The buzzer rang. Streamers cascaded down at American Airlines Center in Dallas. It was May 15, 2023, and the Seattle Kraken’s chase for the Stanley Cup had come to a sudden end upon a 2-1 loss in Game 7 of the second playoff round to the Dallas Stars. The Kraken had exceeded every expectation set for them, but the story of their 2022-23 season was at its end (at least at the NHL level).
As that book closed, however, a new one opened: the 2023 offseason. Three days later, at the team’s end-of-season press availability, Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis said the front office would soon start meeting to evaluate the team’s internal free agents. “We’ve got some decisions to make there,” said Francis. “We’ll work through those over the next few days here to make sure that we’re all comfortable with the direction we want to go and address it accordingly.”
Then, at the May 31 press conference to announce his own contract extension, Francis followed up to say, “We’re rolling up our sleeves and getting into [discussion on Seattle’s players] now, and hopefully we’ll have a much clearer picture by July 1st.”
What are the key decisions that need to be made on Seattle’s own players? What will inform those decisions? And when is the deadline for actions to be taken? Let’s dive in.
The state of the Seattle Kraken roster
The Kraken enter this offseason with 10 forwards projected to be on the 2023-24 opening night roster already under contract. That number rises to 11 if you include Tye Kartye, whose postseason run made quite the impression on fans and the front office alike.
Ryan Donato and Joonas Donskoi are unrestricted free agents. Morgan Geekie and Daniel Sprong are restricted free agents with arbitration rights. (For an explainer on these free agent classifications and the logistics of NHL free agency, see the appendix at the bottom of this post.)
Matty Beniers, Eeli Tolvanen, Alex Wennberg, and Jordan Eberle will be entering into the final years of their existing contracts in 2023-24, which means that those players will be eligible to receive extensions to their current contracts on July 1, 2023.
On the blue line there is a little more uncertainty, but still a number of players under team control; Adam Larsson, Jamie Oleksiak, Justin Schultz, and Jaycob Megna are all signed, though Megna is not necessarily a certainty to be on the opening night roster. Vince Dunn, Will Borgen, and Cale Fleury are all restricted free agents with arbitration rights. And Carson Soucy is an unrestricted free agent. Schultz and Megna are entering their final seasons and theoretically could be extended.
In goal, Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger are signed for 2023-24, with Driedger entering his final year and eligible to be extended. Martin Jones is an unrestricted free agent, as is Joey Daccord, who qualifies as a “Group 6” unrestricted free agent. (More on this in the appendix below.)
Assuming Driedger is on the NHL roster, based on the list of signed players above only (i.e., not counting Tye Kartye, for example), the Kraken have $19,193,424 in cap space going into the 2023-24 season to sign additional players.
Finally, here is a look at the offseason contract status of key players on the Calder Cup Final-bound Coachella Valley Firebirds. Kole Lind is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. Alex True and Carsen Twarynski are “Group 6” unrestricted free agents, like Daccord. Shane Wright is listed here, but his immediate future remains murky.
The offseason timeline
For each restricted free agent, the Kraken have until Monday, June 30, at 2 p.m. PT to extend a qualifying offer. If an offer is extended, the player may sign the offer or continue to negotiate a different deal with the team.
Alternatively, the player may negotiate and accept an offer with another team (this is often called an “offer sheet”). The Kraken are afforded the opportunity to match an offer sheet from another team. If the Kraken decline that option, the team would likely receive some draft pick compensation based on the value of the contract signed. Right now, I don’t expect any Kraken restricted free agents to receive an offer sheet.
Since each Kraken restricted free agent this year is arbitration eligible, if Seattle extends a qualifying offer, the player(s) have the option to trigger an arbitration hearing to set their salaries. The hearing serves as a backstop to negotiations. The deadline for a player to invoke arbitration is July 5, at 2 p.m. PT. The team may itself trigger arbitration if it chooses before or after that date. Club-requested arbitration is far less frequent and can happen if the team is looking to obtain a salary decrease for a player. I don’t expect that with any of the Kraken restricted free agents.
If Seattle declines to extend a qualifying offer by the June 30 deadline, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent eligible to sign with any other club immediately.
All other unrestricted free agents become eligible to negotiate and sign a deal with a new club on July 1, at 9 a.m. PT. If an unrestricted free agent signs with another club there is no compensation to Seattle or required opportunity for Seattle to match the contract.
