In the two weeks before the NHL Trade Deadline every single team projected into the playoffs or within four standings points of projecting into the playoffs made a trade—that is, except for the Seattle Kraken.

Of course, it is not breaking news at this point that the Kraken sat out the flurry of league activity at the trade deadline. The team did make a minor deal four weeks before the cutoff date for depth defenseman Jaycob Megna. Kraken general manager Ron Francis explained that the team needed to protect itself with Coachella Valley defenseman Gustav Olofsson injured at the time.

After the deadline, Francis explained that the first day of free agency and the trade deadline are the two most dangerous dates on the calendar for an NHL front office. The risk of overpaying scarce draft assets and salary cap space for a player is acute.

Ultimately, the Kraken did not see a deal they liked. But did they miss opportunities? Today, I wanted to dive into some of the better trade acquisitions at the deadline to see if there was a fit Seattle could have explored to their advantage. After that bit of work, we’ll be in a position to make an informed assessment of the team’s decision against buying or selling at the trade deadline.

One caveat: I’m going to do my best to avoid speculating about deals that did not happen. This means avoiding counterfactual assumptions except to the extent rooted in commentary of NHL front offices. For example, I’m not going to suggest that Francis should have convinced Tampa Bay to part with five draft assets for Daniel Sprong or Ryan Donato instead of Tanner Jeannot. In that case, I assume the Lightning zeroed in on the specific player and no amount of salesmanship by Francis and his team would have made a difference. Likewise, I am not going to speculate that Seattle could have acquired a player I liked (such as Detroit defenseman Jake Walman, for example) if they had simply offered enough.

OK, let’s dive in.

What was available on the trade market?

Sorting through the deadline trades, I was able to quickly eliminate the large majority of the acquisitions as either (a) overpayments the Seattle front office was correct to avoid (such as for depth centers Lars Eller or Nick Bjugstad) or (b) deals that I could not rationalize as a fit for Seattle (such as trading a first-round pick for young defenseman Rasmus Sandin). In the end, I settled on a list of ten potential targets that were available on terms relatively favorable to the acquiring team. This should give us a better sense of what trades Seattle could have been in on.

Deal No. 1: The New Jersey Devils acquire forward Timo Meier from the San Jose Sharks for forwards Fabian Zutterlund and Andreas Johnsson, defensemen Shakir Mukhamadullin and Nikita Okhotiuk, a 2023 first-round pick, and second- and seventh-round picks in 2024. Meier is a restricted free agent after the season.

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The target. Timo Meier is a well-rounded All-Star-level winger in his prime at 25 years old. He can shoot, forecheck, and get to the front of the net, generate shots for his teammates, and play defense. He is in the final year of his deal and a restricted free agent this season. He is likely to seek an eight-year extension valued at between $8 million and $9 million annually.

Reasons for the Kraken to do it. Timo Meier is the real thing—a bona fide first-line player who generates high-danger scoring chances at a rate far higher than anyone currently on the Kraken roster. And he is in his prime. With Beniers competing at a high level from the jump, the Kraken have a window to compete with their current veteran core this year and next. Adding Meier would have been a real difference maker in this window. He is also young enough to bridge into the next wave of players such as Shane Wright. His contract demands are easily justifiable based on what he brings.

Reasons for the Kraken to pass. The Kraken have done a good job drafting so far, but the talent pool is still shallow after just two drafts. The Kraken need to build out their prospect pipeline to supplement the NHL roster as veteran players like Jordan Eberle or Jaden Schwartz phase off the team in the years ahead. A trade like this would significantly reduce the team’s margin for error in the medium term. If prospects like Wright and Jagger Firkus don’t pan out, the team could get stuck in the mediocre middle of the league for the next half decade. Finally, the positional fit is not ideal. As I’ll refrain here, winger is probably the team’s deepest position, and it could use an upgrade at virtually any other position first.

