Earlier this week I looked at Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis’s history at the NHL Trade Deadline and what it can tell us about the likely approach of the Kraken front office this year. In this second installment of the trade deadline series, I’m going to take a look at the areas of the Kraken roster that could be addressed through a trade, and then set out the cap space and trade assets the Kraken have to get a deal done. Let’s dive right in.
What areas could the Kraken address via trade?
So far, Seattle has succeeded on the strength of: (1) an improved top-six forward group that is closer to league average when compared with last year’s low-producing group, (2) a dominant bottom-six forward group that is scoring in droves at even strength, and (3) stable work on the blue line and in goal that has produced at or around league average and avoided the untimely gaffs that so often cost the team last year.
Prior to Sunday’s depth trade for left-shot defenseman Jaycob Megna, I saw Seattle’s potential areas for upgrade as follows, vaguely in order of priority:
- Depth left defenseman;
- Offensive play-driving defenseman;
- Power play playmaker;
- Shutdown penalty killer;
- Face-off winner;
- Grit and physical play;
- High-end scoring forward; and
- Injury replacements
To be clear, the team will not (and almost certainly cannot) address each of these areas. And one acquisition could address more than one of these needs. For example, defenseman Jaycob Megna arguably addresses both the need for a depth defenseman–he is a first-time lineup regular this year on a league-minimum contract–and a shutdown penalty killer who led the San Jose Sharks in relative xGF% during his time with the Sharks.
To further illustrate: a hypothetical acquisition of a player like Arizona defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere could address three needs at once–for a power play playmaker, depth defenseman, and offensive-minded defenseman.
I would expect that if the Kraken make additional trades before this year’s March 3 trade deadline, it will be because the deal checks more than one of these boxes. So, let’s dig on these areas of need a little bit before turning to the assets available to the Kraken to get a deal done.
Depth left-shot defenseman
Prior to the Jaycob Megna trade, the Kraken lacked depth on the blue line, particularly on the left side. The issue has been the most acute when injuries have cropped up. With Justin Schultz out in recent weeks, the team turned to Cale Fleury to fill in. To his credit, Fleury has held his own, but he is not going to contribute much on the offensive end (he has just two points in 61 career NHL games) even if he keeps his head above water in his own zone.
Beyond Fleury, the Kraken have Gustav Olofsson in Coachella Valley, but he is currently injured and without a timeline to return. In any event, Olofsson is clearly behind Fleury in the organizational depth chart.
The Kraken also have prospect Ryker Evans, but, having watched him semi-regularly with the Firebirds, my sense is that he needs more time to develop because he is not yet ready to contribute in the defensive zone. Thrusting him into a stretch run or playoff role when he is not ready could be detrimental to his development.
Ryker Evans takes a shot for the Coachella Vallery Firebirds. (Photo/Brian Liesse)
Even with Justin Schultz returning from injury, and assuming the blue line remains healthy through the end of the year, there was still a need for depth.
One theory about the success of Seattle’s fourth forward line attributes it to the lineup pressure being placed by those on the periphery: The healthy scratch forward is a very good player, and if an active forward lets up, he could find himself on the bench. On the defensive side, Cale Fleury has not been a real threat to replace any of the top-six defensemen even when undisciplined play from those in the lineup has cost the team. Seattle’s overall defensive production may benefit from a bit more upward pressure from the bottom of the roster.
Newcomer Jaycob Megna provides some of that urgency. He ate minutes for the San Jose Sharks this year playing next to Erik Karlsson and generally does a good job of suppressing scoring. In his last game with the Sharks, ten total goals were scored. Megna played more than 22 minutes–more than a third of the game–and he was on the ice for only one goal, a score by the Sharks. This was not atypical for him. He can reliably steer the game towards mucking and grinding, which is a good insurance policy to have. (He was less successful in his first outing with the Kraken on Tuesday, registering a -2 in 18:15 of ice time.)
So, the Kraken have already made a trade that addresses the No. 1 need I had diagnosed. But I do not think the Megna acquisition will prevent any other type of opportunity that comes along. Given the marginal value of the acquisition cost–an (extra) fourth-round draft pick–all options remain on the table to upgrade other areas of the blue line. Megna gives them a workable number of total options, but if there are upgrades to be had, I believe the Kraken will still look at them.
That brings us to another area where Seattle’s blue line could stand to improve: offensive playmaking from the back end. Seattle defensemen have activated closer to the net more this year than last year, but, even so, the group does not have any true standout performers in terms of goals and primary assists per 60 minutes.
Visualization by DeepSeaHockey; data from MoneyPuck
Looking at expected goals created–which credits defensemen not only for their own shot quality but also for their shots that create high-danger rebounds–Seattle doesn’t have any performer that breaks out from the pack.