The decisions on Kraken free agents
How the Kraken elect to proceed with their free agents is informed by a number of variables, including the player’s market value, and, for restricted free agents with arbitration rights, the player’s likely award at an arbitration hearing. Let’s take a look at some projected numbers and then make some early predictions on what happens with these Kraken free agents.
First, a methodology note regarding my “Deep Sea Hockey” projections below: I used CapFriendly’s contract comparable tool to produce a list of comparable contracts for each Kraken free agent based on the following variables: position, age, points, and games played. This doesn’t capture the entirety of a player’s value, of course, but points tend to be predictive of free agent value. I then made minor manual adjustments to sync the values to the Kraken free agent’s statistical profile on a point-per-game basis. I then prorated the value of the contracts to the current salary cap environment, projected at $83.5 million for 2023-24. I then also used the sample of comparable contracts to predict a contract length.
Vince Dunn | LD | RFA (UFA in 2024) | 26 years old | 201 points in 421 NHL games
Vince Dunn is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. He is one year from unrestricted free agency and coming off a year in which he was second in points for Seattle and 10th in points among all defenseman in the NHL. He is in line to ask for a very large contract, which makes him one of the important questions facing the front office this offseason.
- Qualifying offer amount: one-year, one-way contract worth $4 million
- Evolving Hockey free agent contract projection: 8 years, $8.15 million AAV
- Deep Sea Hockey negotiated contract projection: 7 years, $8.35 million AAV
- Deep Sea Hockey projected arbitration ruling: 1 year, $8 million AAV
- Deep Sea Hockey gut prediction: Qualified. Negotiated deal at 7 years, $7.5 million AAV with Seattle. This will be a lengthy negotiation and both sides will need to give if they are going to reach this outcome. I suspect the Kraken aren’t comfortable with the full market projection contract for Dunn given his up-and-down production with the team. The highs have been No. 1 worthy but the lows remain troubling. $8 million (Dunn’s likely target) would put him t-15th in AAV in the league among defensemen. The Kraken would likely prefer the number to be lower. If they can’t see eye-to-eye, I don’t think anything is off the table. Dunn’s agent is notorious for driving a hard bargain. Still, I tentatively think both parties bend at the end of the day to get this contract signed.
Daniel Sprong | RW | RFA (UFA in 2024) | 26 years old | 116 points in 268 NHL games
Daniel Sprong is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. He is one year from unrestricted free agency and coming off a year in which he was tied for third in goals for Seattle with 21. On a per-minute basis, he was one of Seattle’s most productive offensive players, though critiques of his 200-foot game remain.
- Qualifying offer amount: one-year, one-way contract worth $787,500
- Evolving Hockey free agent contract projection: 3 years, $3.2 million AAV
- Deep Sea Hockey negotiated contract projection: 2 years, $3 million AAV
- Deep Sea Hockey projected arbitration ruling: 1 year, $3 million
- Deep Sea Hockey gut prediction: Not qualified or traded to a team interested in Sprong in a top-nine role, Sprong ultimately signs a 1 year, $2.25 million with another team. It won’t be easy to replace Sprong’s goal production, particularly on the power play, but I keep bumping against the fact that he was not able to crack a top-nine role with Seattle with any regularity. That is where his skill would deliver the most value and Seattle never did it, which suggests to me that they still don’t see an elevated future for him, given the current depth chart. At the number he’s likely to command this offseason, it’s just too difficult to fit him in the salary structure and still improve the team.
Morgan Geekie | C | RFA (UFA in 2026) | 24 years old | 116 points in 268 NHL games
Morgan Geekie is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. He is three years from unrestricted free agency and coming off a year in which he played a fourth-line center role for much of the season, though he elevated to a top-nine right wing role late in the season and in the playoffs with Andre Burakovsky injured. He was one of Seattle’s better players in the face-off circle and their only reliable righty in that role. He remains one of the younger players on the roster.
- Qualifying offer amount: one-year, one-way contract worth $1.4 million
- Evolving Hockey free agent contract projection: 2 year, $1.69 million AAV
- Deep Sea Hockey negotiated contract projection: 2 years, $2.1 million AAV
- Deep Sea Hockey projected arbitration ruling: 1 year, $1.8 million
- Deep Sea Hockey gut prediction: 1 year, $1.8 million with Seattle. This is a tricky one too, as Geekie likely believes he has earned a raise over his previous salary, and he serves in a five-on-five role (right handed center) for which the Kraken don’t have another ready made alternative (except for perhaps Andrew Poturalski). He also has talent. That is clear. On the other hand, the production hasn’t taken a leap forward, and he hasn’t found a regular special teams role. Still only 24 years old, I don’t think the Kraken would prefer to move on, but it really depends on Geekie’s demands. If I were Seattle I’d go to him early and offer something along the lines of 2 years, $1.45 million AAV, or 1 year, $1.6 million AAV, with the implication that he may not be qualified otherwise due to arbitration risk. The production may not justify it, but it’s one more bet on his upside. That said, if push comes to shove, I think the team ultimately would qualify him to keep him for at least one more year.