The verdict. I have been opposed to making deals parting with premium assets, but the price New Jersey paid was reasonable. An analogous deal from the Seattle Kraken could have looked something like this: Eeli Tolvanen, Ryker Evans, Kole Lind, and first-, second-, and seventh-round draft picks. (The Kraken may have had to do more since they play in the same division as the Sharks.)

If the Kraken wanted to go all in, this was the player to be “all in” on at this deadline. That said, at the end of the day, I’m not going to fault the front office for bypassing this deal. It is almost always better to try to complete a deal like this in the offseason—as with Oliver Bjorkstrand. If Anaheim winger Troy Terry came available this offseason, for example, the cost would probably be lower. All of that said, I think New Jersey did extremely well here. Even when accounting for the trade deadline hype, Meier is still underrated.

Deal No. 2: The Ottawa Senators acquire defenseman Jakob Chychrun from the Arizona Coyotes for a 2023 first-round pick, 2024 second-round pick, and 2026 second-round pick. Chychrun has two more years on his contract at $4.6 million per season.

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The target. Jakob Chyrchrun is a 24-year-old, top-pair left defenseman with a strong shot and solid play-driving results both on offense and defense. He is under contract for two more years at a below-market rate.

Reasons for the Kraken to do it. The Kraken are looking at a tough negotiation with pending RFA, top-pair left defenseman Vince Dunn. Chychrun would provide insurance against the team and Dunn failing to reach a compromise contract moving forward. In the immediate term, Chychrun would have greatly improved the team’s depth on defense for a playoff drive.

Reasons for the Kraken to pass. Acquiring Chychrun would have come at a significant cost in draft assets, even if it was not so much as we originally expected. At this price, the team would likely be able to acquire a higher-impact forward such as Timo Meier. This acquisition could also nudge Vince Dunn toward the exit after this season or next. The team could be better off re-signing Dunn and allocating its cap and draft assets elsewhere.

The verdict. Though the price fell below expectations, I think it was still too rich for the Kraken to consider.   

Jakob Chychrun waits for a faceoff at Climate Pledge Arena (Photo/Brian Liesse)

Deal No. 3: The Winnipeg Jets acquire Nino Niederreiter from the Nashville Predators for a 2024 second-round pick. Niederreiter has one more year on his contract at $4 million.

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The target. Niederreiter is a 30-year-old winger who plays a physical, offense-driving game at even strength. He signed with Nashville this past offseason for a remarkably light two-year, $8 million contract when his market did not materialize following a strong run with the Carolina Hurricanes (and former GM Ron Francis).

Reasons for the Kraken to do it. Niederreiter can play anywhere up and down the lineup and drive good outcomes at even strength. His play style fits the cliché of a “playoff” player: He can play through his opponents in all three zones and compliment less-physical linemates by taking on the “dirty work” for a high-performing line. The acquisition cost was a premium pick, but it still represents good value for a top-six forward on a team-friendly contract for another year.

Reasons for the Kraken to pass. Niederreiter is a pure winger with another year left on his deal, making him an uneasy fit for Seattle. Andre Burakovsky is skating again, and when he returns, Seattle’s depth on the wing is one of team’s biggest strengths. And the extra year on Niederreiter’s contract creates an offseason conundrum: The team’s top-nine forwards are all under contract for next season and Seattle may be adding Shane Wright to that crowded situation already. He doesn’t really address a “need” now and would likely force an offseason trade of another player. The cost was a valuable pick.

The verdict. Hard to pass on the opportunity to acquire Niederreiter on his contract. A 2023 second-round pick (of which Seattle has three) likely would have gotten the player. I understand why Seattle did not do it given the team’s needs and roster, but it was a very good deal for Winnipeg in what was generally a tough market for buyers.

Deal No. 4: The St. Louis Blues acquire forward Jakob Vrana from the Detroit Red Wings for a 2025 seventh-round pick and AHL defenseman Dylan McLaughlin. Detroit retains 50 percent of Vrana’s salary, and Vrana has one year left on his deal.

