The first day of NHL free agency was quite busy across the league, but in Seattle, things remained relatively quiet. In fact, the Kraken saw more players leave their organization than they brought in, as all four of the team’s free agents found new homes Saturday.
Daniel Sprong signed with Detroit for one year at $2 million, Morgan Geekie signed with Boston for two years at $2 million average annual value, Ryan Donato signed with Chicago for two years at $2 million AAV, and Carson Soucy signed with Vancouver for three years at $3.25 million AAV.
The only addition Seattle made was a replacement for Soucy at left defense, signing 31-year-old Brian Dumoulin for two years at $3.15 million AAV.
With that movement, plenty of questions remain around how the rest of the Kraken lineup will round out for the 2023-24 season. With Saturday winding down, we heard from Kraken general manager Ron Francis. He touched on a variety of topics, including the team’s strategy for building out the rest of the roster and what it’s getting in Dumoulin.
What the Kraken get in Brian Dumoulin
Let’s start with the Dumoulin signing. After seeing Soucy get a $9.75 million contract with the Canucks, we understood the decision to let him walk. At face value, bringing in Dumoulin for similar dollars was perplexing, because if the team wanted a big-bodied, stay-at-home defenseman, why not just bring back the known quantity in Soucy?
Well, it sounds like the third year that Soucy desired on his contract may have been a factor.
“Where [Soucy] was at and where we thought he was going to go, it probably wasn’t the right fit for us moving forward,” said Francis. “We’ve got a pretty talented young player in Ryker Evans we think pushing, so it’s important when we build this thing that we’re not blocking Ryker moving forward too.”
That’s still confusing, because if Evans really is knocking on the door in training camp, he is now effectively blocked from making the team for at least this year and next year, assuming a long-term Vince Dunn extension gets done. Still, a two-year deal is more manageable than a three-year deal.
As for what Dumoulin brings to the table, he’s a 6-foot-4, 207-pound left-shot defenseman who has played all 10 of his NHL seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had one goal and 24 assists this season and played all 82 games. He also has familiarity with Francis from the early days of his career.
“I’m excited to get [Dumoulin],” said Francis. “It’s a small world; I started in player development once I retired in Carolina, and he was one of my projects back then.”
Dumoulin was drafted by the Hurricanes in the second round in 2009 but then got traded to Pittsburgh in 2012, where he won two Stanley Cups.
“He went on to have a great career in Pittsburgh, a two-time Stanley Cup champ, so we add that to our locker room,” Francis added. “[He’s a] terrific person and a real good player, so we think he helps us. Overall his game’s real solid.”
Deciding not to qualify Sprong or Geekie
We wrote about Seattle’s decision not to tender qualifying offers to Sprong or Geekie on Friday, and Francis added a little more insight as to why those players weren’t brought back.
For Sprong, as we surmised, it was all about the case he could potentially bring if negotiations ended up in arbitration.
“Looking at the potential arb cases, we weren’t overly comfortable with that,” Francis said. “In Daniel’s case we thought it was good for him to go and test the market.”
As for Geekie, the situation was slightly different. Francis confirmed the team tried to re-sign him to an extension before the deadline for submitting qualifying offers, but Geekie turned it down. Once that happened, they chose not to qualify him, again so they wouldn’t end up paying more than they were comfortable with in arbitration.
“With Morgan, we did make what I felt was a pretty fair offer,” said Francis. “It didn’t work out, and he has the right once we don’t qualify him to go elsewhere.”
Francis also heaped praise on Ryan Donato, who left as an unrestricted free agent, saying Donato called Saturday to thank the organization for the opportunity to play in Seattle. “Just a class kid and a true professional,” said Francis.
Contract negotiations ongoing
As for the players Seattle did qualify Friday, all four of Vince Dunn, Will Borgen, Cale Fleury, and Kole Lind also have arbitration rights. We don’t think the team is terribly concerned about the cases of Fleury and Lind, but Dunn and Borgen could be tricky.
Francis and Dunn have previously indicated interest in getting a long-term deal done, but so far things remain in process. Dunn is in line to become the highest-paid player on the Kraken. As for Borgen, he emerged as a key piece on Seattle’s blue line this season and played all 82 games. He will surely command a significant raise over his previous $900K salary.
“We’ve had conversations with both camps,” said Francis. “We’ll continue to do that. We’ll find out if they choose arbitration and what those dates are, and we’ll continue to negotiate. If we get something done before then, great. If not, then we’ll go to arbitration and make adjustments after we find out what the rulings are.”
As with Dunn, we suspect the Kraken would want Borgen back beyond next season, so getting a multi-year deal done to avoid arbitration would be beneficial.
Meanwhile, Francis also implied the team would like to extend the contract of Matty Beniers this offseason and said he had already chatted briefly about it with Beniers’s agent, Pat Brisson. He expects real negotiations will begin later in the summer.
The Kraken aren’t done
Even though Saturday ended up quiet in Seattle, we do not believe the Kraken will sit on their hands (or tentacles?) for the rest of the offseason.
“I still think there may be things that come down the line, but I think a lot of things happened quick today,” said Francis. “We’ll sit sort of tight here and see what happens and what may open up over the next few days.”
Remember, the trade for Oliver Bjorkstrand came 10 days after free agency opened last offseason, once Columbus put itself over the salary cap by signing Johnny Gaudreau. With a full forward line worth or roster spots now open and plenty of cap space, Francis likes how the team is set up in case an opportunity presents itself.
“We got pretty fortunate last year with Oliver Bjorkstrand,” said Francis. “I’m not saying that’s going to happen again, but we are in a position where we can take advantage of something if it shakes loose.”
And if something like that doesn’t come to fruition? The Kraken still have young players fighting for roster spots in Tye Kartye, Shane Wright, and Lind and a prospect pipeline that got a big boost at this week’s draft.