the option to trade for reinforcements. The NHL Trade Deadline is now just 24 days away, on March 3. With the calendar flipped to February, we are already squarely into trade season. The Vancouver Canucks already shipped out one of the prizes of the deadline, Bo Horvat. And the Seattle Kraken have made a relatively minor, but savvy, move of their own, sending a 2023 fourth-round draft pick to San Jose for towering, 30-year-old blueliner Jaycob Megna. Clearly, the time is now to be looking at the options.

What else could the Kraken do before the deadline?

A lot goes into even speculating at the question of what the Kraken could do from here. What players are likely to be available and at what cost? How much can Seattle add under the cap? What are Seattle’s needs? And how aggressive can we reasonably expect general manager Ron Francis and his front office to get? 

Let’s turn to these preliminary questions first, in reverse order, before returning to the main issue. In this Part I, I’ll take a look at history to see if there is anything we can say about Seattle’s likely approach to the trade deadline. In Part II, I’ll dive in on the Kraken’s team needs and cap situation. Later, in Part III, I’ll write about the players likely to be available at the deadline, market costs, and conclude with a few speculative projections for the Kraken, depending on how aggressive the team gets.

Ron Francis and the trade deadline

What can we learn from Francis’s history at the trade deadline? First, he has been active. Across five trade deadlines as the general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes and then the Seattle Kraken before this season, he has made 18 trades in the month leading up to the trade deadline. And he has made at least one trade every single year.

That activity has already manifested this season, with the early trade for Jaycob Megna. Before that trade, Francis described his willingness to supplement the roster: “We want to make sure that we stick to our plan and build this long-term,” he said to Seattle Sports 710 AM. “But if there’s pieces that we feel we can add that make sense and that help us be more successful, we’re certainly open to doing that as long as the price is right.” 

That said, here is a remarkable fact about the recent Megna deal: It is the first time Ron Francis has been a true “buyer” in a deadline deal. At each deadline before this season, Francis’s trades aimed to gather assets for the future (or fill in players) rather than build the current roster for a stretch run. To be clear, this is not necessarily due to some innate aversion to giving up assets for a stretch run, though. As reflected in the chart above, his teams have never been in a position to make a run for the playoffs.

Either way, we are in uncharted territory. Based on history and Francis’s comments, we could reasonably expect him to continue to evaluate potential upgrades, at least on the margins. “I think it’s a fine line,” Ron Francis said in a recent interview. “It’s a balance, right? You want to show your guys you believe in them and try to add something to help them. But you also understand the importance of building the (foundation) underneath as well.” How will he balance it? How aggressive will he be? We don’t really have a roadmap because Francis has not been in this situation.

We do have the broader context of Ron Francis the GM. We know he has not been overly aggressive on true high-end, high-cost players, such as Gabriel Landeskog in the Expansion Draft or Dougie Hamilton in 2021 free agency.

Indeed, Francis has never taken on any top-of-the-league contracts. The largest deal on any Ron Francis team, both in gross value and percentage of the team’s cap space, is Philipp Grubauer’s six-year, $5.9 million AAV deal. Grubauer is currently 139th in the league as measured by AAV and 149th by cap percentage. The next closest contract Francis has signed by cap percentage is a seven-year, $5.3 million AAV with Jaccob Slavin in Carolina in 2017 (which I mention mostly because it has proven to be such a tremendous contract).

It could be a coincidence. It could be Francis has a philosophical preference to construct a roster with a deep middle class of players rather than committing resources at the top. None of this necessarily means he wouldn’t ever take on a bigger deal, particularly in the context of a deadline rental. But there is at least some evidence that suggests Francis is less likely to go big-game hunting at the deadline.

So what areas of the roster will Ron Francis be looking to supplement? And what tools does he have at his disposal–both in terms of cap space and trade assets–to get a deal done? I’ll look at those issues in Part II.