The target. Jakob Vrana is a 27-year-old Czech winger, who scored 49 goals in a two-year stretch for the Washington Capitals from 2018-2020. He shoots at an elite rate: 14.2 percent for his career. (For context, Andre Burakovsky is a career 14.4 percent shooter and Jared McCann is at 12.2 percent for his career.) He has one more year left on his contract. Detroit retained 50 percent of his salary and therefore he will count only $2.625 million against the Blues’ cap next year.

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Reasons for the Kraken to do it. The acquisition cost was close to “zero.” McLaughlin is not a prospect. A 2023 sixth-round pick (of which Seattle has two) would have easily bested St. Louis’ offer.

If Vrana can stay on the ice (more on that below), he is a clear top-six, offense-first winger. Scoring is the hardest thing to do in hockey and Vrana is great at it. To make things more appealing, some of Vrana’s most successful seasons came paired with Andre Burakovsky in Washington. With Burakovsky, Vrana, and Jared McCann topping the lineup, concerns about “where will the goals come from?” should go away. There is no long-term risk, and the cost for next year after the salary retention is akin to an average third-line forward.  

Reasons for the Kraken to pass. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Vrana’s strengths do not fit with Seattle’s “needs.” He is a pure offense-first winger, and, unlike Niederreiter, he cannot play down the lineup. Furthermore, while Vrana is still in his “prime,” he is several seasons removed from his best performance. He did not live up to expectations in Detroit. And it has to be noted that he spent much of this season in the NHL Player Assistance Program. I don’t want to speculate about the reason for that, but it is fair to question whether you can bank on his availability going forward.

The verdict. This was pure value proposition. While acknowledging the unknown of his off-ice situation, Vrana’s on-ice talent is immense. I would not be surprised if he finds his stride in St. Louis, scores 15+ goals heading into the trade deadline next year and fetches the Blues a premium draft pick. A good bit of business that makes more sense for St. Louis than Seattle, but it still feels like a missed opportunity.

Deal No. 5: The New York Islanders acquire forward Pierre Engvall from the Toronto Maple Leafs for a 2024 third-round pick. Engvall is a pending unrestricted free agent.

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The target. Much maligned in Toronto for what he supposedly cannot do (hit and grind in the corners), Engvall is a 26-year-old, tall, fast, and talented winger who was jettisoned to make room for the small gang of players the Maple Leafs acquired at the deadline. Engvall has tallied 15 goals in 2021-22, 12 goals in 2022-23, and 12 goals this season with limited offensive opportunities playing down the lineup on a strong Toronto team.  

Reasons for the Kraken to do it. Seattle likely could have completed a deal without parting with a first- or second-round pick, which is a priority due to the value of those picks. A third-round pick in 2024 (of which Seattle has two) and a sixth-round pick in 2023 (of which Seattle also has two) probably would have topped the Islanders’ offer.

Engvall generates offense like a top-six winger and appears to be an undervalued asset. He doesn’t bring the defensive value Jared McCann does, but otherwise his situation reminds me of McCann’s difficulties breaking through before he came to Seattle. The on-ice contributions have been good, but he has never had enough opportunity to compile raw counting stats.

Reasons for the Kraken to pass. Engvall is an unrestricted free agent and could prove to be just a “rental” if he preferred to go to market. Engvall is not a fourth-line player. He does not fit a glaring roster need, assuming Burakovsky is on his way back.

The verdict. This was an opportunity to get a prime-aged, undervalued forward in the organization and evaluate him for a contract extension. On the other hand, the fit as a “rental” for a playoff push without future control isn’t ideal.

Deal No. 6: The Nashville Predators acquire forward Rasmus Asplund from the Buffalo Sabres for a 2025 seventh-round pick. Asplund is a restricted free agent after this season.

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The target. Asplund is a 25-year-old depth winger, having tallied only 49 points across 167 career games, but generates solid value driving play on both the offensive and defensive ends.

Reasons for the Kraken to do it. The acquisition cost was negligible and Nashville has control of Asplund moving forward as a restricted free agent. With Seattle he would fit as a bottom-six, penalty-killing, defense-first forward for years to come. The Kraken do not have a player that fits that profile moving forward aside from Brandon Tanev.