Will Borgen | RD | RFA (UFA in 2024) | 26 years old | 28 points in 132 NHL games
Will Borgen is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. He is one year from unrestricted free agency and coming off a year in which he moved up the lineup from a third-pair role to a second-pair role midway through the season. He does not reliably create offense but is a sound defender with flashes of puckhandling skill.
- Qualifying offer amount: one-year, two-way contract worth $945,000
- Evolving Hockey free agent contract projection: 2 year, $1.66 million AAV
- Deep Sea Hockey negotiated contract projection: 2 years, $1.5 million AAV
- Deep Sea Hockey projected arbitration ruling: 1 year, $1.8 million
- Deep Sea Hockey gut prediction: Qualified. Signs 2 year, $1.8 million AAV deal with Seattle. (Author’s note: I edited this AAV upward after additional reflection.) GM Ron Francis already indicated to Ian Furness on JKR that Borgen will be qualified. That is an easy decision. Borgen’s metrics plateaued in the second half of last season, and I think he might be best deployed as the more physical, defensive-minded half of a third pair moving forward (perhaps with Ryker Evans?), but he also won’t break the bank. A two-year deal would give Borgen some stability and financial security. It would also allow him to hit the market again at 28 years old, an age at which defensemen are still at or near the prime of their defensive abilities and can be well compensated on the open market (see Soucy, Carson). One thing to keep an eye on: these projected financial values could be underselling Borgen’s market. Daily Faceoff has him projected at $2.5 – 3 million AAV, for example. I remember thinking Dunn’s last deal would be more like 2 years, $2.5 million AAV, and it came in much higher. Could history repeat?
Cale Fleury | RD | RFA (UFA in 2026) | 24 years old | 2 points in 62 NHL games
Cale Fleury is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. He remains buried on the depth chart, seeing only 12 games worth of ice time this entire season. His ongoing value is as depth at position, right defense, where the organization does not have any other ready answers in the event of an injury.
- Qualifying offer amount: one-year, two-way contract worth $787,500
- Evolving Hockey free agent contract projection: 1 year, $778,500 (below the qualifying amount)
- Deep Sea Hockey negotiated contract projection: 1 year, $787,500 (qualifying amount)
- Deep Sea Hockey projected arbitration ruling: 1 year, $787,500 (qualifying amount)
- Deep Sea Hockey gut prediction: Qualified. 1 year, $787,500 with Seattle. I suspect that the Kraken still like this player given his presence on the roster all season. When he has been in the lineup, he has looked like an “extra defenseman” level player out there, which is not a bad piece to have but also one that can be replaced. Still, he’s useful depth and a potentially a necessary piece for next season if (a) the team does not retain Carson Soucy, (b) the team does not sign a free agent defenseman, or (c) at camp it becomes clear Ryker Evans needs one more year in Coachella Valley.
Kole Lind | RW | RFA (UFA in 2026) | 24 years old | 8 points in 30 NHL games
Kole Lind has 37 goals (and counting) across 91 total AHL games this season. He leads the entire AHL in scoring in the Calder Cup playoffs with 23 points. He is potentially under team control for three more seasons, but if he doesn’t get regular NHL playing time next season (50+ games), he will qualify as a Group 6 unrestricted free agent next offseason.
- Qualifying offer amount: one-year, two-way contract worth $892,500
- Evolving Hockey free agent contract projection: N/A
- Deep Sea Hockey negotiated contract projection: N/A
- Deep Sea Hockey projected arbitration ruling: 1 year, $892,500
- Deep Sea Hockey gut prediction: Qualified. 2 year, $875,000 AAV with Seattle. Kole Lind was productive in the AHL this year and showed that he has the tools to be useful at the NHL level if he can consistently keep up with NHL pace (and if he keeps his agitator tendencies under control). At the least, I think he is worthy of a shot in a 12th or 13th forward role at the NHL level. A two-year deal rewards Lind for his season and could protect Seattle from losing him as a Group 6 free agent next offseason if he continues to be a borderliner NHL/AHL player.