Visualization by DeepSeaHockey; data from MoneyPuck
Several available defensemen on the market, including Arizona defensemen Gostisbehere and Jakob Chychrun, stand out in these metrics.
It may be counterintuitive, but in my opinion, the acquisition of Megna actually makes it more workable for the Kraken to make another defenseman trade if they want: The team now has the flexibility to trade from their existing blue line group to obtain assets that could be flipped for a more offense-oriented player. This remains a potential area for upgrade.
Power play playmaker
The power play (20.1 percent conversion percentage, 21st in the league) has struggled for long stretches since a scorching hot start driven by a high shooting percentage. The team’s shot chart shows the team’s struggles generating chances in the slot. Their sets are static and lacking in playmaking instinct. A player who could breakdown the defense with his skating or passing could shake things up and unlock the team’s ample shooting talent on the man advantage.
Shutdown penalty killer
The penalty kill (72.5 percent success rate, 31st in the league) has also struggled for long stretches of the season. The unit has stabilized a bit since switching to a box-oriented scheme. Indeed, as John Barr has pointed out, the team has been reasonably effective over the last few weeks. Still, the overall numbers suggest this could be the team’s Achilles heel, particularly if it ends up locked in a playoff series with a team like Edmonton.
Another statistic that has not been kind to Seattle is its face-off win percentage. As a team, Seattle secures just 45.5 percent of its face-offs, which is 31st in the league.
The team’s inability to reliably control draws, particularly from its top lines, has hindered the offense in creating chances, particularly on the power play. How often is the team chasing the puck down the ice to begin the man advantage? And when Morgan Geekie (who sports a team-best 48.7 percent face-off win percentage) is not on the ice, face-offs tend to be an issue in defensive scenarios too, including on the penalty kill.
Ideally, the Kraken would have a top-of-the-lineup forward who could be counted on to win tough draws and succeed in the flow of gameplay after those draws. Seattle doesn’t have that player right now. In the end, that might just be the reality for this team this season since the cost of acquiring a top-six center who is strong on the face-off dot, like Ryan O’Reilly for example, may be prohibitive.
I have heard it argued that the Kraken could also stand to add a bit of size to their forward lines. While it is not particularly high on my personal list of priorities, I can see the case for it. Brandon Tanev is a physical player. So is Yanni Gourde, but he is more of an agitator than an intimidator. One more piece who could help turn the tide if Seattle is getting checked into submission down the stretch or in the playoffs could be useful.
On the other hand, John Hayden could serve this purpose just as well as most who would be available at the deadline without a hefty price tag. Accordingly, I put this need, if it is one at all, a bit lower than others might. If the physical play comes in a package with face-off or goal-scoring ability, I’d get more interested.
Goal scoring, net-front forward
In theory, the Kraken lineup could use a top-of-the-lineup forward who drives scoring with high-danger scoring opportunities. Seattle’s depth forwards have clearly outproduced their counterparts, but the same cannot be said at the top of the lineup.
Seattle’s team leader in goals scored is Jared McCann with 23. The next closest player checks in with 17. McCann is having a phenomenal goal scoring year, but his success has largely been driven by his ability convert relatively low-probability outside shots. He is certainly skilled at shooting, but he is performing at a pace that far exceeds anything that can be expected to continue. Indeed, he trails only Bo Horvat in goals scored above his shooting talent.
Visualization by DeepSeaHockey; data from MoneyPuck
Seattle doesn’t have a single player in the top 100 in individual expected goals as measured by Evolving Hockey. (The highest ranked Kraken? Oliver Bjorkstrand at No. 104.) As mentioned, the Kraken have succeeded with depth, but when the defense gets tough and the checking gets closer in a playoff chase, where can the team hang its hat? Who can reliably create his own shot and get to the dangerous areas?
All of the above becomes all the more acute if Andre Burakovsky is out for a long period of time with the lower-body injury he suffered in Tuesday’s game against the Islanders. Early indicators are not encouraging, as Burakovsky was placed on injured reserve Thursday morning. He quietly leads the team in total points and has been a stalwart in the top six since he arrived in the Pacific Northwest.
Can this team survive short term without Burakovsky? Most likely, yes. The team still has impressive depth scoring. But, with or without Burakovsky, the Kraken could use someone who fits the bill of a net-front scorer. As of today, I consider this is a bit of a luxury item and a lower priority at the trade deadline.
But this gets us to the “last” category–which is last but only because it’s a bit of an unknown. The Kraken play 11 games between Thursday and the March 3 deadline. Injuries could happen in that stretch. Particularly if the team is losing Andre Burakovsky for a longer stretch, it does not have surplus depth in any one area if another player needs to miss time. Depending on how things shake out, health could be a major factor in Seattle’s thinking three weeks from now.