Reasons for the Kraken to pass. Asplund would likely be in-and-out of the lineup as a fourth-line candidate for the remainder of this season. Needless to say, that kind of player does not move the needle for the playoff push. Furthermore, acquiring Asplund would have caused the Kraken to move a similarly talented depth player off the roster.

Verdict. While there was no clear role on this year’s team, Asplund is an NHL-caliber bottom-six forward who was available essentially for free. This was a good deal for Nashville and would have also been a win for Seattle, particularly if joined with a trade of a bottom-six forward off the existing roster for a real asset.

Deal No. 7: Carolina Hurricanes acquire defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere from the Arizona Coyotes for a 2026 third-round pick. Gostisbehere is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.

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The target. Gostisbehere is a 29-year-old, offense-first left defenseman with a good shot and ability to set his teammates up for shots. Defensively, he is best deployed in a sheltered third-pair role. He can quarterback a power play but will not help on the penalty kill.

Reasons for the Kraken to do it. The Kraken have been looking for a player to unlock their power play. And it just so happens Gostisbehere has been doing exactly that for the Hurricanes. He has two goals and two assists on the power play in five games with Carolina. Given the modest price Gostisbehere ultimately fetched, it is probable that Seattle could have traded a player like Carson Soucy in conjunction with acquiring Gostisbehere and come out net positive in their draft assets.

Reasons for the Kraken to pass. Shuffling the blue line at the trade deadline is a gamble. Soucy has struggled at times, but he clearly fits what Seattle is trying to do on defense. Gostisbehere verges on “defensive liability” and may not be a very good fit for a team with deep playoff aspirations, particularly with a somewhat similar player, Justin Schultz, already on the team.

Verdict. It seems clear to me the team was not interested in Gostisbehere. Seattle could have beaten Carolina’s offer by moving a 2024 third-round pick (of which the team has two). I’m not going to question it if Seattle felt that Gostisbehere’s defense would not work down the stretch.

Shayne Gostisbehere stick handles at Climate Pledge Arena (Photo/Brian Liesse)

Deal No. 8: The Pittsburgh Penguins acquire center Nick Bonino from the San Jose Sharks in a three-team deal for a 2023 seventh-round pick, a 2024 fifth-round pick, and the rights to European defenseman Tony Sund. Bonino is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.

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The target. Nick Bonino is a solid, depth center who can win face-offs and kill penalties. I identified Bonino as a lower-cost alternative to other forward targets like Noel Acciari and Sam Lafferty.

Reasons for the Kraken to do it. Bonino would buoy the Kraken in two areas they have struggled (face-offs and penalty kill at times, although that has improved) without hurting them otherwise. He would have also extended the team’s center depth for the playoff push. As it stands, the team is one center injury away from playing Ryan Donato or Jared McCann as a center, neither of which is ideal. The acquisition cost was in the range the Kraken could comfortably do. A 2023 sixth-round pick (of which Seattle has two) and a 2024 fifth-round pick likely would have secured the player.

Reasons for the Kraken to pass. While Bonino is a solid fit on the ice there is some question about how an acquisition like this would have impacted the locker room, since he would likely play over Morgan Geekie. Francis mentioned that team chemistry concerns factored into their evaluation. Furthermore, an acquisition like Bonino is unlikely to move the needle on Seattle’s playoff performance, should the team get there.

Verdict. I think it would have made sense for Seattle to be involved in these discussions. Bonino could take some key draws and kill some penalties, helping on the margin. Bonino could also sit on the bench as depth. Either way it would have been an acceptable outcome given the minimal acquisition cost.

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Deal No. 9: The New Jersey Devils acquire center Curtis Lazar from the Vancouver Canucks for a 2024 fourth-round pick. Lazar has two more years left on his contract a $1 million per year.