Ryan Donato | LW | UFA | 27 years old | 135 points in 325 NHL games
Ryan Donato is an unrestricted free agent. He was part of a productive “fourth line” for the Kraken, tallying 14 goals in 71 games. Across his two-year stint with the team, he has 30 goals.
- Evolving Hockey free agent contract projection: 2 year, $2.03 million AAV
- Deep Sea Hockey negotiated contract projection: 2 year, $2.35 million AAV
- Deep Sea Hockey gut prediction: 1 year, $1.5 million deal with another team. Unfortunately, Ryan Donato continues to find himself right on the margins of NHL status since he is not a conventional fourth line player but his skill level is just barely below what teams would want in their top-nine for a playoff push. If his market again does not materialize, I can imagine him coming back, but I suspect a “rebuilding” team will give him a contract to fill out their roster as a bridge to younger players. I don’t think he’ll actually get a contract at the level projected by me or Evolving Hockey.
Carson Soucy | LD | UFA | 28 years old | 68 points in 250 NHL games
Carson Soucy is an unrestricted free agent. He was Seattle’s third-pair left defenseman, a stalwart on the penalty kill, and the third defenseman in line to take a role on the power play.
- Evolving Hockey free agent contract projection: 3 years, $2.59 million AAV
- Deep Sea Hockey negotiated contract projection: 2 year, $2.4 million AAV
- Deep Sea Hockey gut prediction: 4 year, $4 million AAV deal with another team. If his market is actually more in line with the projections, particularly mine, I think Seattle should be interested to bring Soucy back. But I think Soucy is a prime candidate to be “overpaid” on the free agent market. Soucy generated significant buzz at two consecutive trade deadlines, so it appears there is legitimate interest in the player around the league. Ultimately, I think he gets an offer that prices him out of Seattle’s desired range.
Joey Daccord | G | UFA | 26 years old | .884 save percentage in 19 NHL games
Joey Daccord is a “Group 6” unrestricted free agent. (For more on that status, check out the appendix below.) Daccord has not been able to generate strong results at the NHL level yet, but he is having a great season in the AHL. He was fifth in that league with .918 save percentage across 38 regular-season games. And he has been even better in the playoffs, recording a .924 save percentage in 19 playoff games. This run should help him in free agency.
- Evolving Hockey free agent contract projection: 1 year, $775,000
- Deep Sea Hockey negotiated contract projection: N/A
- Deep Sea Hockey gut prediction: 2 year, $1,150,000 AAV one-way deal with Seattle. This projection is a bit out there, but here is my thought process: Joey Daccord has shown that, at the least, he can be a very good player and leader at the AHL level. Heading into free agency, the Kraken don’t have a clearly defined third goaltender on the depth chart. Signing Daccord to this deal gives the Kraken necessary depth in goal in the short term. If, ultimately, Daccord is sent back to Coachella Valley next year at cutdown time, the size of the commitment would make other teams more hesitant to claim him. And if he is sent down his salary can be completely “buried” and will not count on the NHL salary cap. On the other hand, if Daccord beats out Chris Driedger for the backup job in camp, Driedger could be sent through waivers; if unclaimed, the salary cap implications would be neutral since $1,150,000 of Driedger’s deal can be “buried” at the AHL level. On Daccord’s side of the equation, he gets significant security even if he has to wait one more year for a clear shot at a backup role.
Appendix: Free agency in the NHL
As discussed above, not all NHL “free agents” are the same. A player may be “unrestricted” or “restricted” and there are certain nuances to the player’s rights or eligibility under either status. Need a primer? Let’s get into those rules here.
Unrestricted free agency
An “unrestricted free agent” (UFA) is free to sign with any team without any compensation or right of first refusal held by the player’s former club. A player becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1 if the player’s current contract has expired *and* the player qualifies under any one of three other criteria:
- 27 years old. The player is 27 years old as of the last day of the expiring contract (i.e., June 30).
- Seven accrued seasons. The player has seven “accrued” seasons of NHL experience as of the expiration of the contract. An “accrued” season is defined as a season in which the player was on an NHL club’s active roster for 40 regular season games (or 30 regular-season games for a goaltender). Time lost on injured reserve to injury incurred at the NHL level counts toward this “active roster” requirement for games during the season of the injury and the season thereafter.
- “Group 6” status. The player (i) is 25 years old as of the last day of the expiring contract (i.e., June 30), (ii) has completed three or more “professional seasons,” with “professional seasons” being defined as 11 games played or more in the NHL, AHL, or on loan in another European professional league, and (iii) the player, if a skater, has played fewer than 80 NHL games, or, if a goaltender, has played fewer than 28 games of 30-or-more minutes TOI. Players in this category are referred to as “Group 6” unrestricted free agents.