What are Seattle’s salary cap constraints going into the deadline?
Kraken fans heard much about “weaponizing cap space” after the Expansion Draft and in the ensuing 12 months. Well, Burakovsky and Schultz are here now; so is Bjorkstrand. That weapon has been deployed, at least for the 2022-23 season.
The team’s long-term cap outlook remains good, but, for this season, there are significant salary cap constraints on what the Kraken can do at the deadline.
I have previously dug into those cap constraints in gory detail. Check out that analysis here. Updating that work to account for the recent roster movement, including the acquisition of Megna, here is where the team currently stands.
If all of the players currently on the roster or injured reserve remain on the roster through the end of the season and no other players are added (whether from the AHL or via trade), CapFriendly projects Seattle to end the season with $834,073 in excess cap space. Matty Beniers remains on track to achieve $925,000 in performance bonuses on his entry-level contract. Since the Kraken currently could not fit this entire sum in their year-end cap space in this “no-movement” scenario, they would carry a small penalty on next season’s cap of $90,927 (i.e. the excess amount that won’t fit under the cap).
This tells a story: The Kraken are right against their effective cap right now, unless they are comfortable borrowing cap space from next season to pay for Beniers’ bonuses. The team will need to move out any cap space for any it brings in. This doesn’t mean their hands are completely tied. For example, the team could gain cap space by waiving a player (such as Chris Driedger or Cale Fleury), and it could hypothetically attach assets to trade a contract off of their books (such as the contract of Joonas Donskoi).
In the trade scenarios I’ll examine in Part III, I am going to presume for the time being that the Kraken would prefer to protect 2022-23 cap space to pay as much of Beniers’ bonuses as possible out of this year’s cap.
Matty Beniers’s contract factors into Seattle’s deadline decision making. (Photo/Brian Liesse)
That said, the team would gain some flexibility if it decides that supplementing this year’s team is more important than protecting $925,000 in cap space for next season. In that case, without waiving or trading a single player (with just a little bit of cap gymnastics), the Kraken should be able to add contract(s) worth approximately $7.5 million to the existing roster at the deadline by utilizing all remaining cap space and placing Joonas Donskoi on long-term injured reserve. That opens up some options, right?
And, again, I should reiterate that a trading team can retain up to 50 percent of a player’s AAV (and cap hit) in a trade. This expands Seattle’s options yet further, provided the team is willing to pay the added cost a trade partner would demand to retain the salary.
What are the Kraken’s trade assets going into the trade deadline?
The Kraken are in a solid position to make trades if they decide to do it. Among contenders, their draft assets rank near the top, and their prospect pool has some names bound to intrigue other teams, even if it does not have as much depth as some.
Starting with the draft assets, the Kraken have ten picks in the 2023 draft and nine picks in the 2024 draft following the Jaycob Megna trade.
If the team is going to make a move before the deadline, I would expect trade partners to be asking about the team’s surplus of 2023 second-round draft picks. And the extra 2024 third-rounder could also come up.
The Kraken are in relatively strong position to trade draft assets if they decide to do so. Among teams currently in contention (currently in the playoffs if the season ended today, or on the periphery), no team has more picks in the first two rounds of the 2024 draft than Seattle. The Buffalo Sabres also possess one first-round pick and three second-round picks. And the New York Rangers have two first-round picks and one second-round pick. Beyond that, no contender has more than one pick in each of the first and second rounds. This gives Seattle an advantage.
As for drafted players, many public scouting services and reporters rank the Kraken with an average-or-better prospect pool notwithstanding the team’s short history. The team’s top-five prospects include center, Shane Wright (four goals in five games with the Firebirds/AHL and six goals and eight assists in seven games with Windsor Spitfires/OHL); center David Goyette (30 goals and 31 assists in 42 games with the Sudbury Wolves/OHL); right winger Jagger Firkus (25 goals and 35 assists in 49 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors/WHL); right defenseman Ty Nelson (19 goals and 41 assists in 49 games with the North Bay Battalion/OHL); and left defenseman Ryker Evans (four goals and 22 assists in 40 games with Firebirds/AHL). And that’s not to mention 20-year-old Matty Beniers, who is accumulating a strong case for the Calder Trophy in the NHL.
One of those players (Beniers) is likely off limits, full stop, in trade discussions. There are others (such as Wright) that I presume the Kraken would be very hesitant to deal. GM Ron Francis has stressed the importance of building the organization from the foundation up. But there are certainly other players Seattle would move in the right scenario.
All of this puts the team in good position to get a deal across the finish line if it finds the right one. Who could they target and at what cost? That’s what I’ll tackle next time, in the last part of this series.