The dust has settled, the lockers have been cleared out, and the second offseason in the history of the Seattle Kraken is officially underway.
After a magical run to Game 7 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, expectations have surely shifted for what the core of the team’s existing roster can do. It has now proven it can not only make the postseason, but the depth of the group can actually bring playoff success.
While a foundation for winning has now been built, the organization will not rest on its laurels. General manager Ron Francis and his staff will continue to tinker, seeking higher finishes in the regular season and deeper postseason runs in 2023-24 and beyond. But knowing what we know about the team, how can it actually get better? What changes will the summer months bring?
We try to answer those questions and more as we consider the offseason to-do list for the Seattle Kraken.
Vince Dunn’s contract situation
Vince Dunn emerged as a cornerstone player for the Kraken this season, racking up big minutes on the top defense pairing with Adam Larsson, quarterbacking the power play, and smashing his previous career high with 64 points. He even garnered some whispers of Norris Trophy consideration, though he was not a finalist.
Dunn signed a two-year, $8 million contract before Seattle’s inaugural season, so that deal is up. He is now a restricted free agent, meaning as long as the Kraken tender him a qualifying offer, they will keep him for next season. However, the Kraken will want to negotiate something longer term with their top offensive defenseman, and Dunn seems to want to stay. Last week he said he was “all in” on the organization and didn’t seem terribly worried about the upcoming negotiation, saying it will work itself out.
The feeling is mutual from Francis, who said the team is “hopeful” it can sign Dunn to an extension. “We haven’t started [contract talks] yet,” said Francis. “But usually if you get to a deal where the team is not happy and the player’s not happy, that’s probably a fair deal. So we’ll see if we can start to get to that point.”
With Dunn’s breakout coming at exactly the right time, he is in line to become the highest-paid player on the Kraken. We expect him to fetch north of $7 million per season and at least five years of term.
Determine who stays, who goes
There are several other notable players whose contracts have expired. Morgan Geekie, Daniel Sprong, and Will Borgen are restricted free agents, while Carson Soucy and Ryan Donato are unrestricted free agents. The Kraken will have to make decisions on which of those players to keep and which to cut loose.
Let’s talk about the UFA’s first. Soucy played a huge role for the club this season, and although he got himself into the doghouse with fans on a few occasions for ill-timed penalties, he is a reliable, physical defenseman. He said on locker clean-out day that he wants to come back, but we think it’s a numbers game here, and those numbers will force Soucy onto the open market. He will attract plenty of interest from teams around the league.
The Kraken have left-shot Jaycob Megna also under contract for next season, and Ryker Evans took another step toward NHL readiness by earning a spot in the AHL All-Star Game. We would anticipate one of those players replacing Soucy, or perhaps the team will bring somebody in from the outside.
As for Donato, he’s been a good soldier for this team and done everything coach Dave Hakstol has asked of him over two seasons. But at least a couple players will have to be jettisoned to make space for improvements higher in the lineup, and Donato feels like an easy candidate.
Now onto the RFA’s. Last season, Sprong and Donato were not tendered qualifying offers, which made them unrestricted free agents. However, the players did not get the contracts they were looking for on the open market, and both ended up back with Seattle, making less money than they would have made if Seattle had qualified them.
This offseason, it is our guess the Kraken will extend Geekie, who showed versatility and growth throughout his second year with the club. We also fully expect Borgen to be kept around after he proved to be a full-time NHLer, appearing in all 82 regular-season games and all 14 playoff games. We were very impressed by his rapid maturation this season.
As for Sprong, we aren’t so sure he’ll be back. Let it be known that Sprong was perhaps our favorite player to cover this season, mostly because his story of going from unsigned and on a professional tryout in training camp to scoring 21 goals on the fourth line was such a fun one to follow. But he was also incredibly gracious with his time and always willing to chat, so on a personal level, we would love to see him back next season.
Here’s the deal with Sprong, though; most of the players that donned the deep sea blue in 2022-23 are expected to be back next season. 10 of the regular forwards—including all nine players on the top three lines—are under contract. Plus, Tye Kartye made a case in the playoffs that he is NHL ready, and with Andre Burakovsky expected back after tearing his groin just after the All-Star break (ouch), that’s now 11 of the 12 forward spots theoretically occupied.
Remember that question we asked earlier about how the team can improve? “We do have some guys whose contracts are up, so we’ve got to make some decisions there,” said Francis. “But there’s always areas that we think we can tweak and get better, whether that’s bringing people from the outside in or trying to work from an internal position to make it stronger.”
They simply can’t do any tweaking to the roster if the spots are all filled already, and with Sprong again arbitration eligible, we think that he—like Donato and Soucy—will end up a victim of the numbers game.
Figure out the goal crease (or don’t)
Keep an eye on Seattle’s goal crease this offseason as well. Philipp Grubauer rose to the occasion of the playoffs and was stellar throughout, giving the team and its fans hope that the $6-million-per-year netminder has put his struggles behind him.
But remember, there are two goalie spots on the roster, and Martin Jones was a big part of Seattle’s success this season, especially when Grubauer was out with an early season injury.
Jones was on a one-year deal, though, so he is unlikely to return for 2023-24, while Chris Driedger still has a year left. Driedger is back from his ACL injury and is with the Coachella Valley Firebirds for their Calder Cup chase, but after not playing for the Kraken this season, he hasn’t gotten much playing time in Coachella Valley either, as Joey Daccord has been on fire.
With Driedger still around and making big bucks at $3.5 million, we can’t imagine the Kraken bringing in a backup goalie for next season. Worth noting, though, Daccord is set to become a group six free agent, so the Kraken will have to negotiate with him if they want to keep him in the fold. He too could be ready (or close to ready) to serve as a full-time backup in the NHL.
Make more brilliant trades and offseason signings
Even with things looking relatively set for next season, we would like to see the team bring in more offensive talent this offseason. If Sprong does go, that’s 21 goals the team will need to replace at the bottom of the lineup. The way we think it should do that is by adding more high-end offensive punch to the top of the lineup.
Last summer, Seattle signed Burakovsky in free agency, then traded for Oliver Bjorkstrand in perhaps the steal of the offseason. Those transactions made the Kraken instantly better. If they can add another skilled offensive player (or two) in the coming months—player(s) that fit in Seattle’s top six—then the group just gets that much deeper.
By adding a couple more players, there could be a world in which the Kraken don’t have a true “fourth line,” and instead have a first line, a second line, and two third lines that just roll through every night. They would be very tough to stop if that comes to fruition.
The Kraken have plenty of trade chips to play with, as they have 10 picks in the NHL Entry Draft and salary cap space, the two things you need to make trades that improve your team.
What moves would you make? Let us know in the comments.