Additionally, a player may qualify as a UFA if the player is a restricted free agent, but the current NHL club does not tender that player a qualifying offer. Let’s get into what that means now.
Restricted free agency
If the player’s contract expires but the player does not meet one of the three numbered criteria set forth above to qualify for unrestricted free agency, the player is a “restricted free agent” (RFA).
The first decision point on a RFA is made by the NHL club, which must decide whether to extend the player a “qualifying offer.” A qualifying offer is an offer of a one-year contract, which remains open for 30 days, with the following minimum values at the NHL level:
- If base salary in last year of expiring contract is less than or equal to $660,000: 110% of the last year base salary
- If base salary in the last year of an expiring contract is greater than $660,000 or less than $1,000,000: 105% of the last year base salary, but not greater than $1,000,000.
- If the base salary in the last year of an expiring contract is greater than $1,000,000: 100% of the last year base salary
The only potential exception to the rules above is, if the contract was signed on or after July 10, 2020, the qualifying offer may not exceed 120% of the *average* annual value of the expiring contract. This rule only becomes relevant for back-loaded contracts and is presumably designed to disincentivize contracts structured like Timo Meier’s deal moving forward.
The qualifying offer must be a “one-way” contract, meaning the player is paid the same salary whether at the NHL or AHL level if the player has played 180 NHL games within the last three years, 60 NHL games within the last year, or was claimed on waivers within the past year. Otherwise, the qualifying offer may be a “two-way” contract providing for a lower salary if the player plays at the AHL level.
If the current NHL club does not make the player a qualifying offer by June 25 at 2 p.m. PT, or the first Monday after the NHL Entry Draft at 2 p.m. PT, whichever is later, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent immediately. This year, the deadline is Monday, June 30, at 2 p.m. PT.
The consequence of the qualifying offer depends on the experience level of the player receiving the offer. There are three scenarios.
1. 10.2(c) Player. If the player has minimal professional experience, a qualifying offer renders the player ineligible to negotiate or sign with any other clubs. This is so-called “10.2(c)” status. The 10.2(c) player may sign the qualifying offer or negotiate a different deal with his current club only. What is the experience threshold? A player falls under 10.2(c) if he (a) signed his first contract at ages 18-21 and has played two or fewer seasons of “professional experience,” (b) signed his first contract between ages 22-23 and played one or fewer seasons of “professional experience,” or (c) signed his first contract at age 24 or older and has no seasons of “professional experience.” “Professional experience” is defined as 10 or more NHL games for 18-19-year-olds or 10 or more games in any professional league for players 20 years old or older.
2. RFA without arbitration rights. If the player has more experience than the 10.2(c) threshold, but less experience than is necessary to qualify for salary arbitration (see below), the player is an RFA without arbitration rights. The player may sign the qualifying offer, negotiate a different deal with his own club, or negotiate with other clubs. If the player accepts an offer of a contract from another club, the player’s current club is afforded the opportunity to match the contract and retain the player. If the current club declines to do so, it receives compensation from the signing team in the form of draft picks. The draft picks received (if any) are based on the value of the contract signed.
3. RFA with arbitration rights. If the player has significant professional experience, he may qualify for salary arbitration. Arbitration may then be elected either by the team or the player. Arbitration is a process by which a third party neutral will receive information from the team and the player and decide the contract that the player should receive. In most instances it is a one-year deal. A player qualifies for arbitration if he: (a) signed his first contract at ages 18-20 and has four or more seasons of “professional experience” (as that term is defined above), (b) signed his first contract at age 21 and has three or more seasons of “professional experience,” (c) signed his first contract at ages 22-23 and has two or more seasons of “professional experience,” or (d) signed his first contract at ages 24 or older and has one or more seasons of “professional experience.” An arbitration eligible player in receipt of a qualifying offer has until July 5 at 2 p.m. PT to notify the team he is electing arbitration. (There are different deadlines for the clubs to elect arbitration.) In the meantime, the player has all of the same rights to negotiate with his own team or other teams as described above, and if he should sign with another team, again, his team would have the opportunity to match or receive draft pick compensation for the player. This negotiation process is cut off only when the arbitrator makes a ruling. The arbitrator’s ruling becomes the value for the contract between the team and the player, except in certain high contract value scenarios in which the team may opt to disclaim the ruling and allow the player to become an unrestricted free agent.