The target. Lazar is a fourth-line center who can help keep pucks out of the net at even strength and on the penalty kill. He doesn’t have a strong record on the face-off dot though.

Reasons for the Kraken to do it. Lazar is on a team-friendly deal and could be a good start to a re-shaped fourth line moving into next year, particularly if he could be paired with a left-handed forward who can also take face-offs and play the wing. He would provide some depth for the stretch run this year.

Reasons for the Kraken to pass. Putting Lazar in the lineup would likely decrease the fourth line’s offensive production, and Lazar could not be used situationally to win key face-offs. It is unclear he would be an upgrade right now. An acquisition would be more of a futures move.

Verdict. This player has value, is signed to a team-friendly deal, and moved for reasonable compensation. That said, I do not see a clear role on this year’s team, so it makes sense to me that Lazar would not have been squarely on Seattle’s radar.

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(Potential) Deal No. 10: Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk. van Reiemsdyk is a free agent at the end of the year.

The target. James van Riemsdyk is a veteran forward who still gets to the front of the net and generates scoring chances at even strength and on the power play.

Reasons for the Kraken to do it. van Riemsdyk was not traded, but we have it on good authority he was available and the acquisition cost would have been minimal. Since-dismissed Philadelphia general manager Chuck Fletcher said he was looking for a third-round pick and was willing to retain salary or take back another player’s salary, but he did not find a taker. Accordingly, we can be relatively confident that a future fourth-round pick would have secured the player. For the Kraken, van Riemsdyk would have been insurance up front in the way that Jaycob Megna is insurance for the defense. In the short term he would add some scoring until Burakovsky returns. Over the balance of the season he would create competition for bottom-six ice time.

Reasons for the Kraken to pass. This would have been strictly a depth addition, and the Kraken are already deep on the wing. Historically, he has performed well on the power play, but that slipped a bit this year. And the Kraken like to play at a high pace, but that is not van Riemsdyk’s game at this point.

The verdict. Here again it is easy enough to understand why the Kraken did not feel compelled to pull the trigger given the team’s depth on the wing.

Did the Kraken make a mistake sitting out the trade deadline?

After sorting through a handful of potential acquisitions, my top line takeaway is that the market did not break Seattle’s way. The prices for interesting defensemen (like Chychrun, Rasmus Sandin, or Mattias Ekholm) were too high. Some auxiliary parts that I had targeted as fits for the Kraken—such as forwards Sam Lafferty and Noel Acciari—were packaged with other players in larger deals that the Kraken had no business matching. For example, on Feb. 27, Chicago sent Lafferty and defenseman Jake McCabe in a packaged deal to Toronto for a first-round pick and a second-round pick. I profiled both of those players as fits for the Kraken. But the combined cost did not make sense for this Seattle Kraken team.

There were some deals for depth players that may have made some sense for Seattle—such as the Asplund or Bonino deals—but those transactions were unlikely to move the needle in the short or long term and are hardly worth second guessing. Beyond that, every deal the team could have made also brought question marks for the Kraken. I would like to think the Seattle front office investigated a Vrana acquisition after Detroit made it clear they would give him away, but it is difficult to criticize that choice given the risk profile.

I do not fault the Kraken for resisting the seller market either. Think back to when the trade deadline actually happened: Hands were hovering over the panic button. The Kraken had suffered consecutive losses to San Jose, Boston, and Toronto, followed by uninspiring victories over deadline sellers St. Louis and Detroit. With market prices high, a player like Carson Soucy likely could have fetched a favorable return, but a move like that had the potential to worsen Seattle’s skid. It would be hard for the front office to recover if it made a move that contributed to a late-season collapse and knocked the team out of the playoffs.

With the benefit of hindsight, I’d give the Kraken a solid grade for standing pat at the deadline. The worst outcome would have been to overpay for a marginal upgrade, or even something that negatively impacted the chemistry. Seattle avoided this pitfall, unlike many of its rivals. The team will still have four picks in the first two rounds in a deep draft this summer. This is what is most important at this stage in the organization’s trajectory.

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